Close Encounters Of The Canine Kind

There are few experiences in life that are as raw and visceral as sex and fear. In the name of decency and privacy, I will probably never write about the former, but in the aftermath of today's events I am compelled to write about the latter.

Ever since I was a little child, I have never been particularly fond of dogs as a species. Setting aside pragmatic concerns such as hygiene (dogs like to get dirty and stinky if given the opportunity) and time commitment (pet dogs need an escort in order to properly do their business outside), what I take issue with most regarding dogs is their natural potential for aggressiveness and ferocity. I discovered this potential at an early age, having had the misfortune to be bitten by both stray and pet dogs, both times in the same park near my childhood home.

Although I was spared the unpleasant experience of the old-fashioned series of abdominal anti-rabies injections after being bit by the stray, I still had to endure several comparatively less painful shots, in addition to the terrifying encounter itself. The second bite was different in that I was riding a bike and the aggressor was a pet rather than a feral dog, and I was also unprepared for the bite since I thought the dog was only playfully chasing me as I rode laps around the park. Still, both events left a lasting impression upon my young mind, and it took me a long while to get over these negative experiences and begin developing a more neutral attitude towards canines.

Imagine the relief I felt when, upon returning to Bucharest for my first visit in almost four years, I was informed that the stray dog problem was finally resolved (unfortunately, it seems that it took the death of a young child for things to finally change). Although my father cautioned me that, despite the best efforts of animal control personnel, some strays likely remained in more remote pockets, I put an excessive amount of faith in the abilities of the Romanian authorities and decided that it ought to be perfectly safe to go running anywhere in the city. This is not to say that I recklessly threw caution to the wind and deliberately sought danger, for this was not the case, but I didn't worry much about taking detours on a whim for the purpose of urban exploration. Having already completed two runs without incident, I developed a false sense of security and paid less attention to my surroundings as I let whimsy guide my path, unknowingly taking a wrong turn along the way and ending up in a less traveled part of the city.

I did develop a slight suspicion that had I ended up in a different place from where I intended to go, but I shrugged and continued onward, figuring that I would find my way eventually and color in my Strava heatmap in the process. It came as a complete surprise to me, then, when I unexpectedly ran into a pack of five stray dogs on the shore of Lake Floreasca (a mostly drained, muddy shell of its former self). When I entered their line of sight, the feral creatures almost immediately started running towards me, barking furiously. At that point, I entered an almost dreamlike mental state, with a sinking feeling in my stomach and thoughts along the lines of "this can't be happening to me".

At first I tried the calm approach, orienting my palms parallel to the ground and verbally pleading with the dogs to leave me alone. Once the dogs darted towards me, I realized that this approach wouldn't work, so my self-preservation instincts took over and I adopted an aggressive stance, stomping the ground, yelling, and inching forward toward the dogs to get them to back off. This worked, albeit earning me only a foot or two of extra distance from the snarling animals, but it was enough for me to get a running start in the opposite direction. Unfazed, they started chasing me, and when they got within five or six inches of my exposed calves I turned around and repeated the aggressive stomp maneuver, once again getting them to back off a bit.

The thing that worried me the most was the dogs' intelligent attempts to surround me: as two of them gave chase behind me, two passed me on either side and tried to cut off my escape (the fifth dog was a bit late to the party, but nonetheless it caught up and joined the angry posse). I had to engage in a delicate balancing act, stomping towards the flanking dogs and also paying attention to the one nearly nipping at my heels. After three or four repetitions of the stomping game, I finally caught a break: a white van drove down a perpendicular street and turned in the direction the dogs were coming from, scaring them off as it almost ran them over. Still, I desperately wanted to get out of there, so I appealed to the kindness of a lady in her compact car, heading in the same direction as the van.

I knocked on her passenger window, presumably looking like I had seen a ghost, so she rolled down the window and I breathlessly explained that I was being chased by dogs. She agreed to give me a ride to a safer place, and I apologized to her profusely for my physical state (I had slipped and fallen in a mud puddle during my getaway, luckily getting back up quickly enough to avoid being bitten). Despite the emotional overload caused by the fear response (good old fight-or-flight), I still managed to remember to turn off my GPS for the duration of the quick drive and then turned it back on once I got out of the car and started running back home. I even contemplated the fact that I'd probably want to stitch together the two GPX files generated by Strava once I finished my run, just for the sake of having a more or less contiguous run map (the result isn't perfect, but it's certainly the best I could have hoped for given the circumstances).

As I ran the rest of the way home, I must confess that I briefly indulged vivid mental fantasies of returning to the scene and "euthanizing" all five dogs for the anguish they had caused me (and to prevent others from suffering a similar fate), although of course pragmatic concerns quickly put an end to that line of thought. Ultimately, when I finally walked in the door, I felt more scared than angry, but I was also relieved and thankful that I had emerged from such peril with only a muddy right flank.