Monday, February 21, 2011

What Risks Do We Accept When We Go Running?

What are the risks of running? What types of risks do we knowingly acknowledge, accept, and consent to when we venture out the door to run (or ride, or walk, or get the newspaper) each day? When I run, I recognize that I am leaving myself open to certain dangers - ice/damaged/rugged trails and streets, changeable/hazardous weather conditions, and wild animals (where I live coyotes, mountain lions, and snakes, including rattlers, are common), cars, and bikes. I could keel over with a heart attack. My muscles could seize up and leave me stranded in the middle of nowhere. I could, and have, gotten very lost. I accept and acknowledge these dangers. The risks are worth it to me, and as a mature, reasonable and reasoning human being, I have a right to take these risks. However, there are certain threats/risks that I do not accept nor consent to when I tie my shoes and head out into the world.

Last week I was out on a Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) trail I've run regularly for many many years. This is a trail I use to access most of my running routes. It's a trail I depend on and treasure. It also boarders a neighborhood, and so it is popular with walkers (with and without dogs), cyclists, families out to enjoy a sunny day, kids learning how to ride bikes, kite fliers - you get the picture. We all seem to coexist nicely. But on this particular morning, something went horribly wrong.

As I ran along, another runner ran toward me, waving away a large dog. As he approached me he told me that the dog had just jumped over its fence, and it was acting pretty aggressive. I said 'thanks' as the dog turned her attention to me. During my 25+ years of running I've had many interactions with growlly dogs, and my experience has always been that if you stay calm and move along slowly they usually leave you alone. I also worked for a time at the local Humane Society, and we were trained on how to spot the signs of aggression and how to deal with it when we saw it. However, this dog was not deterred. She began circling me preventing me from moving along the trail in either direction. She moved in barking and jumping at me. I quietly walked backwards saying "go home" calmly, trying all the while not to make eye contact with her. From there things just escalated. She came at me continuously, barking and biting at the air while backing me into a field. At this point I began yelling for help, hoping that someone would come out of one of the nearby houses. A neighbor came around the side of her house but did nothing other than watch what was happening. I pleaded with her to please help, to call someone. She did nothing. Meanwhile the dog continued jumping at me. I blocked her attacks with my foot, trying desperately to keep some distance between her and my body. Another walker came down the trail, having heard my calls for help. She called back to me that she was calling 911. Twice the dog grabbed my foot in her mouth, once pulling me off balance. I was afraid that if she pulled me down, I would be in a very bad way. The dog was an Tibetan Mastiff and weighed around 130lbs. I weigh in at around 115lbs. I kicked her in the head, hard, several times trying to keep her off of me. This went on for about 7 minutes according to my watch which was running the whole time.

There have been few times that I've really feared for my life, but at some point I realized that I was in serious trouble. All I could do was keep fighting her off, and I was getting tired! At the point when I was feeling that perhaps it was a losing battle, another neighbor came out, opened her gate and stepped out a few feet from her yard. The dog ran over to her, barking furiously, and the woman quickly slipped back into her yard. That gave me enough time to run, fast, down the trail. Fight had happened. It was time for flight, and I moved!

When I got home I called the necessary authorities (they were waiting to hear from me since 3 other witnesses had already contacted them) and I was told that there really wasn't much I could do. The owners would be issued a ticket, but that's all that could be done since this was a first offense.

So here's the thing: This experience: 1)wiped me out for several days (I was exhausted and unable to sleep), and 2) has left me with tweaked calfs/hamstrings/glutes (in the leg I used to hold myself up and the leg I used to defend myself). An injury due to a dog attack will basically trash my race/training plans for the foreseeable future (and many dollars of registration fees down the drain). Then there's the possible cost of physical therapy, and of course, not being able to run! I want to scream to the world "THIS IS JUST NOT FAIR. I DID'T ASK FOR THIS. THIS IS NOT PART OF THE DEAL!!!". If I fall and break my leg on black ice, okay, that's a risk I accept and acknowledge. But vicious dogs, vicious people, road rage drivers? NO! The city gets the $$$$ for the fine - what the hell do I get? I'm angry as hell.

This type of question/issue also comes up when a woman is attacked/raped (running or not). Many say: Well, she was out there. Why was she out there? She shouldn't have been out there. What does she expect? etc. But, while a woman out running must accept certain risks (like the ones listed above) being attacked or raped is not something I accept as a possible and reasonable risk of running. Nor do I accept the risk of being attacked by a dog that is improperly supervised, restrained, or trained. The attitude I seem to be hearing from many is that it's terrible that this happened, but that's just too bad for me. In my view someone is responsible, and it sure as hell ain't me.


  1. Caolin, you are definitely not responsible. I'd start carrying a big-ass stick with me, to either throw for the dog to chase or to hit it with. When my husband was younger, he did a lot of long-distance cycling. He tells stories of having to beat dogs off with his tire pump while pedalling like mad to get away from them. People need to take responsibility for their animals. It's better for the animal, as well. I hope you can safely run that trail now.

  2. Nancy, I know it's not my fault, but so many people seem to think it's somehow the victim's choice to take risks that are imposed on them by other (reasoning? responsible?) beings. When lara Logan was attacked, raped, and beaten last week in Cairo, some of the comments were: Well, she's hot, what do you expect?" WHAT!!?? Now, I'm not comparing my experience to a rape - but I was assaulted by the people who failed to take proper care of their dog. And, I feel that I've been "wronged" in a way that I wouldn't if I tripped on a rock and broke my leg...
    Thanks for following, and for the comment of support!

  3. That's awful, and I can't believe the woman who just stood there and watched! I had a scary incident with a big dog when I was out just walking. No idea if it belonged to anyone but it was just barking, circling me, nipping at my hands until I guess I finally left his "territory" and then he continued down the street. I was pretty shaken up just from that. I wonder if pepper spray would deter a dog. Sorry you had to experience this! There are so many irresponsible ppl out there.


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