It wasn’t the first time a dog had bitten me, and it probably won’t be the last. I’ve been a runner since I was a teenager, and most runners have been bitten by a dog or two.
The incident happened three Mondays ago. It was a beautiful autumn day — sunny with a bright blue sky embellished with white fluffy clouds that were in no particular hurry to cross the sky. I decided I needed a little exercise, so I laced up my running shoes, stretched my legs, and took off running down a scenic country road.
I’ve run past this particular dog over a hundred times in the last year. The Australian Cattle Dog (people around here call them Blue Heelers) is usually sprawled out on her side in the grass near a porch in a neighbor’s front yard. Up until that day, she never paid me any attention.
But three Mondays ago, as I jogged up the hill that curves by the neighbor’s house, I noticed the Blue Heeler was standing by the road watching me. Then I heard her make a noise — more of a grunt than a growl — and saw her charge forward.
I’ve been around dogs all my life. From experience, I know to avoid eye contact and stop running — dogs often lose interest when the chase ends. I moved to the opposite side of the road and slowed to a walk. I turned my gaze away from the dog, and in my friendliest voice said, “Hey, baby. How you doing?”
And that’s when I felt the familiar pain in my lower right leg, just above my ankle. Ouch. She hit me with the force of a locomotive and afterwards retreated back to her yard.
I walked to a safe distance away, then looked back at the dog.
“Could she be rabid?” I wondered. “Why would a dog who has never exhibited any aggressive behavior suddenly decide to bite me today?”
No cars were in the driveway. I would have to wait until the neighbors got home to inquire about her vaccination status. I walked home in a bit of shock and a little pain.
By the time I got home, my calf was swelling. Because I was wearing running tights, there were only two minor puncture wounds, but a bruise had begun to emerge in the shape of a dog’s mouth. I cleaned it with soap and water, then alcohol, then applied an antibiotic cream and a bandage.
My mind drifted back to 1985. I was home from college one summer and decided to run a couple of miles (to the lake and back). Just as I neared my turnaround point, a small scruffy dog charged me, barking, snarling, and showing me her sharp canines. And just like three Mondays ago, I felt the pain just above the ankle on the back of my right leg. Ouch.
As I walked home in a state of shock, my father happened to drive by in his big, yellow Plymouth Fury. He knew something was wrong when he saw me walking, and not running. I showed him my bloody leg, and he drove me home. Then he drove back to the house to talk to the owners and inquire about the dog.
“When I pulled into their driveway, would you believe that little dog ran over and started biting the tires on the car?” he told Mom and me later.
The dog was a stray who had given birth to puppies in the culvert pipe under the neighbor’s driveway. She was a feisty little thing — just trying to protect her babies — and I guess she saw me as a threat.
Another time, a neighbor’s big black dog trotted behind me as I jogged around the block one afternoon. Wolfy nipped at me playfully. I could hear his teeth clamping together each time he leapt into the air. It was kind of cute, until he made contact with the fleshy, sensitive part of my derrière. Ouch.
But back to the dog and the bite I received three weeks ago. Luckily, the dog was current on all her shots. Unfortunately, I was not. After consulting with one of my doctor friends, I learned I needed a tetanus shot, so a few days later, a nurse injected me with the Tdap vaccine (tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis).
In retrospect, I think the dog may have been trying to “herd” me. She didn’t seem particularly angry, and she didn’t go after me a second time. Indeed, Blue Heelers were selectively bred for controlling and herding cattle with force, by nipping and biting stubborn cattle’s heels to get them to move. Maybe she mistook me for a stubborn cow. Or maybe she was just bored that day and decided to bite me to break the monotony of the afternoon. I’ll never know. And I’ll probably never run by her house again. But like I said, it wasn’t the first time a dog has bitten me, and it probably won’t be the last.