The dogs of North Carolina
My first assignment in the U.S. Air Force was in the Midatlantic State of North “Kack-a-lackey,” as some of us airmen stationed in North Carolina used to jokingly refer to it. Why we called it that, I have no idea. Regardless, it was a beautiful place for enjoying outdoor activities, like running, and I was in my running prime back then at the very start of the 1980s.
I’ve run back roads, trails and streets in lots of American States, many of them breathtakingly gorgeous to behold—and I well remember that North Carolina is definitely one of those. But, it was not without its drawbacks. For instance, I found that without a doubt NC was also the worst in terms of “mean ass dogs per mile."
It was my experience that NC dogs were bigger, toothier, fiercer, and more aggressive than in anyplace I’ve EVER lived, bar none. To make matters worse, all those nasty Carolina canines were also THE most unchained and untied, also bar none. Even so, that didn’t stop me from venturing away from the comparative dog-free safety of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, my home.
In the style of those “ancient” bygone days, I hit the streets wearing little shorts, a tight tank top, baseball cap and running shoes. With so little on, I was as vulnerable to a dog attack as I possibly could be; and I wasn’t the only one to feel that vulnerability. Rick Chandler, a shopmate whose disc-jockey name was “Slick Rick,” was a 6-foot African-American. He loved riding his 12-speed bicycle long distances over the rolling North Carolina country roads. After suffering several scary “chasings by dog,” he began to ride with the protection of a heavy chain linked with a bike lock around his shoulders and neck. During an attack he could wield it to deadly effect against almost any dog foolish enough to nip at him. It wasn’t long before I learned for myself how crazy-mean the dogs were in that area.
Being in pretty good running shape meant that I could cover some pretty long distances, and like Rick, I disliked doing all of it within the confines of the air force base. I could run 15 miles easy on a long slow day and I did exactly that 3 or 4 times a month; but usually, I did more prudent runs of between 6 and 10 miles. It was on one of these shorter routes that I found myself in mortal canine combat.
One spring afternoon, after my shift at the component repair shop, I headed out on a run from our place at 206 Kenly Road in base housing. I started off briskly, and in ten minutes I was through the back gate and heading straight up the road to East Ash Boulevard, as I remember, a 4-lane major thoroughfare about a mile up from the gate.
Twenty or so minutes after the start of my foray, I popped down, into and through a 6-foot ditch, across the busy 4-lane East Ash, and into a gas station lot that may or may not still be there some 25 years later. Just behind the gas station was a low rent trailer court. My plan was to cut across a gravel access road that teed off of one from the trailer court; and then I figured to jog across an open grassy field into a large municipal nature park, which was actually my ultimate objective all along. The park, a favorite of mine, was all trees and grass, laced with plenty of trails, and absolutely perfect for what I liked more than anything, cross country running. However that’s not quite how it turned out.
My spine went cold and my legs weak at a sudden fearsome rumbling coming from my right and slightly behind me. It was a deep angry reverberating growl, and whatever its source it was approaching fast. I knew that because upon snapping my head around I saw that the growling snarl was issuing from the throat of a large and charging German shepherd.
I had a life and death decision to make, because that mad dog monster was sprinting right at me up the middle of the gravel road from the trailers. 10 feet of chain snapped wildly behind it from its thick leather collar; he must have snapped the chain with a mighty lunge upon seeing me. Some dogs see a runner and its chasing instinct kicks in; it’s the wolf genetics, and in this case, I was irresistible fleeing prey. Well, this was one human “deer” that was going to fight back.
I knew not to try to run away; all that would do was inspire it to tear out the backs of my legs. No way! Not my legs! A runner’s legs are his life. My brother claims that all anyone has to do in that situation is to point forcefully at the charging animal and yell as loud as possible at it, “NO!” That might well have worked in this case, but by the time I saw it, the dog was almost on top of me. And besides, I had never seen anything like this crazily intense animal. He wasn’t barking, he wasn’t blustering, his only intent to close with and kill me horribly. I knew this instantly; I FELT it in my gut.
Skidding to a stop on the gravel and turning quickly to face it, I had only a moment to assume a classic fighting stance—legs apart with the right foot slightly behind as a brace, body crouched, and fists held high with the right one pulled back. In this case, I also pulled my chin as far down to my chest as I could get it—I’m sure I did this because I could feel its intense gaze locked onto my throat.
In far less time than it’s taken to read this sentence, the deeply growling animal swiftly closed in. I was shocked that he continued his furious charge, as most dogs will check up and cautiously circle before coming in for the first snapping bite. I think this one had some training though, because there was no pause in him at all; he was a freight train and I was Pauline atrussed upon the tracks. Like a Looney Toon animation character, the rampaging beast’s scrabbling paws and claws threw a shower of gravel and dust behind it.
Five feet to my front, it gathered itself for the final leaping lunge and threw itself headlong, paws first, up and at my face. I noticed things in that split second that still spill into my memory—its chest broad and muscular, the fur there a lighter brown than the shoulders, legs and body; glittering dark eyes half-closed in a black face; teeth yellowed and glistening with saliva, every single pointed one of them; and at the end of the attack, I recall a mouth as gaping as a hippo’s, apparently to facilitate the ripping out of my windpipe. I observed too that it cocked its head slightly, exactly like a person does to adjust for biting into a taco. Funny the things one notices in stressful moments.
In an instant, all traces of trepidation disappeared from my trembling gut. I became as enraged as my attacker. I WANTED him to attack. I pulled my right fist back a little further to create more leverage and threw the hardest twisting punch of my life. It was a right cross, and it was perfect.
In golfing and baseball the most powerful hitting and driving strokes feel absolutely effortless when performed. It was like that with that right cross. I caught that shepherd directly on his gaping lower jaw and suddenly his world flipped upside down. The rumble in his chest turned into a whimpering shriek, as my crashing right fist unexpectedly unhinged and dislocated his lower jaw. Of course it was a lucky punch—a dog’s jaw muscles are some of the strongest of any creature its size.
The yelping would-be-assailant collapsed in a thumping crash to the ground on his broad furry side; his dislocated jaw stuck over a good inch to the right. His pain must have been enormous. However, I wasn’t done with him. I roared obscenities at the stricken animal and kicked and stomped its struggling body as it lay writhing in agony. I really wanted to kill it and I was dead set on accomplishing that task when a plaintive voice in the most exaggerated southern black accent I’ve ever heard interrupted me.
“Whet yo dewin ta MAH dohhhg?”
It was the fallen dog’s owner, an ancient black woman in curlers, slippers and a bathrobe, and none too happy with my treatment of her “pet.” Anyway, her question brought me out of my berserker rage and back to my senses, slightly.
At that moment I was surprised to hear cheering and horns honking from a multitude of cars. All four lanes of traffic on the busy avenue had halted upon seeing the huge animal bearing down on me. The drivers must have been amazed and probably relieved at how quickly the tables had turned. Many of them, broadly grinning, pumped their fists at me, while others waved, nodded approvingly and gave me the thumbs up. Some had even gotten out of their stopped cars right in the middle of the avenue, probably to lend assistance if need be. Still stunned, I just stared at them and gave them a feeble return wave. I can imagine the stories told around some dining tables that night.
Adrenaline still coursed through me like a freshly injected speedball, and turning back to the old woman, I answered her loudly and angrily, “I hope I hurt your damn dog BAD lady, because he was trying to KILL me! You’d better keep him chained up, or next time I WILL kill IT!”
I spun around and continued my run, not waiting for her response. I really didn’t care what she had to say anyway.
But as I said, there were lots of mean dogs in North Carolina…
Later that winter, on a bitterly cold and windy day, I found myself jogging in a part of Goldsboro where I’d never been before. It was semi-rural, with widely spaced houses built well back from the road. Passing a split-level, I heard before seeing an outraged dog, another shepherd, which soon set itself upon me. It had charged, barking irately the entire time, across a large expanse of snow-dusted yard; and it paused only momentarily before trying to bite my legs through my sweat pants.
I tried kicking at it while continuing a running escape, but it was almost impossible to make any headway, so unremitting were his snapping attacks. I could hear the alarming sound its teeth made as it repeatedly strove to snap them shut into me. In a moment my baggy pant legs had several tears and rips from the effects of the toothy attack.
I had retreated to the center lane of the road when lucky for me a Good Samaritan in a sedan slowed down and yelled at me to use his car as cover. It worked. I was able to keep the slowly moving vehicle between the dog and me until I could make good my withdrawal. The man saved me from a sure mauling. I gave him a heartfelt high sign as he drove away.
But, now I was pissed! I wanted revenge. I planned another run for the following weekend that would once again pass by that spiteful animal. Only this time I was determined to turn the tables like I had done with the first evil shepherd. I owned a knife that looked like a stick when sheathed. The 5-inch blade was sturdy, pointed and sharp and it had one good cutting edge. For a week I dreamed of exacting some payback. The idea that I should have to suffer an assault while running on a public road was not something I was willing to accept, from neither man nor beast. That dog would have to pay—by bleeding, and hopefully, dying!
My goal was to draw it in close before jumping on it, grappling it and stabbing it repeatedly in the chest and head. I figured I was going to take some damage as well, but I accepted that as part of the wages of war, a war that it had started and one that I was “doggedly” determined to finish.
It was a Sunday afternoon; I found myself almost to the house of my four-legged enemy. I slowed down at the place where its owner’s yard first came up to the road and pulled out the knife. Removing the wooden sheath, I hid the knife up along the inside of my left arm. Then, I heard the dog take up its mad bark and start its charge.
‘Yes! Here he comes!’ I thought eagerly. ‘Come on! Come and get your medicine!’
I slowed down even more, feeling a jolt of thrilling energy surge through me. I was ready for Freddy! ‘Come on Freddy!’
Then, suddenly, it stopped. I glanced to my right to where I thought the animal would be and it wasn’t there. The dog had stopped about 20 feet from me and was just barking weakly, refusing to come another step. I stopped and turned toward the now cowardly beast.
“Well, come on you piece of dog sh*t!” I yelled goadingly. I even took a step or two out onto the brown winter-dead grass of its yard, but it only retreated. It looked like the same dog, but it sure didn’t act like the same snarling snapping creature of only a week earlier. My long imagined fantasy of being locked in a death struggle with it was not to be. I think I was disappointed AND relieved, maybe mostly relieved.
The shepherd must have smelled or sensed something different about me. I had never shown it even a glimpse of the knife, but it knew something was up for sure. I carried that knife with me on all my runs for the rest of my Air Force tour in North Carolina, always hoping that I might someday get a chance to use it. Only problem is that every time a dog seemed willing to come at me it would suddenly stop its attack, look confused and skulk away.
Well, maybe not every time….
There WAS another terrifying time that my little sheathe knife would have done me very little good. It was a balmy Saturday morning, and I had asked a buddy to drive me out to a State park some 15 or 20 miles out into the countryside so that I could run back on the straight.
Less than three miles into my return and I saw something in the distance that made me sick with dread. Way off to my left, out across a field planted thick with tobacco, was a pack of about a half-dozen farmer’s dogs. I could see that at least two had the distinctive shapes of Dobermans, while the others were just BIG.
‘Oh SH*T! I’m dead!’
I pulled the sheath off my knife, but I knew it wouldn’t do squat against a pack of those baying wolf-like creatures. My only chance was to GO! I kicked into the fastest gear I had and began to pump out a fear-powered mile that I hoped would put me out of whatever territorial range they had.
I knew I couldn’t outrun them if they were determined to catch me, even though they did have a very steeply inclined slope to negotiate to get to me. I looked down that slope to my left and saw them begin to lope across the field in my direction. Apparently they had done this before, because they weren’t running directly at me, but were angling towards the place they figured I would be once they got to the road. Smart creatures.
I put my head down and ran like the wind. I continued to take the occasional leftward glance as they drew ever nearer, but stopped looking for them after a half-mile when I came to the end of the expansive tobacco field where a long patch of thick woods crowded both sides of the two-lane country asphalt. I could still faintly hear their excited howls, but I began to relax when I realized they probably weren’t going to catch up to me. Nevertheless, I continued a fast pace until I was sure I had gotten away. Thank you God!
Anyhow, running in North Carolina is like that—lots of big mean dogs with rows of sharp teeth in their loudly barking salivating mouths.
Run there at your own risk—and if you must be on foot, carry a weapon.
Believe it or not, as a kid, I loved dogs. That changed when, as a youngster, I took up the “double dog” whammy of both running AND delivering newspapers. From harsh personal experience I can say positively that dogs don’t like runners and they HATE paperboys even more. So, I learned to hate them right back. In fact, when it comes to dogs, we’ve been mortal enemies for a long time. Of course I realize that there are a lot of dog lovers in the world, and if you are one, lets agree that if you keep your animal away from me then I won’t fight to the death with it!
I should have entitled this post “Man Bites Dog!”