Thursday, January 22, 2015

Walking with Dogs, Angels

I see people walking their dogs on my drive home from taking the kids to school, and I think, How can they do that? Aren't they scared?"

Yet walking is my preferred form of exercise. I used to love to walk my dog, though I was always nervous when large dogs barked and lunged at gates as we passed.

Then one day while passing a house, a pit bull or boxer mix ran out and attacked our dog, Taz. Danny, my little boy, was with us on his scooter. I yelled at him to ignore the dog and to stay away, and he cried as he watched the big dog grab our terrier by the neck and shake him in its mouth twice, maybe three times. I thought Taz was going to be killed, and that my little son would have that terrible memory of watching his pet being throttled to death. The lady who ran after the big dog did not know how to control it and did very little except to squirt water from a bottle onto its muscalur neck. Then she asked me to pick up my own dog. I am ashamed to say that I didn't want to, terrified that her animal would turn on me. When I finally grabbed Taz, the larger dog stalked us, eyes concentrated on my poor furry friend. I told Danny to go ahead of us, to keep his distance, but at one point, as the other animal still trailed us, I looked around, rotating, and cried aloud, "Where can we go? Where can we go?"

I was not very brave, and later I agonized over how well I protected Danny by merely telling him to stay away from Taz and me and the other dog. I also wondered why, in situations where I find myself controlled by fear, I do not cry out silently to God for guidance. For I have asked him for guidance in other situations, and often his answer has been instantaneous.

However, with my wail of, Where can we go?,  there came an answer. Two good Samaritans, male neighbors of the woman, showed up. One had a garden rake or broom in his hand, and he used it to keep the dog away from us. Then he brusquely told the woman to grab the dog by his collar. As she did so I wondered why neither of us had thought of that. I wondered for no more than a moment, though, because I was busy telling Danny to go quickly on the scooter to stay ahead of me as we made our retreat. Sobbing, I did turn my head as we went, and threw several garbled thank yous back at those gentlemen.

Our dog survived that attack, and as I bathed him that morning, I did not even find the blood and lacerations I was fully expecting. I can only think that his long hair and collar offered protection. I was a bit of a mess as I told my husband of the events and later a close friend on the phone.

We never ventured down that street again. Trying to walk my dog after that, I kept a golf club close at my side, but the excursions became successively shorter and closer to home. I was terrified of another incident and became even more fearful for my children's safety, something with which I already struggle a great deal. Several homes in the neighborhood have large dogs who are kept confined much of the time, making them aggressive I suspect.

Nevertheless, our dog still desires walks, and he would prefer it if we actually journeyed more than a few yards each way down our street.

One Sunday I caved in when my kids begged to take Taz on a walk. My husband opted out; walks bore him. I wanted him to come, because fear holds little sway with him, but I comforted myself that Berto, my big twelve-year-old boy, had more than triple my courage in hairy situations.

The loop around the block went alright until we got down the main drag and saw a little black dog running free. Our Taz goes spastic in the presence of cats or other dogs, so I picked him up in order to avoid even the smallest fight. As we rounded the corner onto our street, we no longer saw the other critter, but I still nervously scanned the road as I cradled Taz in my arms. Then just as we passed a home with an open gate, a pit bull charged out at us.

Fear grabs me by the neck in such cases, making my eyes bulge as everything seems to happen simultaneously at lightning speed and agonizingly slow. Foolish woman, I had been walking too fast in my anxiety and was ahead of all my children, though not much. I turned and saw the animal brush past my kids, and I thought clearly, He is going to bite one of my children!

Out of the corner of my eye I saw someone off to the left on a bike, someone we had not seen on the street when we turned. The dog charged the person and then without any perceivable cause abruptly turned tail and ran back inside the gate.

I was already telling my children to come NOW! Ella took off on her scooter. Daniel was fumbling with his, so I told him to leave it; we would come back, and I grabbed his little wrist in a vice grip and trotted with him toward the house. Ana followed us close behind, and Berto grabbed the scooter and brought up our rear, holding the metal toy at the ready.

The dog never came back out. Daniel rebelled against my propulsion.

"You're hurting me, Mama!" he cried. I hadn't meant to, but I was desperate not to let my littlest one be in another scary situation.

As for the biker, our friend, he came slowly behind us, an empty baby trailer attached to his bike. Realizing his pace and that he was basically securing our escape, I turned and said breathlessly, "Thank you for being braver than I am."

He responded by saying he was glad he was there.

Ella said, "That was a pit bull, wasn't it?"

He nodded. "It doesn't help the perceptions people have about them, huh?"

We were at our house, and he paused at the sidewalk by our property and said, "My buddy lives there. I need to tell him about that." He pulled out his cellphone and gazed at it for a moment. I thanked him again, and then the kids, Taz and I went inside and started spilling the story to Matthew. I pulled back the curtain as I told him of the man, but he was already gone. Again, as always, I agonized aloud over how quickly I had reacted, how I could have better protected my kids. Gratefully, I turned to Berto and thanked him for keeping a cool head and bringing up the rear, protecting his siblings. I scolded Matthew for not coming with us. He responded that I needed to let it go; we were safe, and there was no use in beating the subject to death.

Late that night I lay awake in bed thinking about the strangeness of the morning's encounter: how we didn't notice the bicyclist on the street until after we saw the dog ---(Did he come from the other direction? Where did he come from?)---; how neither the pit bull nor Taz made any noise at each other; how the pit bull inexplicably ran back inside the fence after confronting the man on the bike; how I never heard the bicyclist shout anything at that muscular animal to frighten it; how the dog never ventured back out as we walked the remaining several yards down the street even though the gate stood gaping, and we were a noisy, anxious bunch; and how the man followed us with his empty baby trailer to our home and paused as we went in.

I also reflected on how my prayers for my children had changed since our car accident a few years ago. I felt at the time that their angels kept them completely free from harm, and that changed my prayers. I began not simply to pray to God for his protection over my kids' each day but to pray more specifically that their angels would walk with, watch over, and guard them.

Was that man one of those guardian angels? Laugh if you like. My husband looked as if he thought it wasn't a sound idea when I confided in him the next morning....and yet after the man supposedly called his "buddy", the yard gate still remained open that whole day.

Yes, I know. He probably wasn't a supernatural being, but I think of him often with gratitude, because I do not doubt one bit that, angel or no, his presence at that moment on a Sunday morning made a big difference for my family.

Some time ago a priest asked me to compose a personal prayer for peace, because he rightly discerned, I think, that I am often restless, passionate, and fearful - controlled by my emotions. I liked his idea, so I built one from several Scripture passages that had spoken to me reassuringly. This was that prayer, and I pray it or some form of it often when my emotions hold too great a sway over me or my fears nag me with a plague of ugly pictures:

Where sin increased Grace overflowed all the more

Lord Jesus, give me your peace

Let not my heart be troubled

Neither let it be afraid

But send the Holy Spirit

To give me courage

In every circumstance



  1. Angels do often masquerade as men, so why not? That is terrifying - I think you handled it bravely. You handled it the best you could.

    1. Thanks, Jennie. I am very good at beating myself up for mistakes, so your comment is uplifting. Thank you.

      And though I risk ridicule from others, I maintain that man was very likely a guardian angel, and Berto agrees.

  2. I have no doubt God sends His angels to guard and keep us.
    We have a family around here with three dogs that run into the road and bite. I bought pepper spray designed especially for animals. I carry it with me whenever I walk. So far, I haven't had to use it, but I feel a little better prepared.

    1. Yes, I need to decide on a plan, too. It always helps to know that others battle fear, too, and do their best to build their courage. You take your walks still (and you live in a beautiful place, so you should!), but you know your plan.

  3. Yikes, Hillary! Yes, I think God was watching out for you. I have many of the same fears about dogs that you talk about here, and reading about your experiences was anxiety provoking. : ) Something that might help you is to think up a reaction plan if something like this happens again--such as "I'll pick up my dog", "I'll scream and shout at the attacking dog", "I'll tell the owner to grab their dog". . . I used to do this when I rode the subway in NYC as I had heard plenty of tales of harassment that women had been exposed to there. It made me so mad that I vowed if someone ever tried to grope me or expose themselves I would make a huge scene. I just imagined myself doing it in my head. Then, of course, one day someone did expose themselves to me on the train. My IMMEDIATE reaction was to scream, "PERVERT" and whack the guy with the umbrella in my hand. He took off running from the car, and there was a big uproar among the people around me--I felt slightly embarrassed, but then the woman next to me shared how men used to harass her on the train all the time and all she could do was cry! It was empowering to feel that I had done something constructive instead of just being a victim--and it still makes me laugh today when I think about it. So, negative into positive. At least then you won't have to berate yourself afterwards about what you should have done! And keep praying. I trust God a lot more than myself to keep His head in an emergency. ; ) (Camille)

    1. You tell great stories, Camille! It makes me angry to know that harassment is such a prevalent problem on the subways - so common that women have to plan for it. Brother!

      I often use my imagination to help cope with other fears. I need to use it here, too. I think research has been done about people imagining how they would handle themselves in dangerous situations, and it helped them react as hoped the more they visualized their plan.

      That last statement in your comment is such a beauty! And ain't it the truth? I've missed you. Thanks for the comment, my friend!

  4. How else would an angel appear than as a man? Not only is it possible, but in fact likely that he was.

    1. Thanks, Dad. Yes, I believe he was. Even if he wasn't I still believe he was there at that moment for a reason - by God's grace.


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