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Lassie, Haiti and the Animal In Me

By Scott Simpson

January 25, 2010

It has been kind of rough going for me the last few weeks with some challenges that have interfered with my life/training. First, I had a minor cosmet- er, medical procedure that prevented any swim training for just over a week. Most recently I've been battling the flu -- but not H1N1 or seasonal flu coz I got those shots -- and have missed 2 days of work and 3 days of training.

But the most dramatic challenge was while I was out for a run earlier this week. Two Border Collies, one medium, one large -- the latter looked a lot like Lassie -- barking aggressively, ran toward me along the path in the nearby ravine. The owner yelled at the dogs but they paid no heed. I continued running as both dogs came closer, barking loudly. I'm used to dogs running up to me while running -- they usually want to play or they stick their nose in my crotch as way of hello -- but these dogs were quite aggressive in manner. Nevertheless I held my running line as they came to either side of me and, truth be told, I was now consciously hiding my fear. But maybe they could smell it.

After the first nip at my thigh I automatically went into a fight or flight state of mind. I stopped and turned toward the culprit, Lassie, and it backed up a bit but continued to bark and charge aggressively while the other dog went to my opposite side, barking threateningly. The owner continued to yell at them to no effect. And I realized I was surrounded by a pack, albeit of only 2 dogs, and went into flight mode.

On some level I knew that by running I was acting out the part of prey and feeding into the dog's aggressiveness. I was hoping that as I got farther away from the owner the dogs would feel less threatened / protective and I could continue on my merry little way. As I ran I looked over my shoulder as Lassie closed in on me, barking even more aggressively. I continued running, resisting the urge to stop, turn and confront. Instead, I was consciously -- no, that's not quite right -- instinctively, I was instinctively waiting for an opportunity and continued at the same pace, neither slowing nor speeding up, my head turned, eyes locked on the dog.

Lassie continued to bark and run closer to my heels, and then it came within biting distance again. Without missing stride, I quickly swung my fist down to connect as hard as I could with Lassie's snout as it lunged for my thigh. It stopped barking and running and seemed taken aback more then hurt. It turned back toward its screaming owner and I continued down the snowy path, heart pounding, senses heightened, aware of the rush from the adrenaline released into my system. I felt powerful, proud, big.

As I continued my run I remembered a previous encounter with 2 dogs when I was running in which one bite me and would have drawn blood if not for my several layers of winter clothing. But this current incident was less traumatic, perhaps because I had the previous similar episode. In that instance I had a full on fight or flight experience complete with tunnel vision focused on the attacking dog and the distancing and 'backgrounding' of voices.

I find these to be quite surreal experiences actually; recognizing that not very far from my surface are base, animal instincts ready to supersede my frontal lobe control. Sobering. And scary. And gives me a glimpse, a very small understanding -- and if only fleetingly -- what many people of Haiti are experiencing as they try to survive amid the surrounding destruction and anarchy. Base, animal instincts -- and behaviours -- as they search for food, water, shelter.

Makes my recent 'challenges' seem insignificant. And my whining about them petty.

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