20: The Fear Factor

20: The Fear Factor

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

The Fear Factor

Fun fact: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is 150 years old, having been founded in 1866 by Henry Bergh.

For my dog’s first birthday, I entered him in a K-9 fun run sponsored by our local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). I’m not much of a runner, but the run was only a 3K, so I thought it would be fun for both of us.

We practiced in the weeks leading up to the run. On our practice runs, he was always raring to go and usually dragged me along behind him. I worked on his leash manners so that he wouldn’t trip me on the big day. I felt we were ready for anything.

The fun run was downtown amidst the big buildings, so the noise of barking dogs all around us was amplified to a deafening pitch at the start of the race. My dog bolted when the starting tone went off. He had trouble running in the right direction with all the confusion around us. Soon the runners began to thin out, and my dog was running straight and fast. We were passing people and making great time. I was dreaming of a gold-medal finish.

At the halfway point in the course, we turned right, then right again at the next block, and then headed back on the parallel street. When we were six blocks from the finish, my dog screeched to a stop and dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes. I almost dislocated my shoulder from the sudden stop as I was jerked backward by the leash.

He was lying flat on his belly with his head down in the middle of the intersection. At first I thought something bad had happened to him. He was shaking and whimpering. I did a quick check and couldn’t see anything wrong. I tried to get him up, but he refused. The police officer doing traffic control at the intersection was impatiently motioning for me to move along so he could release the cars.

But I couldn’t get my seventy-five-pound dog to get up. The harder I tried to pry him off the pavement, the more he fought me. I tried to drag him over to the curb, but he was dead weight. The officer was yelling at me. Cars were honking. I pulled and pulled. My dog wouldn’t move.

Finally, I got my arm under him and lifted him up in a fireman’s carry, throwing him over my shoulder. As I staggered to the curb, people at the nearby bus stop were taking my dog’s side. “Poor dog is tired.” “You were running him too hard.” “He needs a ride back.” And laughter. Lots of laughter. I was fuming. My dog would run all day long at the dog park if I let him. He wasn’t the least bit tired. He was scared.

When I adopted him, he and his two siblings had been rescued from death inside a tightly tied black trash bag that someone had dumped on the side of the road. An alert garbage man noticed the bag was moving and used a metal rake to tear open the bag to look inside. My dog and his siblings were only puppies at the time. The rake damaged the nerves in my dog’s back so he limped a little, but he could run as fast as lightning.

Another half-block of carrying my getting-heavier-with-every-step dog brought the answer. A garbage truck was idling at the curb. The sound of it must have hit my dog’s sensitive doggie ears when we turned the second corner. He cried louder and clawed at my back as we drew closer to it. I held on tighter and tried to comfort him. I don’t know where I found the strength, but I ran as fast as I could to get my sweet baby dog away from that scary garbage truck.

I ran with him on my shoulder until I felt him relax, and then I set him down. He wagged his tail in gratitude for me saving him from the garbage truck. We stood there until I could breathe normally again, and then we ran like maniacs to the finish line. We didn’t win any medals, but I won his trust forever.

~Kathryn Lehan

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