Thursday, June 12, 2014

About Those Dogs

If you have followed along with my blog for the entire trip, you know that we were plagued by loose dogs that terrorized us along the route by charging and chasing us...through almost every state. Leash laws either do not exist or are not enforced in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Sometimes we were charged by an individual dog; sometimes we were charged by multiple dogs, up to eight at a time. By the time we were halfway through Ohio, the dog problem became rare. Most dogs from then on were leashed or fenced, or were under voice command.

Anatomy of an Attack:

In the photo below, I'm at an intersection of two roads in Ohio. (The intersection is behind me.) I have stopped to study my map and directions. Looks like a nice day and a nice road, doesn't it? There is even a small shoulder on this road.

Look again. See who have spotted me and are getting ready to "greet" me?

While I hesitated to move forward, these dogs set to barking incessantly. I got lucky this time; the owner of the dogs came out of the house and called the two dogs inside. Phew! I was able to cycle forward without being molested.

What usually happened: The dogs would get wound up into a frenzy by watching my feet spinning on the pedals, and they would charge out into the road, barking and leaping. The particularly vicious ones would snarl, bare their teeth, and act like they were going to bite. A few of the other riders, particularly the men with deep voices, could occasionally yell "Go home!" or some such thing and have that stop the dogs. I found that yelling mostly did not work for me. Oftentimes, if I talked sweetly to them, I could get them to calm down. What I said didn't matter, as long as I said it in a sweet, friendly voice. ("Hey, good dog. I'm really not that interesting. There's nothing for you here. Aren't you a good dog! You can go home any time now...") The one thing that universally worked for me was to stop pedaling. Every dog would stop charging if I stopped pedaling. I pretty quickly figured out that, if I stopped pedaling while they were still far off, they would stop charging before they were on top of me. If I thought I could out-run them, I'd pedal hard--boosted by the added adrenaline. If I was headed downhill but they were gaining on me, I stopped pedaling (which stopped their charge) and coasted out of harms way. If I was headed uphill, I would stop pedaling...but try to resume pedaling before I lost all momentum. The tenacious dogs would resume their charge as soon as I started pedaling again. Unfortunately, that meant I sometimes had to get off my bike and walk. If I was lucky, I wouldn't have to walk too far before the dogs would lose interest and I could get back on my bike and pedal. In one case, I wondered if I would have to walk the whole route. A pair of large, particularly-vicious-sounding dogs charged me and forced me off my bike. When I had walked about 30 feet away from them and was starting to think about getting back on my bike, one of the dogs would charge me again (and his buddy would join in). I stopped walking and turned around to face them, and they would stop charging when they were about ten feet from me. I resumed walking, would get about 30 feet away, and they would charge again. Over and over. Scary.

Other riders tried more aggressive deterrents--squirting water, kicking, or squirting pepper spray (or other toxic substances, like ammonia). My concern about these methods is exactly what they teach the dog. Will the dog learn to stay away from bicyclists? Or might the dog became more hateful, and work harder at getting the jump on the next bicyclist that comes along? When on a tour, that next cyclist would be one of the other riders in your group.

Where were the dog owners? Mostly nowhere around. On the rare occasion, the owner was in the yard or came out of the house because their dog was barking ferociously, but this usually did not help. An owner might yell out, "Don't worry, he won't bite!" but this is not at all reassuring; these people really have no idea how crazy dogs go for pedaling feet. Of all the owners who attempted to stop their dogs from charging, only two were able to do so.

What is Bicycle Friendly?

Prior to this trip, I thought that making a community or state bike-friendly was all about the quality of the roads. I now know that a state that allows dogs to terrorize people on bicycles cannot be considered bike-friendly, regardless of the roads. It would be nice if dog owners valued keeping their dogs safe from charging out in traffic and making sure their dogs don't terrorize bicyclists. More important: Enforced leash laws are key.  

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