Dogs and I were always destined to be antagonists. Years before my birth, my uncle died at a tragically early age after receiving rabies shots following a dog bite. Because of that trauma, my mother forbade us from having canine pets.
Mom's negativity toward dogs infected me. The sentiment was compounded by my own gnarly encounters with "man's best friend." One of my most vivid memories is something that happened when I was 5. It was an afternoon during the Summer of Love, and a German shepherd had gotten loose in our neighborhood. Widespread panic ensued.
Then I saw it. I was about 50 yards from my house. The big, burly pooch was bounding full-tilt toward me.
I ran as if my life depended on it— because, duh, it did. I was a skinny, athletic child, but no reasonable person would've bet on me to outrace a German shepherd.
Somehow, though, I sprinted to the sanctuary of our backyard. I often reflect on how close I came to being that dog's lunch.
That was only the beginning. In my teens, when I started to run long distances and train for marathons, I had fraught confrontations with all sorts of breeds. Apparently, through some genetic catastrophe, the sight of running humans triggers aggressive, territorial instincts in dogs.
Or maybe it was just me. Maybe I exuded an anti-canine attitude that they took personally. Perhaps my legs looked extra-tasty. Don't ask me—I'm not a dog psychologist.
Anyway, I'd be striding down a street or sidewalk, minding my own damned business, and suddenly I'd have to deal with an unleashed dog bum-rushing me, barking like some douchebro of the animal kingdom. In the 1970s, '80s, and '90s in Detroit, where I grew up, leash laws weren't a thing. It was sheer barbarism out there.
I could thwart most of the doggy machismo displays by stopping, pointing, and shouting "Go home!" That worked 99 percent of the time. However, one rainy day, I went on a 12-mile jaunt, and this tiny mutt following me wouldn't listen to reason. It followed me for about 10 miles. This was back when I was relatively fast, so respect to Rover for keeping pace.
When I stopped to piss behind some trees, the dog peed, too. It was unbelievable—and hysterical.
After a while, I realized that I'd inadvertently led the dog far from home, and I felt bad. I had no idea where it lived. But I was tired and soaking wet, so I opened the door to an office building and my running buddy scampered inside. I hoped that somebody there would be able to reunite the minuscule pup marathoner with its family.
My worst experience with runner-hating dogs occurred in the winter of 1986. This time, a husky escaped its owner (a thirtysomething guy whom I will never stop cursing) and bolted toward me. It leapt and took a bite out of my jacket, tearing the nylon fabric at the tricep.
Had I been wearing fewer layers of clothing, I'd likely have ended up in the ER. Perhaps I would have needed rabies shots. The owner called his charge back. I didn't wait around for the owner to apologize for his dog biting me. I continued running, fuming. You should've seen my mom's face when I told her about this.
When I moved to Seattle in 2002, I experienced zero dogs hounding me on my runs—although I did occasionally experience homeless people asking me for cigarettes. (While I'm running. Literally the funniest thing that's ever happened to me.) Last year, I even ended up living with a phenomenally cute silky terrier and succumbed to her charms, encouraged by my equally charming girlfriend at the time. It helped that the terrier never viewed me as a chew toy.
I'll never be a rabid "dog person," because of the family history with actual rabies and everything that came after that.
But after decades of hostility toward them, I finally understand their appeal: They don't vote Republican.