January 23, 2011

June 2005 - "Man's Best Friend"... Really?

A Dog Day Afternoon

Joys and Pitfalls of Hiking Camelback Mountain


A Dog Day Afternoon

"Man's Best Friend"... Really?

One of the world's best known truisms was tested this Friday (June 24) during my "Castle Hike" on Camelback Mountain.  "Man's best friend" ended up being anything but on this "dog day afternoon."

PHOENIX, June 25, 2005 - We are blessed to live in a wonderful neighborhood.  Not just visually.  Also in terms of conveniences.  We can stroll on foot to some of the most fashionable restaurants, clubs or stores others in Phoenix have to drive for miles to get to.  Best of all, we don't have to drive first before exercising.  We can just walk out of our Manderly home, and keep hiking up and down the foothills of Camelback Mountain, combining aerobics (steep slopes) with aesthetics (beautiful views).  We can now also add adventure to it and make it a real AAA hiking experience. What happened was literally a dog day afternoon.

The Hike...

During the summer months, I hike alone.  The 115F temps are a bit much even for a girl (Karen) raised in the vicinity of  steamy St. Louis.  And I usually do it between 3PM and 5PM, covered with 45 SPF sun screen and a white cap.  In the good old British colonial days, the natives used to joke that only "mad dogs and Englishmen" go out in that kind of heat.  Well, an Englishman I am definitely not.  As for mad dogs...

I was rounding a bend on Grandview Lane and entering a dip just before the steepest part of the Castle Hike climb along Dromedary Road.  I was listening to NPR (National Public Radio).  A soft, melodious voice of a young jazz and blues singer, Lizz Wright (right), whose new CD "Dreaming Wide Awake" has just been released, was a soothing antidote to the physical exertion.  I made a mental note to get that CD.  Then I called my own cell phone and left a message for myself to do so, just in case I forgot after the hike.

On my right was an empty lot.  Up until about six months ago, there was a house on it with a 1960s-style stone facade.  A developer bought it and then had it razed to make room for another multi-million dollar mansion.  So far, however, there have been no takers for his custom design.  So the lot continues to sit empty.  And appreciate in value...

On my left was a gray house that was renovated during the last 12 months (5002 Grandview Lane - above).  Yet it's still one of the coldest and the ugliest among the multi-million dollar homes that dot the Camelback Mountain hillside.  Often times when I hiked by it in the past, there was loud music coming from its pool deck.  Teenagers aboard, I figured.

The Fight...

This time, however,  I heard loud dog barking even over the radio program I was listening to.  That's not unusual, either.  There are lots of dogs that I "talk to" during my hikes.  (I love dogs, and can usually calm down even the most ferocious ones with my "good dog" talk).  What was unusual, however, was that the dog I could see in front of the house was not the one barking.  Another one inside the house was making all the ruckus.  This one, a big brown German Shepherd with black markings on his head was just watching me menacingly across the desert gully that separated the house from the road.

"I hope there is a gate between this guy and the driveway," I remember thinking.  Just in case, I walked across the road and picked up a couple of stones.  From my childhood experiences, I learned that biting dogs don't bark.  Like the wolves, just go for the kill quietly.

The gray house driveway runs into the road at the T-shape intersection of Grandview and Dromedary.  As I rounded the curve that leads to it, I saw the German Shepherd approaching the driveway from the front of the house.  "Oh, shucks, he is loose," I realized.

At first, the brown dog was just growling and approaching me slowly, almost crouching in the hunt position.  I tried my "good dog" speech.  It didn't work.  The German Shepherd picked up the pace, both in movement and voice intensity.  He was now charging me with his jaws distended and teeth bared.  

I knew I was in for a fight.  Make it a dog fight.  I also knew from past experience that if I were to try to run away, I'd be this dog's afternoon snack.  Like all bullies, the only thing an attack dog respects is someone who fights back.  Still hoping I may talk my way out of this jam, I gently rolled one of the rocks I held toward the dog, yelling at him at the same time to back off.  That slowed him for a moment.  But that's all... just a moment.  The dog paused to let the rock roll by his feet.  Then he resumed his attack.

I had no choice this time.  So I started charging the dog, yelling "get away from me, you bully!", and making threatening motions with my arm as if I were about to throw my remaining stone.  The dog backed away, retreating to his driveway.  I turned around, hoping to resume my hike.  But my new German Shepherd "friend" would have no part of it.  He took it as a sign of weakness and started charging me again.  So I turned around and fought back.

We did this ritual war dance a few more times, before I had set enough distance between myself and the dog to be able to continue my climb.  The bully finally gave up.  The fight was over.  It was a draw.

A Close Call...

"Whew," I thought.  "That was a close call."  Yet I was not angry at the dog.  The German Shepherd did what attack dogs do.  He attacked.  Still in a fighting frame of mind, however, I was angry at the owner who left his vicious dog  loose.  "A lucky bastard," I thought (of the owner).  "Had that dog bitten me, I would have sued his ass off till I owned his ugly gray house."  But then, anger yielded to compassion.  "What if somebody else walks by and the dog attacks them?"

I picked my cell phone and called 911.  I said I wasn't sure if this qualified as an emergency.  I explained the situation.  They gave me another Phoenix police number to call for non-emergency.  I repeated my story to that operator.  "Have you been bitten?" she asked me several times.  "No," I answered as many times.  "I fought the dog off.  But I don't want someone else to get bitten."  She said she'd send a patrol car to investigate.

At that point, I heard more dog barking.  A house on my right that lies at the bottom of a switchback has four dogs - two golden retrievers and two smaller breeds.  The five of us have this kind of a "conversation" every time I go by.  They start barking, and I reply "good dogs."  And then they start wagging their tails.  This time, however, I found their barking positively comical compared to what I had just been through.  "Oh, just shut up you fluffy nothings," I said jokingly to my canine friends.  "If you want to fight a real dog, just go down the hill."

Other Close Calls ...

As I continued my climb, I recalled two other incidents in my life involving dog attacks.  One of them took place in 1997 on the beautiful Smiths Beach in Western Australia... (see below).

I was walking along this gorgeous two-mile long sand beach enjoying the sun and the surf when I was attacked by no less than six dogs.  Out of the blue.  They belonged to the surfers and were evidently bored waiting for their masters to come off the waves.  I managed to fight them all off using the same tactics - by "attacking" them, mostly verbally - as I had nothing but a swim suit on me.  On my way back, however, I picked up a stick, just in case.  This time, however, the dogs didn't bother with me.  "Once burnt, twice shy" seems to work in the animal world, too.

Another dog story that came to me on my way up Camelback Mountain goes all the way back to my childhood.  I've had many dogs.  But my all-time favorite dog was also a German Shepherd.  He was dark gray and very big (at least from my childhood perspective).  So big, in fact, that when I tapped my hand on my chest, he would jump and put his front paws on my shoulders.  At that moment, his head would tower over mine.  And I would tower over any other kid on the street. 

My German Shepherd's name was Bear.  Unlike the unruly brown dog that I had to fight this afternoon, Bear was very well trained (by my Dad, a forestry engineer who knew his way around animals).  He was a true guard dog.  Never bit anyone, but scared the living daylights out of many.

One evening, for example, a couple of woodsmen arrived late from work and wanted to talk to my Dad.  Bear was somewhere in our back yard, which was probably 200 yards deep.  Without making a single sound, he ran the full length of the yard till he reached the intruders.  He jumped on one of them, placing his jaws right at the man's throat.  Then he started barking to alert his master that he had caught an intruder.  By the time my father walked out and released the man from Bear's potentially deadly clutch, there was a puddle around the man's feet.  The other man was shaking like a leaf.

A few days later, I noticed that Bear was feeling low.  My (much) older cousin Bora and I took him to the vet.  It turned out that someone must have poisoned Bear.  Since his pen was adjacent to the street, we figured one of those two woodsmen had probably thrown a piece of poisoned meat over the wall.  I cried as I watched my Bear die.  From then on, I had to tower over other kids on the street on my own.  Or not... Even after so many years my eyes moistened as I thought of Bear.  Then I shook those thoughts off.

The Police...

I climbed up to the Castle, went back down, and then back up again.  I had intended just to reach the Castle summit for a second time, then turn around and come back a different way so as to avoid another confrontation with the German Shepherd.  But on my way up, I could see a police squad car crawling around the gray house where the mean dog was.  A little while later, I saw that the car took up an observation position on that empty lot, facing the house from about hundred yards away.

I smiled.  Here were two Phoenix police officers, both armed and dangerous, but avoiding a possible confrontation a vicious dog that I had to face barehanded.

So I changed my mind.  I decided to go back down past the gray house and the dog so I could talk to the police officers.  I picked up a rock and a stick along the way, in case the German Shepherd decided to try his luck again.  He did not.  I passed by the gray house driveway this time without incident.  For obvious reasons, I threw away the rock and the stick before approaching the squad car.

The police officer on the driver's side rolled down his window.  "Are you here to answer my call about a dog attack?" I asked.

"We are," he replied.  "Did you get bit?"

"No," I said.  "I managed to fight the dog off, but did not want someone else to get bitten."

"You don't look like Sheila," piped in the officer in the passenger seat, looking at the computer screen mounted on the dashboard.

"Sheila?  What are you talking about?"

"Says here Sheila called after she got bit."

"So the dog must have attacked someone else before me," I concluded.  "I had told the police operator that I had not been bitten."  It now dawned on me why that dog was so ferocious when he attacked me.  He had already tasted human flesh that afternoon, and wanted more of it.

I started to leave, then turned around.  "You really should do something rather than wait for it to happen," I said to them. "People should not be allowed to have dangerous dogs running loose.  I am sure there some law or City ordinance against it."

"You're right," said the officer in the driver's seat. "We'll go in and check it out." 

At that point, a card rolled into the gray house driveway.  A man opened the trunk and started to unload some things.  "At least now the police will have some domestic protection," I thought as I walked away.

A short while later, a police truck with an "Animal Control"-sign painted on its side drove by, heading in the direction of the gray house.  "Hm..." I thought smiling, "they must have called in reinforcements."

A couple of hundred yards later, another police truck with the same Animal Control signed drove by.  "My, oh, my," I thought.  "They are moving in with full force.  What will come next.  The local TV network news channels' trucks?"

We didn't watch the news last night.  Karen and I worked out at the Club, and shared a few laughs about my Dog Day Afternoon story.  She said she had a premonition that something was wrong but did not say anything because I seemed so happy when I returned from the hike.  A case of ESP between the spouses, I suppose?  I told Karen that from now on, I am going back to carrying my U.S. Air Force knife or a police baton with me.  I used to do it before because of rattlesnakes, but gave it up when the knife's sheath got worn out after 20+-years of hiking.  

Well, I'll be getting a new sheath this afternoon... Rattlesnakes and mad dogs better start watching out again.  :-)

Our "Castle Hike" on Camelback Mountain

View of the Phoenician resort and golf course from Camelback Mountain (June 4, 2004)


A part of the "Castle Hike" with which Karen wanted to mark her December 2003 birthday.  The left photo was taken about half way up.  The right photo is at the summit, with the view of Phoenix below in the background.

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