Thanks to the Facebook/Twitter/Dailymile phenomenon, I seem to hear about every single case of sexual assault that occurs along the trails and roads in the Kansas City metro area. Recently, a woman was raped while walking along the Trolley Trail, where I had my Saturday long run. While I heard they caught the guy, I still couldn't help but speed up a little as I ran through the wooded section, staying within shouting distance of the guy in front of me...just in case. Fortunately, I've never found myself in a situation like that, but like any female runner, I've wondered what would happen if anything DID happen. I mean, I'm not very fast, and on certain days, I push myself pretty hard. I can't help but wonder, if someone should try to take advantage of me on a bad day, would I get the adrenaline rush that would permit my escape? Or would I have to say something like, "Look, I've been running, I'm tired, there's no way in hell I can outrun you. Do whatever you have to do, just make it fast, okay?"
In fact, the ONLY time I've ever encountered anything that could have been even the slightest bit dangerous on a run was the time Recon and I were chased by a homeless man in the West Bottoms. I probably should have known better than to run there by myself, but when you live in super-hilly downtown (at the bottom of a huge hill, in fact) and have to stay on the sidewalks to avoid getting hit by cars, there's a certain unmistakeable attraction about a place that's deserted and pancake-flat. We were just finishing a nice run and getting ready to head back up the 12th Street Bridge into downtown when we passed three dirty guys sitting with their backs against a dumpster. I pass all sorts of odd characters on my run and didn't give them a second look, but apparently one of them wanted something badly enough he thought it would be worth getting up and following me. (I think he said something, but I was wearing headphones and couldn't really hear. Needless to say, I don't wear headphones when I run anymore.) I looked back, saw him coming, and broke into a sprint. He chased me for about a block before falling back and stopping.
After telling my dad that story, he advised I stay out of the Bottoms when I'm running alone. "There's a halfway house down there somewhere," he said. "If you're going to go down there, take someone with you." So now, I don't run that course unless I'm with Brian, which sucks because my pace is so slow to him, it's practically moving backwards. He'll agree to go with me, but not as often as I get the urge to go run that course. Oh well.
That said, I'm hardly ever intimidated when I run downtown, even on those middle-of-the-night, can't-sleep-for-the-life-of-me runs, because I have Recon, my 9 year-old Alaskan Malamute. I've had him since he was 6 weeks old, and when we moved downtown, I was concerned he'd get fat from lack of backyard exercise...so, slowly but surely, we became runners. And now he's my favorite running buddy and the friendliest, furriest marshmallow dog in the entire world...but he DOES look like a wolf and he's been known to send many a child screaming in the opposite direction when he comes running down the street with me. (I only feel sort of badly about this - can't those kids see he's on a leash?) His size and wolf-like appearance keep certain people at bay, and if I've ever passed any would-be attackers, I've never had to find out.
People often ask if Recon would protect me if I ran into trouble. Fortunately, I've never had to find out. The closest I ever came to seeing if Recon would defend me was on a summer afternoon, the last one Mom lived at home. At the time, her doctors were experimenting with her cocktail of meds, trying to find something that would ease her agitation while, at the same time, not turn her into a zombie. Certain days were better than others, and this was not a good day. I remember I'd poured myself a glass of red wine, and was going upstairs after a book I'd left in the laundry room. Dad had just left, and Mom was agitated when she couldn't find him. She came after me, shouting and grabbing my arms. Wine went everywhere, and she had me backed up against the bookcase, and was screaming at me, ignoring my attempts to calm her down. Finally, I called for my sister, but she was upstairs on the third floor and couldn't hear me.
This was when Recon came into the picture. He inserted himself very gently between me and Mom, and nudged at her leg, trying to get her to step back. She did, and she let go, but she continued to shout. Recon stayed in front of me, careful to keep his body between mine and hers, but showed no aggression or sign of agitation. He was calm and smiling in his silly-dog way, but watchful. Eventually, my sister came downstairs and together, we calmed Mom down...but Recon followed me closely for the rest of the day.
Mostly, I was impressed by the fact that, not only did he protect me, he showed the wisdom to differentiate between an aggressive situation and, well, an unfortunate one. Not a single time did he show his teeth or growl at my mother; instead, he realized what was called for and merely kept an eye out. I've never been prouder of him than I was that day. And as a result, I can run with him with complete and total faith that he knows exactly what he's doing. If Recon doesn't think a situation is threatening, it probably isn't. Not only does he keep me safe, he also makes me happy. He runs right along with me, smiling, his tongue hanging out of his mouth, making sure I don't slow down and stop, because the sooner we get home, the sooner there will be dinner. Not sure what I'll do on the day that Recon can no longer run with me. It's another one of those things - numerous, these days - that I'd just rather not consider for now.
Top photo: Me and my watchdog, Recon. Middle photo: Mom and her watchdog, Paco. Dad gave Paco to Mom when they were dating in college. While I remember Paco as a sweet dog, apparently he used to terrorize a family friend who was trying to sell their house.