Monday, February 23, 2009

Dealing with bites (worse than barks)

Today I learned that you can buy bear Mace. It's like human Mace but stronger. "The strongest EPA approved animal repellant rating (2.0% Capsaicinoids)" the website gushes breathlessly, trailing zero for added impressiveness. It has "an extreme blast range of 35 feet!" It also costs 45 bucks plus shipping.

So with riding season a bit over a month away, I am faced with the dilemma of how best to fend off canine interlopers. Here are a few of the methods I've considered:

  • Ultrasonics. Think an electronic dog whistle. These things are supposed to emit a high-frequency squeal that dogs find unpleasant. So unpleasant that they will be frozen in their tracks with confusion. And if you're lucky they'll flee in terror. Or so the ads say. Something tells me they're an awkward pound of dead weight.

  • Cattle prods. These would definitely work. The major problem, however, would be misadventure by unintentional activation. Even a split second of current caused by, say, a bump in the road while in the middle of a 40-mph descent would send a person to biking Valhalla.

  • Dog biscuits. I read about this trick on a cycling forum, then remembered that I had used it to good effect with Toby. No doubt the kindest defense. Just drop a couple on the ground as a distraction. The problem is that once the chase is joined a lot of dogs will stop for nothing else in the world short of brute force, giving or taking.

  • Squirting water bottles. Another forum tip. Again I doubt the effectiveness of a spritz of electrolyte drink stopping a snarling dog. Plus my water bottles don't squirt...they more or less dribble. And I need my liquid for more important things, like drinking.

  • My freaking foot. The good thing about bike shoes is that they're made to be stiff, not only in the sole but on the sides as well. And they have cleats on the bottom. This makes them weapons. Drawbacks are that you have to unclip from the pedal first, which takes time and also dramatically reduces the rate at which you can pedal on and escape. This is one method I have put into practice in situ, most notably on my neighbor's dog -- one of the few that has actually gotten close enough to put its teeth on my person. A solid thwop to her skull and she hasn't so much as made one step toward me since.

  • Some sort of sharp-tipped medieval jousting-type implement. It's a thought.

  • A .40 caliber Glock. It's ok to admit that this was the first thing that popped into your head. It would definitely do the job. It may also come in handy when I'm riding amongst the shacks and cars-on-blocks of the Meth Lab Backcountry. But discharging a firearm in an area where there is an aggressive moving-target animal, asphalt, houses, and the shooter on a bike isn't the safest scenario. Some people treat their dogs like their kids -- little angels who can do no wrong. If they're after you it's because you were antagonizing them. Poor little Killer, he wouldn't bite nobody!

I love dogs. I really do. And I place the blame for attacks on irresponsible owners. But none of this matters when the dog looks up, sees you, and primeval instinct kicks in.

So when a pack of dogs comes sprinting toward me, yapping and yelping like I'm a giant slab of bacon, I have only a couple of seconds to decide what to do. Fight or flight? Out of every 500 dogs that decide to chase me, 499 will end up doing nothing but making a lot of noise. But how about this one? By the way, he's about six inches away now. From this position it would take all of three-quarters of a second for my leg to be on the business end of a canine's canines.

Pedal on and ignore him or attack preemptively? I've been bitten three times. The rabies waiting period is not fun. After this last incident, I'm leaning toward preemptive.



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