Learning From My Mistakes

I am a dog attack survivor. Not to sound dramatic or anything, but it's true. 

Two or three times a year I decide that doctors and internet articles must be right about exercise being good for your health, and I rededicate my life to becoming more fit for a few weeks. I log into my Nike+ app, lace up my running shoes, and pretend like I am going to register for an upcoming 5K. And honestly, I love it. Going from in-shape-level-zero to race-ready feels awful each time I start back to it, but after the initial week or so I start to enjoy and look forward to my runs.

One afternoon last fall I left work at noon to squeeze in a quick run over my lunch break. It was a beautiful Kentucky day, and I decided to extend the 1.25 mile loop around my neighborhood just a little bit by adding one more cul-de-sac to the route. I was just starting to get warmed up and into a breathing rhythm when I turned left down this added street. With the smooth and underrated sounds of Carly Rae Jepsen pushing me on, it was hard to imagine the day getting any more perfect.

And it did not. As I passed the first driveway on the circle, Carly’s pop sweetness was suddenly overpowered by the vicious barking of a pair of dogs. Startled, I looked to my left and saw two aggravated beasts - pit mixes, from the what I could tell at a glance - charging down the driveway towards me. A dog person myself, I was not initially panicked. They had shock collars on and would surely pull up short of the road. Sure enough, the dogs turned abruptly at the property line and followed me along the roadway, barking viciously with every step. I kept my pace, not wanting to do anything that might upset the dogs any more. In an instant, however, one of the animals crossed the invisible fence line and, after a split-second of confusion presumably caused by the electrical current coursing through his neck he ran off the grass and onto the pavement next to me. 

The next few seconds were among the most terrifying in recent memory. The dog, still barking and snarling, jumped at me legs, nearly taking me down completely. I managed to keep my stride and felt the resistance on my back leg release as I saw the animal stumble out of the corner of my eye. Yelling, I spun around and faced the dog. Teeth barred, the hair on its back in complete piloerection, he was in full-on attack mode. Trying to ward him off, I swung my leg toward him in a feeble kick that would make even pre-Miyagi Daniel-san blush in embarrassment, and then I began to slowly back away. The dog’s owner was running through the yard, yelling for him to come back. After a few more moments of hesitation, he turned around and ran back home. The ordeal was over as quickly as it had begun.

I assessed the damage. No scrapes, cuts, or bites. The only visible sign of the attack was a tear in the side of my running shoe where the dog had momentarily latched on. I was no worse for the wear.

Not long after that event my exercise kick last fall came to an abrupt end, as it always does. And, once again, I started back up in January, determined to make this the year where I become a runner. After a few weeks of running around the same 1.25 mile loop, I finally decided to go back down the cul-de-sac of terror. It was an unnecessary move; however, in a subdivision that is all hills and dead ends, this particular street is one of the few with only a minimal incline and is thus appealing to a wannabe runner like myself. Once again, I made the left-hand turn down the extra road, this time keeping my eyes peeled on the first driveway. Not seeing any movement, I turned my head forward and began to relax...only to be startled once again by a loud and vicious barking. This time, a single dog charged across the lawn towards me, his partner undoubtedly still on lockdown inside. My heart began racing and I pleaded silently for this butch of a pitbull mix to stay put. He did, never crossing the invisible border. But the damage was done in my head. I hate that yard.

Since that event last October, something has changed inside of me. Every time I go for a run a small bit of terror sits in the back of my skull, waiting for cause to take hold. I am suddenly more aware of how many owners allow their dogs to roam freely outside without constraints. Even the most geriatric or friendly looking dogs, however, stir a twinge of anxiety in me. I am on guard for any free-roaming canine to come at me. And, as attractive as that cul-de-sac might be to me as I run slowly around my neighborhood, I would sooner let someone take a swing at my head with a pillowcase full of doorknobs than I would risk another pass by those dogs. 

As I ran off the cul-de-sac after that second encounter, the thought occurred to me: I’m an idiot. As the old aphorism goes, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” I knew the risk of running down that street, yet the temptation of an easy 1/4 mile - not to mention my machismo in not wanting to let a pair of dogs get the best of me - was too great. I let foolishness and private bravado rule in place of common sense.

How many times have I done something stupid, selfish, or sinful, only to be left grieving the consequences and regretting my actions? And how many times have I repeated the same behavior, somehow imagining the outcome will be different? How many times do you and I ignore past experience and age-old wisdom in search of momentary satisfaction, only to find ourselves grieving over our own foolishness?

As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly. - Proverbs 26:11

While I still carry remnants of that traumatic experience every time I run around my neighborhood, I carry also the lesson learned. Bite me once, shame on you; bite me twice, shame on me. God, grant me the wisdom to learn from my mistakes! 

DAN JACKSON

Dan is a pastor, writer, and speaker. He is the host of the Ordinary Faith Podcast and currently serves as a Campus Pastor for Southland Christian Church in Georgetown, KY.