Flight Or Flight: How A Puppy Can Strike Terror In The Hearts Of A Community

Recovery from this auto accident has been frustrating and uneven. One day I’m fine, and happily toddle off to start yoga again – gentle class, blankets, bolsters and blocks supporting every move, nice cleansing cup of tea… the next day I’m bedridden, waiting for three Advil to kick in. Apparently when you have any kind of trauma (losing a spouse, diagnosis of cancer, missing out on last Haute Hippie Dress on eBay) you can be left with a gnawing feeling of doom. More accurately the feeling is “pulsating,” as it throbs, presses, then recedes, only to return with yet another spurt of unwanted adrenaline when you’re trying to read your kids the latest R.L. Stine story.If you’re not familiar with R.L. Stine (as I wasn’t before my children were 6 and 7 respectively) he writes horror books for kids. That’s right, horror. For kids. Except that they’re not quite scary enough to send them screeching into the night with visions of that old favorite Freddy Kreuger, but suspenseful enough to hold their attention with supernatural elements, and lull them to sleep without Freddy making an appearance in their dreams. (He has sold 600 billion books, so it doesn’t trouble him of you haven’t heard of him…)

Lately my younger son (now 7) is obsessed with sharks, but not just reading about them, looking at illustrated pictures of them, and memorizing facts from Wikipedia. This is not enough for him (cut as he is from the same obsessive cloth as his Russian Jewish ancestors) as he also needs to watch shark attack videos on YouTube. It started with “Mako Shark Fights Bull Shark who do you think would win, mommy?” or “Squid Versus Tiger Shark, I bet tiger shark would win.” His “intewest” has now progressed to watching shark attacks re-enacted full screen on Apple TV from Discovery Channel’s shark week. With blood. And stitched up shark bites.And even death (but not in real time.)

David (8) watches through splayed fingers, but Samson will not be deterred. I limit the viewings, but I know that this is the way he can surf and boogie board in the ocean here, and know that statistically being bitten is a near impossibility. He is armed with the facts about where in the world (South Florida, Delaware Bay, parts of Western Australia) the most dangerous sharks swim, and this empowers him.

I suspect that no amount of information can help you after you’ve been snacked on by a bull shark, that ugly snub-nosed thing with the dead eyes (that inexplicably looks cute when it’s a baby.) When you are recovering from any adrenaline producing life event, the slightest gust of wind can send you headfirst into the “fight or flight” instinct, that primeval leftover from evading advancing sabre toothed tigers that told your body to “RUN!!!!” And even though most of these prehistoric attackers are extinct (“except the mega Mouth shark,” I hear the kid intone) our lizard brain is left with the automatic response to fear. Well after the actual threat has passed that says, “If you don’t save yourself right now, you will DIE.”

Which is probably why I had such patience with a certain neighbor lady who approached my hubby and I on the beach yesterday, after our little black puppy Moredecai (half poodle, half devil) ran at her when she was walking. When it is low-tide our beachfront is one of the few in California where you can have dogs off leash, so Mordy was rushing at everyone and everything in pure, unadulterated doggy excitement.

“He scared me, he made me feel afraid,” she said, a chronically sad lady who admitted she had bad knees and so anything rushing at her made her feel protective of them. My husband and I quickly ascertained that she has been the one complaining about us since we moved into this condo, saying that our puppy has been “terrorizing the community.”

My normally patient husband looked down and bit his lip, doubtless to keep from saying something inciting, even though he has been the one dealing with the complaints in an “official” capacity, while I quietly had a nervous breakdown about it all and retreated further into paranoia. Yet faced with this person, I was able to be understanding, because I have spent the last twelve days since the car accident extending myself that courtesy. She just wanted her experience of our dog validated as all people want their feelings, opinions and perceptions acknowledged, if only by themselves.

Adrenaline is a funny thing; ask my younger son as he deals proactively with his biggest fear, when initially he was so scared of the seaweed touching his legs in the ocean that he couldn’t go in. Just as the mere act of reading my kids a bed-time story can (even when not in adrenal chaos) provoke my own hysteria, so this woman had seen the following puppy as a vicious, snarling menace. And while I know I have to train the little bastard not to run at people, or bark or jump on them on tiny hind paws, it is not my place to correct her.

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