Embracing our Animal Companions

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2009 © Stephen Bruno

Several years ago, I was running an errand, when I decided to stop by unannounced at a new small service business in town that had recently opened. The owner was interested in my participating in the open house a week later. I had communicated by email about meeting with the owner, but we had not set up a specific date.

I drove to the address which was on a small residential street and looked like a home business. There was an ‘open’ sign on the outside near the front door surrounded by a delightful small courtyard. I pushed lightly on the front door which stuck a little, so I pushed harder to enter. It was common that time of year for doors to expand and require greater effort to move.

I walked into a quaint looking homey living room with cozy country style curtains, closing the front door behind me. I didn’t see any customers sitting on the comfy looking couches or overstuffed chairs. I noticed business cards and brochures on a round wood table in what would be the dining area.

After a few minutes of looking around the living room waiting for the owner or an employee to appear, I walked near the table in the dining room area and called several times toward the kitchen which was around the corner.

Since the kitchen area may be private, I stopped by the table and called out again several times thinking that they may be the backyard. There was no response. I turned to look once more around the living room to see if any new customers had arrived since a bell was not attached to the front door. No one else had entered.

I thought it was prudent to be patient. I walked away towards the middle of the room, and I heard something behind me coming from the kitchen.  I turned casually expecting to be greeted by the owner or employee.

I came face-to-face with a very large dog who came casually walking around the corner stretching and yawning from probably a long nap. Then, the dog realized I was standing there. I suspect that we both had the same expression being startled by each other’s unexpected presence. The dog raised one eyebrow up in bewilderment. It was almost comical to observe the gradual realization of its facial expressions. Time appeared to stand still while we both waited to see what developed. I almost bent down or kneeled in a greeting ritual in front of the dog, and then slowly extending my hand to be sniffed. Under the circumstance, I thought it wise to refrain from that behavior.

Then, the fur on its tail bristled with the tail held high in alertness with large, fast wags. It was inevitable that something was soon about to happen. The dog and I cautiously eyed each other as I began talking calmly, softly yet firmly in a positive voice.

And then, another even larger dog walked into the living room and stood slightly in front of its animal companion. We each stood motionless while the new dog began to process what was happening. Within moments, both dogs’ erect ears faced forward with attentiveness. A ridge of hair bristled down their backs. Their lips now retracted exposing glistening large, long and pointy canine teeth.

Viewing me as an intruder, I knew to prepare for an imminent attack, and without the business owner, I had to manage the dogs myself. Their size and desire to protect their territory suggested that it could be a rather tenacious attack in tandem.

I drew on my many experiences with wildlife including black bears and Mountain Lions as a wildlife photographer out in the wilderness where my process is to photograph them and not be intrusive. And above all, to leave wildlife unharmed by my actions of being in their territory.

I stood in the middle of the living room; the only exit was the front door behind me which the dogs could easily reach faster. They might also block my path to the door during an attack.

For survival, I glanced around quickly while the dogs were deciding what to do to see if I had any means of protecting myself using a kitchen chair, umbrella, walking stick or something. While finding a few objects that would work, I summarily dismissed this option as I wanted to leave without harming the dogs.

I knew an attack was nanoseconds away. Under the circumstances it was inevitable. This much I accepted. Just like with my experiences with wildlife in a threatening situation I was surprisingly calm and focused on how to get out the front door with minimum harm to myself and no harm to the dogs.  I stood slightly sideways making me a narrower target while keeping the dogs in my peripheral vision.

Both dogs began to emit deep, low growls and inched forward toward me.  I stood up straight to look as big as possible (something I learned with Mountain Lions in the wild), and I kept my mouth shut as bared teeth may signify aggression to a dog.

I began to slowly back towards the front door as the two dogs walked closer, each of them keeping a steely eye on me. I knew it was important to remain calm and to talk to the dogs quietly.

I was still away from the front door when the largest of the two dogs suddenly leaped towards me initiating the second dog to do the same. I was immediately bitten twice in my leg which was in front of me as I backed up towards the door. I could tell from the pain that each dog had taken bites which had punctured the skin through my jeans. I remembered to protect my face, chest, and throat and to keep my hands in fists to protect the fingers.

All I could think about was how to leave without harming the dogs as it was not their fault that they found me in their territory and they only wanted to protect the area. I was committed not to strike them with anything including my hands and feet. If only I could reach the door and somehow back out to the front yard, I could then safely close the door escaping with few further injuries.

The dogs continued to bite at my legs. Throughout the attack, I kept myself calm while not creating a sense of anxiety to minimize the dogs’ aggressiveness. I recalled an experience with a protective mother Mountain Lion and her two kittens at Lake Powell, Arizona on top of a ledge when I was jogging alone. But that’s another story.

Still talking in a relaxed, soothing voice the dogs crowded towards me and backed me against the door which opened inward towards the room. I grabbed the doorknob and pulled it in leaving me just enough room to slide out into the front yard and then I carefully closed the door.

I didn’t know where the owner was. It was clear that I needed to get to the VA hospital and have them inspect my lacerations and provide treatment which I quickly did.

I still have the physical scars of the dog bites but no emotional ones. I’m very pleased that my primary focus was to reasonably protect myself while not in any way harming the dogs which is what I accomplished.

One reason I decided to post this story now is that I have had numerous questions about my soon to be published personal and spiritual process book that discusses concepts including responding rather than reacting. I was asked to give an example of what I meant, and this experience came to mind.

 

 

 

 

Seriously?

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Years ago, I finished directing my well attended second national writer’s conference, in Washington. After so much work it was time for me to get back to my writing. I was working on a suspense novel when I heard about an opportunity for citizens to learn police procedures and develop better harmony with the police and the community.

I signed up and attended the initial meeting held at the police department. Our small group of about ten men and women received a cordial welcome and introduction by the police chief, followed by a 45-minute tour of the facility with a uniformed police captain including being fingerprinted. Already I found the knowledge of the police department would benefit my novel. I take meticulous care to present my fiction with a well-researched foundation of fact.

The police chief told us that after the weekly meetings, we would have an evening ride-a-long with a police officer in a squad car. I was especially looking forward to that experience in a police squad car, even though it was not my first time. But, that’s another story I may share in a later post.

Several police officers were invited to teach their specialty which included arrest procedures, submitting evidence for physical analysis, missing persons, fingerprinting, search warrants, gang investigations, internal affairs, fundamental prisoner safety and security, booking procedures, examination of crime scenes, and special issues involving handcuffing.

During the discussion on handcuffing a suspect, the officer stood in the front of the room and looked solemnly at each of us sitting around the large oval oak table.  I knew that he was going to demonstrate the appropriate way to handcuff a person and immediately thought I would be the suspect.

I was not surprised when the officer asked me to stand. He approached me authoritatively and told me to place my arms behind my back. He slapped the handcuffs on me rather firmly and very tight, telling me to remain standing behind my chair while he continued to discuss the procedure and then stating the Miranda Rights.

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.”

The writer in me wondered if this was really a set up to arrest me for actions I may have participated in while a member of a violent East Los Angeles gang in my youth. And yes, that’s a different story for another time.

It was a curious sensation to be standing while handcuffed as the other participants hesitantly glanced my way offering a supportive nod or smile and a few suspicious squinty eyed considerations, as the officer continued to teach. He then dismissed the group, and as they walked to the door, a kindly woman asked if was going to release my handcuffs.

“Eventually,” he said with a serious look my way and a wry smile.

 

 

Court-martial or Reassignment ?

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With my daughter, Kelly in Sedona, Arizona. October 6, 2016.

My daughter recently posted this comment below on her Facebook page with a photograph of us taken in Sedona, Arizona by Aaron, my Son-in-Law:

Thank You for your service just doesn’t seem enough. Can’t imagine what you went through in the war but grateful you made it home. Maybe someday you will write a book about it. Many veterans never share their full story, and I can understand how painful it would be to relive it. However, the younger generation aka your granddaughters would greatly benefit from reading about that time in your life. Many veterans pass never sharing their amazing stories. I hope someday you share yours ❤️ Love you Dad

This story is for my daughter, Kelly, and my grandchildren Courtney, Brittney, and Sydney. I will share more Vietnam stories in future posts on this blog and publish them later in a book as part of my general autobiography, primarily for my daughter and grandchildren.

While serving my U.S. Army tour of duty in Vietnam, I published an ‘underground’ newspaper in addition to my regular medical responsibilities, for several issues while I held the rank equivalent of E-4. The staff box listed me as Editor-in-Chief along with other staff members and a disclaimer that stated it was an authorized publication and that the views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Department of the Army. The content included interviews of military personnel, Commander’s Corner, Short Timers, Tips for R&R, illustrations, and satire. I later learned of my promotion to the rank of E-5 equivalent to a Sergeant.

After I believe three issues, the Commanding Officer (CO) a Colonel, called me into his office and immediately shouted.

“The satire you wrote will end in a court-martial with hard labor at Fort Leavenworth, or be sent to a location in-country where life expectancy is 12 days or less.”

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Violence: My Brief Junior High School Reflections

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Zip Gun similar to the one I carried.

For many people, the 1950’s conjure up images of Rock-n-Roll, the Korean War, Sputnik, Jazz, “The Golden Age of Television,” and the sleek and classy cars.  On February 3, 1959 “The Day the Music Died” a chartered plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson Rock-n-Roll musicians crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa in foggy conditions killing everyone.

For me, 1959 conjures up memories when I was involuntarily recruited into the predominantly Chicano/Latino White Fence gang which was considered one of the most violent and powerful gangs in East Los Angeles, while I was living with my single parent family and attending junior high school. The White Fence was the first gang in East Los Angeles to use firearms, chains and other dangerous weapons. I remember having my homemade zip gun consisting of a metal tube taped to a wooden stock and firing a .22-caliber bullet.

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