The Old Quarry Trail rises up—rather steeply at some points—from the old quarry sitting near the river bottoms to a grass clearing at the top of the ridge out at Camp Horizon. The upland point is near the lodging and meeting rooms at Inspiration Point. I’d just reached the top on a training hike the other day and was headed on my way back down. The serenity of my solo hike was suddenly disrupted by a ferocious barking. I turned to see a young black Lab charging toward me.
I quickly raised up my aluminum hiking poles and clacked them together a couple of times. The dog kept coming toward me, hackles raised on its bark and still barking. In my best Caesar Romero calm and assertive voice I said, “No! No!” The dog immediately stopped and turned around. I resumed my way down the trail with a faster pulse than needed for the exercise, silently speaking harsh words to whatever sort of owner would bring an aggressive dog to a public area and not keep it on a leash.
Back down at the quarry, I carefully crossed the twenty-foot tree trunk I’d laid across the flooded trail. My trekking poles again came into good use, letting me keep my balance even as the trunk twisted slightly beneath my feet. A half-hour and half-mile later, with a red sun flaring the edges of evening clouds, I made it to the crest at Inspiration Point. I took several pictures of the Arkansas River valley from that vantage point and then looked along the knife-edge ridge toward the meeting rooms and parking lot. I was only a two-minute walk from the Quarry Trail clearing where I’d encountered the black dog.
Sure enough, as I looked across the path, I saw the same dog about three hundred feet away. He saw me at about the same time and stiffened into alert pose, staring at me. Given the greater distance and the momentary lack of ferocity, I decided to try a different approach on my second encounter.
“Come here, boy,” I called in a firm but friendly voice. He tilted his ears toward me and relaxed a little. Then I knelt to one knee and called again, “Come here, buddy. Come on!” and slapped my hand against my thigh a couple of times. He immediately broke into a run, tail wagging and tongue out. I held out my right up, palm up. Without hesitation, he came right to me and I kept my hand below his head and began lightly scratching him under his jaws. I rubbed his chest and ribs, then worked up gently to his ears. Anyone walking up on the scene would have probably figured it was my dog.
My new friend explored the trail back behind me and I walked toward the parking lot, coming up on the lodge from the south side. The dog came pounding up the trail behind me and ran on ahead of me to greet a young woman and small child who were just getting out of a car parked in front of one of the apartments.
“Ahh… the owner who keeps a dog in a public area without a leash on it,” I thought and then mused a bit further, “And the small child the dog was protecting when I’d come up the other trail a half-hour earlier.”
It certainly brought a different perspective to the situation. It also reminded me of how a different approach can sometimes trigger a very different response from others. Especially when it appears to them that we are trespassing on what is very clearly their territory…
From time to time, a bit of wisdom and empathy might lower the need for courage and self-defense. On both sides of the trail.