On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, I always think of an incident that happened maybe 15 years ago. I still lived in my apartment on Golden Avenue in Cincinnati. The apartment building sat atop one of the hills overlooking the Ohio River. Although I didn’t have a view—I didn’t even have a balcony, or windows that looked out on much more than walls and the back of a fence—the area was wonderful, with wooded slopes and even a small park just up the next rise. That did have a spectacular view of the Ohio River, Kentucky, and the Cincinnati skyline in the distance.
That particular November Saturday, my mother met me at my apartment, and we headed down the steep parking lot to my car, ready for our weekly lunch and some shopping. As we approached the car, I said, “Look at that!” A buck was galloping at full speed from our left in the middle of Golden Avenue. As we watched, it swerved into the driveway entrance to the apartment building and bounded down toward the lower level of the parking lot.
That’s when I saw the two dogs charging after the deer and gaining ground. The three raced across the lower parking lot and out of sight over the edge of a small hollow that lay behind the nearby houses.
My first impulse was flight. “Let’s get out of here!” I said. I think I even had the keys in the ignition, and then I froze. I couldn’t leave, at least not without seeing what had happened in the bowl of the hollow. I was afraid I’d witness the poor deer being ripped apart, but the fight part of my response took over.
I dogtrotted the short distance to the edge of the hollow. Below me, the buck and the two dogs were engaged in battle. The dogs alternately charged the buck’s legs, and the buck, head lowered, countered with his antlers.
By this time I wasn’t sure who I was more afraid for—the dogs or the deer. I clapped my hands and shouted, “Stop!” The second time, the dogs and the deer all paused and stared up at me.
I looked directly at the dogs. “Come!” I ordered. I don’t know why they even considered obeying the command, or why I thought they might. They approached a couple of steps, then hesitated. I shouted “Come!” again, and as they got closer I softened my tone so they wouldn’t think I was going to punish them. The nearer they came, the more I cajoled them. All the while the buck stood magnificently watching this little demonstration, his chest heaving and his nostrils shooting little burst of steam, although it wasn’t that cold that day.
At last the dogs came within reach. I got each by the collar (Mom might have helped me with them by that time), and we guided them back up the hill to my apartment. Fortunately, I had a tiny courtyard-like space behind a wooden fence and gate. I freed the dogs in the enclosure, then went into my apartment for some turkey breast and a pan of water. I was alarmed when I found a bit of blood on my hand when I petted the animals, but neither appeared injured, so I wasn’t sure if there was a hidden cut or perhaps the blood was from the deer.
Several people had seen this drama from the apartment’s walkways above. The building manager arrived, as did a couple of the spectators who had arrived to visit one of the residents. At least one dog had a collar and a tag. I went back inside and phoned the number, but no one answered. I left a message that I had their dog fenced in by my apartment.
The manager said she would get in touch with the ASPCA so Mom and I wouldn’t have to put off lunch any longer. This seemed reasonable with the dogs safely enclosed, so we drove off. I was still shaking a bit but feeling elated.
When I arrived home several hours later, the dogs weren’t in my courtyard. I saw the manager, and she explained that while she was gone telephoning the ASPCA, one of the men visitors, an older man who assumed he knew better about everything, had let the dogs out. “They wouldn’t have hurt that deer,” he told the manager. Apparently the point was lost on him that the dogs were missing from one or more homes and needed to be kept safe at my place or at the ASPCA facility until the owners could round them up. I was livid, but I didn’t know the guy or even the resident he’d been visiting, so I couldn’t track him down to vent. The manager wasn’t happy, either.
“This time of year, the deer’s horns are soft,” she told me. That meant that the buck’s rack may not have been an effective weapon after all. I never knew what happened after that. I’ve always hoped the buck and the dogs got wherever they should have been without injury or further misadventure.
I’d always believed I’d be the type to jump in and help if I saw someone attacked, someone trying to lure away a child, someone hurt in an accident. Until something like that happens, though, it’s hard to assume you’ll behave the way you think you will. What I took away from the dog-and-deer incident was renewed belief that I would, indeed, act when action was needed. At least, I hoped so. I still want to trust that I would do what is necessary, that “fight” would kick “flight’s” butt no matter what.
NUDGE: Recall a situation when you acted—or didn’t. It needn’t be dramatic. Maybe you found a bird stunned when it bounced off a window or encountered a lost child at the mall. Maybe you were a distant witness to something: a parent excessively slapping a child at an amusement park, someone lurking suspiciously around a car in a parking lot. Perhaps as a student you witnessed a case of bullying, or maybe you were bullied yourself. How did you respond? Was it a “fight” or “flight” reaction? The point isn’t to second-guess your actions, or lack of them, and confront some kind of guilt. You may have had very good reasons for not acting. Simply write about the incident, exploring it from different angles. Would your response be the same today?