For well over 17 years, my wife and I have started the day by walking down to the beach in our small community of Kaaawa at dawn. We watch the sunrise, then walk to the far end of the beach before turning around and heading home, often taking to the back roads for a portion of the return.

It has evolved into almost a morning meditation as we take in the endless variations in the look and feel as the emerging day is defined by slight variations in weather, clouds, tides, wind, and timing.

Over the years, we’ve met people and their pets across Kaaawa. “Animal mediated relationships” is the term my sociologist spouse uses.

In many cases, we first get to know the dogs, since they are most likely to be awake, outside, and interested when we walk past. Most dogs perk up when offered a bit of dog biscuit, so making their acquaintance is simple. Eventually we also meet the people, who are almost universally appreciative when you say something nice about their animals. To tell the truth, we often learn the dogs’s names long before their people’s names.

So despite being confirmed cat people, we’ve gotten on a first-name basis with dozens of dogs, in some cases spanning two or more canine generations.

Then, just short of two weeks ago, I found myself in the middle of a dog attack involving two of those dogs that I know by name and have interacted with over time.

We didn’t see it coming. Big Dog was ahead of us by 50 yards or more, walking with her person but off her leash. Suddenly something triggered Big Dog’s attack instinct and she came charging back in our direction at warp speed. When I realized she was going to run right past us, I turned and saw a friend with her small terrier on a leash, just arriving for a pleasant walk on the beach. There really wasn’t time for a warning.

What followed was a brief, unexpected, and violent moment that I was unprepared, by training or experience, to deal with. But I didn’t have much choice, as I happened to be the person on the scene when it happened. So you do what you have to do.

Big Dog quickly had the terrier by the neck, and what followed was a long, chaotic moment of angry growling, snapping, shaking, and fearful yelping, as we frantically scrambled for a way to free the smaller dog from those jaws. Then it happened, the terrier was whisked away to safety, Big Dog restrained. That was when I looked down and saw I had become collateral damage. My hand and forearm had been chewed, and one finger had been involuntarily shortened.

I later realized it could easily have been much worse. Neither dog had turned on me or any of the other rescuers, which could easily have happened. Big Dog could have done far worse. And small dog survived, in the end without damage to vital organs.

After emerging from the emergency room much later that day, I started getting comments and advice.

Several friends wrote or called to share their own dog bite experiences, some far scarier than my own.

Longtime dog owners and trainers seemed to focus on prevention. They suggested training your dog is the key, so that they will respond to commands in a crisis.

“I’m a dog lover,” one person responded. “I grew up with dogs. I’ve trained many dogs, including the one I have now. No matter how close we are, they are animals, and if there’s a serious, known risk of unprovoked attack combined with refusal to listen to command, the owner needs to take that very seriously.”

So perhaps as a community we need to be more proactive in requiring training for dog owners, or at least making it readily available. Training for non-dog owners in how to interact safely with dogs and how to defuse tense situations also seems to be needed.

And we clearly need more attention to leash laws, both in reminding people of them and cracking down on dog owners who ignore them.

Other people focused on how to be prepared. There were several ideas offered on techniques for breaking up a fight or defusing a potentially dangerous situation. After searching online, though, there don’t seem to be any foolproof techniques or magic answers. If I walked a dog, with the increased risk that entails, I would probably carry something nonlethal like pepper spray.

Several people suggested a stout walking stick or club as a companion, just in case. But when a friend strongly recommended that I carry a small knife when leaving the house each day, and then suggested just where in a dog’s anatomy it could be put to most effective use, I decided the discussion was veering out of control.

It seems to me that in real ways we create ourselves and the world we face every day. If I had gotten up every morning for the past 17-1/2 years and picked up a weapon “just in case,” it would have gone a long way towards defining everyday life as threatening and justifying the adoption of a defensive and hostile approach to the world.

And over 17-1/2 years — that’s about 6,000 mornings, after subtracting sick days and weather cancellations — that “I’m ready to stab or club you” attitude would have been unnecessary, but would have colored my sense of the world, and would likely have been communicated to others. And on one out of those 6,000 mornings, it would have provided a defensive option, although even in this case it might have been unnecessary overkill.

Instead, I’ve gone out on most of those 6,000 morning walks with a bag of dog biscuits and friendly greetings for our neighbors and their dogs. On one morning two weeks ago, it was not enough. When you think about it, those are pretty good odds.

But just in case, please leash your dogs. It’s the least you can do.

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