Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My bodyguard

There's a freak running around the city right now, sexually assaulting women.

The attacks started in my neighbourhood, early in the morning. But they have since moved out along the Transitway: Alta Vista, Lincoln Fields, Hurdman. The jerk must have a bus pass.

His M.O. is to sneak up behind a woman and try to pull her pants down or grope her. Then he walks away.

Since April, the police have been trying to find this guy. Every local radio station talks about it every morning, reminding women to be vigilant. The police have released his description: white, five foot six, short dark hair, and wearing a grey hoodie (which is so normal as to be nondescript). So they've also released a sketch to local newspapers, urging citizens to keep an eye out for him and to call in any tips. They've received 100 tips so far, but still haven't caught him.

You'd have to live under a rock not to know that this guy is on the loose and that you have to be careful out there.

And yet... I still find myself slipping into complacency about it - into that "it won't happen to me so I don't need to worry about it" attitude. And every morning, despite listening the radio and reading the newspapers, I leave the house without really thinking twice about it.

And then this morning, the Beast and I went for a run. He was full of energy, uncharacteristically pulling like a sled dog most of the way, so we headed for downtown where he can use the Spark Street pedestrian mall as a mini-obstacle course. Weaving through posts and jumping over benches and onto tree planters always tires him out more than a regular run. But he was still super pumped up, so we ran down by the locks and behind Parliament Hill, where I let him run off leash so that he could sprint ahead of me and explore the riverbed. By the time I leashed him back up, I thought he'd be tuckered out, but nope, not even a little bit. So I brought him to the park just a couple of blocks from the house, hoping that his girlfriend Ruby would be there. She wasn't. So instead, I found a big 'ole stick and threw it back and forth to him while I did my post-run stretches by the park bench.

After tossing the stick 3 or 4 times, the Beast caught the scent of something far more exciting and lost interest in me. As he was off exploring, I spotted a man walking into the park from the northeast corner. All of a sudden, I stiffened. He had his hands in his pockets and his head down. He was about 5'6". He had short dark hair. And we was moving closer and closer to me.

I tried so hard to be nonchalant. At the same time that I held a quad stretch, I yelled out to the Beast. I wanted to make sure that this guy would see that I had a big dog with me. "Find your stick. Bring me your stick." The Beast looked up at me, then went back to sniffing around. "Beastie," I said again, my voice a little higher this time. "Find your stick! Where's your stick?" He still didn't seem interested in me. "BEASTIE, HUSTLE!" I said, yelling out the one command that I know he will always respond to. He looked up, looked straight at me, and then looked at the guy walking toward me...

I don't know if he sensed something in my voice that sounded a little more desperate than usual, but he came bolting down the hill and placed himself between me and the man. Then he let out a low growl, followed by a bark that sounded kind of like he was clearing his throat. A warning. "Back off, Mister. That's my mom, and she's not feeling all that great about the situation right now," is what I am sure he was saying.

The guy jumped back a little, looked up at me, and said, "Nice dog. Protective, huh?" By then, he was close enough that I could see that he was wearing glasses, was actually closer to 5'8" or 5'9", and that I had seen him walk through the park many times before. (I'm going for laser eye surgery on Friday so I can't wear my contact lenses right now, and wasn't wearing my glasses either. My vision from a distance is not to be relied on.) I brushed off the comment and said, "No, that's just his way of saying that he wants to play with you. Sorry if he scared you." Then I called him over, leashed him up, and left the park. With my heart beating somewhere around my throat, I ran home as fast as I could.

This morning's episode left me with a few emotions. The first is anger. I'm not very good at being a victim, and I don't like that, even in a completely innocent situation, I feel like I am in some kind of danger because of another jackass running around the city assaulting women. This is my city, dammit, and he has no right to make me feel scared of every man I see walking in my general direction.

The second is sympathy for all the normal men of Ottawa who are going to be mistaken as would-be assailants by women like me.

But the strongest emotion that I'm left with this morning is gratefulness. I am thankful for the Beast, and for him reminding me that even though I may be angry, and even though I feel bad about mistaking an innocent guy for a nut-job, I can't continue to be so complacent. I'm even more thankful for the fact that the Beast is keeping me safe. Maybe he really was just trying to play with the guy when he came running down the hill toward them. Or maybe he did sense that I was scared and wanted the guy to back the 'eff off. But it doesn't really matter. Because when I needed him to be beside me to make me feel safer, he was there. And I'm so grateful for that.

So is hubby. Because when I told him this story over breakfast, with a little tear in my eye, he reached down, rubbed the Beast's head, and said, "You're a good boy, Beastie. Thank you."

Be safe out there.