Catch the feeling

hawk perched on brushMy 4 dogs and I had just entered the area of the trail that led up the mountain through the forest when a sound stopped me dead in my tracks. It had originated directly above me, though I was not aware of this immediately. It trailed off behind me and I turned around, there was a tightness in my chest, I was holding my breath and the part of my brain that rarely notices my heart beating registered that it was beating hard and fast. I stood there frozen for a moment during which the realization ‘hawk’, generated in one part of my brain, the part of my brain that remembers things like that, sent the message to the part of my brain that had already started preparing me to react. At the same instant the myriad possibilities of what might be causing the sound, which seemed loud and close, were also flashing through my mind.

In the woods surrounding our home I know there are bears, coyotes, foxes, skunks, possums, fisher cats, bobcats, rabbits, weasels, feral cats, deer and a variety of other birds, insects and animals. I count on the fact that all of them also know there’s a lady who regularly walks through the woods with dogs, to allay any fears I may have regarding close encounters. But it has happened. Porcupines are discovered much to my dogs’ distress and my wallet’s (a vet visit is usually required), deer have been herded by my border collie, and unfortunate feral cats have met their demise when making the wrong choice when fleeing from a dog. Over the 20+ years we’ve lived here these events have been infrequent enough that I feel comfortable continuing to walk with my dogs off leash, but I am aware there are risks. I had recently seen a story about a Yorkshire Terrier that had been caught and killed by an owl. One of the dogs walking with me weighs 12lbs, and although that would be too heavy for a hawk, I consciously made note that the hawk, soaring just over the tree-tops, was empty taloned.

Once I was reassured that there was no clear and present danger I stood for a moment, a finger on my pulse, noticing the other sensations in my body which were a response to being startled by the sound. Not long ago I had done the same thing when I was experiencing distressing interactions regarding my foster dog Nibbles. Concerned about his welfare I would wake up at night feeling dread-filled and anxious. I noticed that even my arms had sensations that were unusual, as though low voltage was being sent through them. I wasn’t concerned for my health, I realized that what I was feeling physically was directly related to my anxiety and anger with and about the situation at hand.

More and more scientists are researching and studying emotions in dogs. When it comes to fear-induced responses I encourage you to pay attention to your own responses to stress, fear and anxiety. The next time you notice a fearful dog you might actually be right if you tell them, “I feel your pain.”

Here’s a link to the adult scream of a red-tail hawk.


6 comments so far

  1. Lizzie on

    I understand exactly how you must have felt Debbie, my own heart was racing just reading about your encounter.

    I sometimes experience similar feelings when I’m out with Gracie after midnight. You would think that there wouldn’t be too much to be scared of living in suburbia but we have lots of urban foxes round here and let me tell you they are not scared of humans. I swear they stalk us and they scare me to death. Have you ever heard their screams? It’s blood curdling.
    Fortunately they don’t seem to worry Gracie, just me…..

    • fearfuldogs on

      Are you kidding? After midnight in suburbia? I’d be terrified.

      Did you ever see the documentary Grizzly Man? It’s not a film with a happy ending, but there is some fabulous footage of fox who steals his baseball cap. You might want to watch it, just for that. It may change your feelings about foxes.

  2. Tegan on

    Debbie, I think you just perfectly described the role of the amygdala, which I have been looking at of late. 😉 The moment where there is ‘fear’ or ‘pain’ and your whole body races, before the rest of your brain catches up and actually comprehends what is happening.

  3. Amy@GoPetFriendly on

    So, yelling at you, jerking your collar, or forcing you to “move on” before you had time to gather yourself wouldn’t have helped?

    Sorry – I’m feeling a little snarky this morning.

    • fearfuldogs on

      No worries Amy. I’ve been feeling a bit ‘curmudgeonly’ lately myself.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: