The War Dogs of Kentucky

I was warned in advance by other bikers crossing America from East to West.

“Watch out for the dogs of Kentucky!” said one.  “Oh yeah, you’ll see dogs!  Just hope you can outrun them!” said another.  I was given lots of advice on how to deal with them like ‘use boat horns’ or ‘spray them with pepper spray’ but others said boat horns just get them more riled up and others referred to pepper spray as ‘seasoning for the steak’.  One person said, “Stare at them eye to eye and yell ‘GO HOME!’”.  Another said “Look ‘em in the eye, smile and say ‘Go get your ball!’ or ‘Go get your toy!’”, the rationale being that it would confuse the dog for a moment and allow your getaway.

Personally, I’m not afraid of dogs, even the ones who look vicious.  Dogs sense fear and, by giving them the benefit of the doubt, it keeps me calm and relaxed to better deal with the ones who tend to look at me more like a steak dinner than a master.

At any rate, when Jaine and I crossed the ferry at Cave-In-Rock IL and entered Kentucky, I promised myself to record my experiences with dogs as I traversed the state by keeping score of my encounters with them.  Here’s how I would keep score:

If the dogs were able to run up to the side of my bike and start barking, the dogs would get a point.  If I flew past them before they could get me or they stayed off the road as I went by, I would get a point.

No sooner than I got within 10 miles from the ferry when I had my first encounter with the ‘war dogs’ of Kentucky.

My first Kentucky 'War Dog'

It was a little dachshund with about 2 inch legs that started running across a huge, well-manicured lawn.  The pooch was yapping away like a mad dog and sprinting towards me for all it was worth, hell bent on chastising me for even thinking of riding on the road past his house.  I kept my same pace and tried the ‘Go get your ball’ technique.  Between the manicured lawn and I was a white wood fence with about 2 yards of unmowed grass about 6 inches deep.  As soon as that wiener dog zipped under the fence it encountered the tall grass and got tangled up in it and performed a full somersault landing on its back.  It fought to ‘right the ship’ and get back on task, but I easily blew past the dog, adding insult to injury by not even speeding up.

John ‘1’ Dogs ‘0’.

A happy boxer-bulldog mix

Towards the end of day I encountered a much larger dog and how it ‘attacked’ me proved ominous.  This dog was a boxer –bulldog mix.  In Wisconsin, every dog I’ve ever encountered comes at me from behind.  Usually they’ll wait for me to get ahead and then chase me, running alongside me, barking at my heels.  I usually say “Hi puppy, how’r ya doin’!”  “How’s it going buddy!” or “Come on, puppy, you can keep up!” …that sort of thing.  This dog was different.  It ran in front of my bike weaving back and forth turning around it head to look at me and bark.  It was a friendly dog just wanting to have fun and I slowed down employing my usual “Hi puppy!  You da dog!  Go get’em Bonkers!” approach.  There was no traffic and the encounter went smoothly as he peeled off once we got past his property.

John ‘1’ Dogs ‘1’.

A Brady short of a Bunch

The next day I had an encounter with the same kind of boxer-bulldog mix, but this one was truly scary.  It was the first time I almost got killed by a dog while biking and this is no exaggeration.

The roads in Kentucky have no shoulders and bikers have to ‘ride the white line’ to avoid traffic.  That afternoon I was leaving a small town on a very hot day on an unusually flat stretch of road.  Traffic was moderate.  I was about a foot off of the white line when the dog came up on my right and started bumping my front tire towards the middle of the road.  I sensed some cars behind me and I knew they were slowing down because they could see the dog started to pester me and were probably sympathetic to my plight.  Ahead of me in the oncoming lane was a white Lexus SUV which was moving along but started to slow down when it saw the dog bumping into my tire and pushing me towards the oncoming traffic lane.

I could tell this dog was a few ‘Bradys’ short of a bunch and tried to soothe the dog with calm voice, but it kept hitting my front tire to herd me towards the middle of the road near the yellow divider lane.  By now I’m starting to resist the dog and when I got to within a foot of the yellow line I started to bump the dog with my tire to resist going into the oncoming lane.

The Lexus was starting to really slow down but was still going about 25 mph when the dog slipped to my left side and went into the oncoming lane, still barking and looking back at me.  The Lexus hit the dog with its right front tire and the dog rolled down into the ditch.

I felt really bad. I didn’t want the dog hurt, but I wasn’t about to ride head-on into a Lexus because this dog wanted to fulfill its herding instincts.  I thought the dog was killed but when I looked back I saw that the dog rolled to the bottom of the ditch and started to run back to its home, looking a little gimpy but still alive.  By then traffic was at a standstill.  I’m sure the Lexus guy felt bad, too, but I’m sure all of us were in agreement that we were glad ‘Bonkers’ didn’t leave the scene before his body.

As I moved back to the white line and let the cars go by, I reflected on what just happened.  Is this a first time occurrence for ‘Bonkers’ and he hopefully learned a lesson from it, or has this happened before which explains why his belt doesn’t seem to go through all of the loops?  I guess I’ll never know.

John ‘1’ Dogs ‘2’

Since that time I’ve encountered 10 other dogs of varying sizes and aggressiveness.  Only one came close enough to me to chalk up a point for the dogs.  Believe it or not, the most aggressive ones are the little dogs, apparently they’re like Subaru Outback owners (see my May 29th blog “What’s this ‘thing’ about Subaru Owners’”) that have a need to over- compensate.  The bigger ones, I’ve found, just want to have fun.  For every aggressive dog, I had the luck of being on a roll and flew past the dogs before they could get any ‘get up and go’.

My favorite dog encounter, you may ask?   The last dog I met before leaving Kentucky.  I was literally 2 miles from the Virginia border on a slight downhill and was flying down the road pedaling between 25 and 28 mph when I saw a medium sized brown spaniel mix laying in the gravel just on the side of the road.  It was obviously waiting for someone to come by but was yawning and looking away from me as I approached.  When I got within 10 yards of the dog (moving at 28 mph) I said “Hi puppy!” in a low voice,  just enough for it to hear.  It immediately turned and jumped up to chase me, but I blew past that dog so fast it barely had enough time to spin around and bark.  I could hear a halfhearted attempt to chase me, but ‘Killer’ gave up pretty quickly.  I’m sure it was thinking “Oh man, what a ripoff!”

Spaniel mix.  The actual dog was a little bit darker brown.

Finally tally:  John ‘9’  Dogs ‘4’

Not bad for dealing with the ‘War Dogs of Kentucky’.

*** Addendum:  I have not had a single dog come on the road in over 3,000 miles of pedaling in any other state except Kentucky. Currently, I am halfway across Virginia and if I reach Kitty Hawk unscathed, Kentucky will be the only state I traveled that had a dog come on the road to greet me.


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