Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Small Emergencies Are Good For Us

Last night, the power went out over a wide region where I live. I was in the bathroom at the time, and suddenly it was very, very black. At first, I thought my wife was playing a joke on me by switching off the breaker — she's like that sometimes. So I chuckled and called out, "nice trick, honey!" But she claimed it wasn't her — all the power was out in the house. I asked her to look across the street and see if the lights were on at the neighbors' house, which would tell us if it was something that was only affecting us. As it turned out, the entire city was black.

In each of the rooms, small emergency lights turned on when the power went down. That gave us immediate ability to navigate around the house. But we noticed that a couple of those lights that remain always plugged into an electrical outlet so they can charge internal batteries, were almost of no use because the light from them was so dim. Who knew? But now we know that we need to buy some replacements, and that we need to test them every once in a while to make sure they'll work when the power dies.

Becky grabbed a flashlight (we have flashlights in every room in the house…except, unfortunately, the bathroom). So there I sat in the dark. "Hey honey, would you point a flashlight under the door?" She did, and that helped me accomplish the task at hand.

A few minutes later, we had our decorative Christmas candles happily lighting up the kitchen and dining room, a couple of small oil lamps illuminating the bedroom and office, and we each had a flashlight in hand. The power outage was no big deal, because we were able to maneuver around the house and prepare to go to bed and wait for the sun to come up.

But, for those who have a serious need to have electricity for more than just turning on the lights, it could be a disaster. Some folks have medical devices that operate on electricity, and when there is a power outage, it can be a life-threatening situation.

Or if the outage lasted for days, or even weeks as it does in some cases where severe weather tears down power lines all over the city, that type of incident could cost lives. Ice storms can rip down virtually all the above-ground power lines, leaving a city without power for weeks on end. In the middle of a bitter winter, people without the ability to operate their furnace can be in trouble pretty quickly. Just last month, there was a massive power outage in western Washington that left tens of thousands of homes without power. During that outage, two elderly men died of hypothermia in their homes. Residents resorted to driving around in cars and trucks for no other reason than to be able to run the heater.

All utilities — water, power, natural gas — are vulnerable to situations that will shut them down. It's good to have little emergencies like the one we passed through last night, to tune us up and remind us that we need to be prepared to do without those amenities. Small emergencies show us where our weak points are, so we can correct them. Some areas we might strengthen are:
  • Water that is stored in easy-to-access form so that we can continue to drink and cook and take care of sanitation while waiting for the supply to return to normal. 
  • Alternative methods of cooking (camp stove), so you can have hot meals and warm drinks to help prevent the onset of hypothermia.
  • A supply of easy-to-fix foods and hot beverage mixes. 
  • Lighting, of course. Keep flashlights in every room (even the bathroom!) where they can be quickly grabbed. Check the flashlights now and then to make sure the batteries are still good. And keep a supply of fresh batteries on hand.
  • A power generator to handle serious needs like medical or just to keep the refrigerator and freezer cold or to run the furnace. 
  • Warm blankets or sleeping bags and clothing so you can bundle up as the house grows colder. 
If the cause of the power outage is such that it's going to be a long time before power is restored, you might have an evacuation plan in place so you can travel to an unaffected area and have someone to stay with there. Of course, that only works if the roads are open and able to be safely traveled upon. If you can't do that, you must shelter in place and be prepared to take care of your own needs until life returns to normal.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hazmat Emergency

If your area is hit by a hazardous materials (hazmat) emergency, will you be prepared and know what to do to protect yourself?

Hazardous materials include toxic chemicals, flammable substances, radioactive materials, explosives, or poisons. An emergency incident can occur involving hazardous materials when an accident happens during the transportation of these substances by rail, over the highways, by ship, or aircraft. If you live near a major highway, railroad line, ship yard or airport, there is potential risk that you could experience a hazmat incident.

A hazmat emergency can also happen during production accidents. But chemical plants and explosives factories are not the only sources of hazardous materials. Perhaps surprisingly, gas stations, hospitals, and waste disposal sites are also potential hazmat sites. So, if you live near any of those facilities, there is risk of a hazmat episode.

What can you do to protect yourself in the event of a hazmat emergency?
  • Be aware of the potential for such an emergency. Take inventory of the hazardous materials sites in your town, and their location relative to your home. Note also the direction of prevailing winds in your area and determine whether or not your home is generally downwind or upwind of these sites. 
  • Even if your home is upwind, and therefore safer than places downwind of potential hazmat sites, realize that the wind can change and you should still be prepared to take appropriate action if hazardous materials are accidentally released into the atmosphere. 
  • Prepare an emergency supplies kit that includes plastic sheeting, duct tape and scissors. In a hazmat emergency, use the sheeting and duct tape to seal windows, doors, roof vents, furnace ducts and air conditioners to prevent contaminants from entering your home. 
  • If you become aware of an incident, monitor local radio and TV stations for details and instructions. Do not be tempted to be a "lookee-lou" near the site of the incident — that would put you at risk of contamination and you might impede containment or rescue operations. Stay away from the area. 
  • If you are outdoors, use the word UP to remind you what to do — remain upstream, uphill and upwind. Move at least a half-mile from ground-zero. 
  • Do not step on or touch any spilled liquids or solid chemical deposits. Stay away from any airborne mist, smoke or fog. 
  • If you are in a vehicle, remain inside, keep the doors, windows and vents shut, and do not use the air conditioner or heater (they draw in outside air). 
  • If you are at home, use the plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal the doors, windows, heating ducts, air conditioner, and any other openings (cracks, etc,) that might allow outside air to penetrate. 
  • Continue to monitor radio and TV for instructions about when it is safe to come out, or for other decontamination information. 
  • If possible, consider evacuating the area. However, before deciding to evacuate, consider that the contamination might be spreading over the escape route, or that the route might be closed off by authorities to keep people out of the area and allow decontamination and rescue units in. Before leaving the relative safety of your shelter, monitor reports on radio and TV to learn if evacuation is a viable option. 
  • If you are away from home when the incident occurs, contact authorities to find out if it is safe to return. Do not enter the contamination area until you are told it is safe. 
  • When you are permitted to return home and the area is declared to be safe, open windows and doors and turn on fans to provide ventilation. 
  • If you become contaminated, follow instructions issued by authorities. In some cases, you might be told to take a shower, but in other cases you might be instructed to stay away from water. Not every incident is handled in the same manner, so make sure you get specific instructions before attempting to decontaminate. 
  • Remove exposed clothing and shoes and seal them tightly in plastic bags for later disposal, as instructed by authorities. 
  • Until you are sure that the situation is safe, avoid contact with other people. You could inadvertently contaminate them, or they could do the same to you. 
  • If you become ill, seek medical treatment as soon as possible. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Foul Weather Travel

As I write this, much of the United States is experiencing some form of nasty weather. In some places it's snow or freezing rain, in others it heavy rain, and some locations are being whipped by strong winds. To my friends in Florida and Hawaii, all I can say is that this post won't apply to you — you lucky dogs.

But for the rest of us, we're entering an early cold season, thanks to La Nina. Areas of the country that normally have mild winters are already seeing abnormal cold temperatures and snow. Central Montana today is 45 degrees below normal!

On top of that, we are sneaking up on the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, when many of us will be traveling to join with family and friends to enjoy some time together. Bad weather and travel can spell trouble, so this is a time for us to prepare our vehicles and ourselves for the possibility of difficult travel conditions. Here are some suggestions:
  • Be willing to cancel the trip. I know this sounds extreme, and goes against the grain — especially for most men (I don't mean to sound sexist, but this is simply the truth). We guys tend to think we can plow ahead and overcome everything, and the hormonal inability to pull the plug on a trip can lead to disaster. It's best to deal with reality, have compassion on your passengers, and exercise wisdom — even if it means canceling the trip. 
  • If you decide to travel, wear appropriate clothing. That means footwear that you can comfortably walk a few miles in, through snow or slush. It means weather-appropriate layers made of fabrics that will turn the wind and rain, won't absorb moisture from outside, will breathe, and will wick away from your skin the moisture you create by exertion. Headgear and gloves (or mittens) should be an integral part of your wardrobe considerations. This doesn't mean you have to dress in all that clothing while driving, but at least have it in the vehicle with you so you can use it if necessary. 
  • Make sure the vehicle is up to the trip. If traction is likely to be an issue, four-wheel-drive is best, front-wheel-drive is second best, and rear-wheel-drive is least favorable. A 2x4 truck with an empty cargo bed is worst of all, insofar as losing traction is concerned. Good tires help a lot. In snow and ice country, studded snow tires or chains will work wonders. If you're carrying chains, make sure you know how to install them. When I say know how, I mean actually do it a few times, not just read the instructions. 
  • Carry specialized items of equipment such as a shovel, ice scraper, snow brush, bags of sand for traction aid, and winter windshield washer fluid. Carry a cell phone and charger. I carry a SPOT Satellite Messenger, in case we get into real trouble and need to call for rescue. 
  • Keep the gas tank topped up. 
  • Do not be tempted to take shortcuts. Stick to main routes of travel, because that's where help will be when you need it. 
  • Take a supply of food and water, and a sleeping bag or blanket for each person. Have several methods of starting a fire — Bic lighter, storm-proof matches, flint 'n steel striker,  and some prepared tinder material. There have been cases where folks have had to survive for many days off the beaten path before rescue arrived. The ability to stay alive might depend on what you are carrying in the vehicle and your ability to start a fire, both for the warmth and for signaling. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What Would I Do?

Last night, I was at a social gathering and was approached by a young man who asked a pointed question. The night was rainy and cold, snow was in the forecast for the mountains, and this friend of mine wanted to know what I would do if I were out there in the mountains lost and alone without any camping gear that night.

What would I do? It's a great question. In fact, it's the perfect question that we should all be asking ourselves all the time, not just on a dark and stormy night. What would I do if…and then plug in the scenario. What would I do if I accidentally fell overboard from our sailboat? What would I do if a vehicle suddenly came at me in the wrong lane? What would I do if a submarine earthquake triggered a tsunami in our region? What would I do if a wildfire broke out in the forest and threatened our home? What would I do if I was diagnosed with cancer? What would I do if home invaders broke in and took my wife hostage? What would I do if a deadly pandemic was spreading through our area? What would I do if…?

You get the picture.

If you don't don't play the "what would I do if…" game in your own mind, you have no basis for preparation, and you leave yourself vulnerable to be surprised by events that can thrust you unexpectedly into a survival situation. On the other hand, if you do play that game mentally, you find yourself thinking about strategies, techniques, equipment, supplies, escape routes, and attitudes that can help you survive when the event presents itself. I'm convinced that 90% of survival is mental. It's psychological, it's emotional, it involves mental preparation ahead of time and mental toughness during the challenge. If you never think of these things, you have no chance of being prepared.

As a paratrooper, I went through a lengthy training session called "Malfunctions." It covered just about everything that can go wrong with a parachute, with the airplane, and with the jumper himself. We talked extensively in terms of "what would you do if…" And, wouldn't you know it, during my jump career I experienced 3 malfunctions. The training saved my life 3 times. Without that training, I would have been caught unawares and wouldn't have known what to do.

When my friend confronted me with the question about what I would do if I were caught out there in the mountains on that cold and stormy night, my brain snapped into visualization mode and I saw myself in the forest with frigid rain pouring down. I imagined an immediate search for natural shelter opportunities, and steps I would take to improve the shelter as quickly as possible to protect me from getting wet. In my mind, I saw myself hunkering down in a small, tight place — staying dry while the world around me was getting soaked.

"What about fire," he asked.

"Definitely a priority," I answered. "But it would be tough to get a fire going in these conditions. Not impossible, but extremely difficult unless you were carrying the right materials with you. Assuming you had to depend entirely on what the forest provides, it would be unwise to be out in the rain getting your clothing soaked while scrambling around trying to find materials for a fire. Even if you were able to succeed with the fire, you would still be wet. And although the fire would help dry you out, the bigger question is this; what if you were unable to start a fire tonight, and you were now soaked because you went out in the rain to search for fire materials? The risk/benefit balance is weighted too heavily on the side of risk," I told him. "On a night like this, you must stay dry at all cost. Even if you have to suffer through a miserable night without fire. Get wet, you're dead. Stay dry, you have a chance."

We talked for the next hour about various scenarios. He's a young man with great enthusiasm for the outdoors, but doesn't have my Wilderness Survival book yet, so I suggested he get a copy and study it. Preparation begins with study, and is enhanced by field experience.

With a foundation of knowledge and experience, you can play the "what would I do if…" game in your own mind. The process will sharpen your situational awareness and allow you to think through a variety of possible scenarios and have strategies figured out to help keep you from being blindsided.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Personal Locator Beacon Saves Lives

On a balmy summer afternoon, Andy Stanton, 48, and his friend, Karl Hansen, were hunting 100 miles northwest of Anchorage, Alaska. They were about to top out on a mountain ridge to scout for game when Stanton’s ATV bogged down. He revved the throttle but it wouldn’t budge. When he let off the throttle, the bike jerked backwards, causing Stanton to fall back in the seat. It then rolled down the incline catching the back wheels. The front end came up and Stanton slid off the rear landing on his back with his head pointing downhill.

To his horror, Stanton saw the four-wheeler coming right over on top of him. He instinctively put up his arms and legs to deflect it but the vehicle weighed 750 pounds. His legs came up over his head and the machine fell on Stanton, completely compressing him. He heard and felt his back break. 

The four-wheeler continued down the mountain a short distance before it stopped. 

The good news is that Stanton had wisely decided to carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) with him. Using that device, a person in trouble can summon help via a system that employs satellites dedicated to the very purpose of aiding search and rescue. One press of the button sends a signal to the satellites, and that signal is forwarded on to a rescue center that then contacts the search and rescue units nearest to your location. The exact location is known because the PLB sends your GPS coordinates as part of the message calling for help. A fantastic system. 

The bad news is that Stanton's PLB was strapped to his backpack on the ATV that was now a long way down the mountain from him. Lying there on the mountainside with a broken back, Stanton had no way to retrieve and activate the PLB. 

Fortunately, Stanton was not alone. His hunting buddy scrambled down the mountain and retrieved the  PLB and activated it at 1:37 p.m. Stanton said he was in such excruciating pain he didn’t want to take any chances regardless of having a cell phone. Cell phones are nice, but coverage is sketchy to nonexistent when you're far from civilization. That's when a PLB might be your only chance. 

As it turns out, there was no cell phone signal where Stanton lay injured, so Hansen climbed the ridge in an attempt to get coverage. At 2:10 p.m., he was amazed when his 911call went through and state troopers informed him that the beacon’s satellite-detectable distress signal had already been identified and Search and Rescue (SAR) personnel were enroute. At 3:30 p.m., a hospital Life Flight helicopter arrived and airlifted Stanton to Providence Hospital in Anchorage. He was hospitalized for a week with a broken back but, luckily, he was not paralyzed. Several weeks later, he was able to return to his civilian Army job wearing a rigid body support.

Stanton and his wife, Jan, also a hunter, have decided to purchase a second ACR MicroFix™ PLB. Then, if one beacon gets crushed or disabled, they’ll have a back-up unit. “I can’t tell you what peace of mind having that beacon gives you. No one thinks it’ll happen to them. In Alaska, things can turn bad in a blink of an eye. We’re not at the top of the food chain out here,” Stanton said, referring to brown bears that feast on nearby spawning salmon this time of year.

The big lesson Stanton said he learned that day was the necessity of keeping the beacon on your body at all times, not attached to something that you can be separated from. “If I had been alone, it would have been bad. I would’ve had to drag myself down the mountain to my ATV to activate the beacon,” he said.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fun Reading

If you're tired of reading about all the bad news going on in the world, maybe it's time to take a break and immerse yourself in some reading just for fun. Fiction is an entertaining way putting your mind to the task of trying to figure out what's going to happen in a world that won't actually affect you — except perhaps emotionally as you connect with the good guys and hope the bad guys get what's coming to them.

So, along those lines, I can highly recommend two Thrillers — fictional stories in which you know exactly who the bad guy is, but you're not entirely sure how things are going to work out. Both of these books are available as Kindle versions through Amazon. But you don't have to own a Kindle reading device to have access to Kindle books. There's a free application that you can download to your computer, Blackberry, iPhone or iPad that will allow you to read Kindle books.

Okay, back to these two Thrillers. One is titled Code Name: Viper. It's about a black-ops intelligence agency called the NIA (National Intelligence Agency). The deputy director of the agency has skeletons in his closet that he would kill to keep secret. Problem is, the secret leaks into the hands of one of the agents, putting his life and that of his pregnant wife at severe risk. The chase is on, from Washington DC to the Yucatan Peninsula as they are forced to run for their lives while being pursued by the deputy director.

The second book is named The Container — another NIA Thriller, this story is about an al Qaeda terrorist attempting to smuggle a biological weapon into the US inside a shipping container. We follow the action around the world from Pakistan, through Indonesia, the Panama Canal, and into the Gulf of Mexico. Innocent civilians become entangled in the deadly web, as the weapon draws closer to America in the hands of its suicide jihadist.

Both of these books involve a lot of survival technique — the art of staying alive under threatening conditions. All you have to do is click on the photo of the cover to go directly to Amazon where these books are available.

Yup, sometimes we need a break from the real world, and a book is better than TV anytime. Of course, I might be prejudiced, because I wrote both of these novels.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cholera Update

The situation in Haiti continues to worsen. News out of Port-au-Prince, the nation's capitol, is that the cholera epidemic has spread into that metropolis, putting nearly 3 million people at risk. Half that many are living in unsanitary tent camps for the homeless, after the earthquake that tore the city down last January.

Cholera has already been blamed for about 550 deaths in less than a month, and tens of thousands have been identified as being infected. The disease is spread through contaminated water, and recent flooding in the wake of Hurricane Tomas is swiftly spreading the bacteria.

One of the strange things about this outbreak is that cholera has never been documented in Haiti before its appearance last month. So where did it come from? One theory is that the disease was introduced to the island by U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal, a country in south Asia where the disease runs rampant. Those U.N. peacekeepers are located at a base on a tributary of the Artibonite River. That river is now contaminated with cholera.

What's are some of the lessons for us?
  • A disease that is entirely unknown to one area can be introduced by people who have traveled to an area of the world where the disease is found. 
  • This kind of problem can happen anywhere (even where you live), brought in by people who have traveled to other countries.
  • In the process of rendering aid to disaster victims, it's possible to increase the scope of the disaster when relief workers bring new problems to the region.
  • After the primary disaster (in this case an earthquake) is long gone, the spread of disease might turn out to be an even more significant catastrophe.
  • Refugee camps can pose risks to large populations who are living in close and unsanitary conditions.
  • It's extremely difficult to manage the human waste problem in a refugee camp setting, which is why it might be preferable to live on your own away from that kind of setting. 
  • If you're on the move, prepare a suitable arrangement for disposing of your own human waste, burying it at least 8 inches deep and 200 feet from any water source, trail or your camp. If you're going to be in the same area for a protracted period of time, dig a pit 4 or 5 feet deep for waste disposal, preferably in a sunny location (to speed decomposition) downwind of your camp and a couple hundred feet from any water . If possible separate urine from solid waste and place them in separate pits, because that will speed composting of the solid waste. Sprinkle a handfull of soil or ashes from your fire over the solid waste to help reduce the smell. 
  • Purify all water used for washing your hands and implements used for cooking or eating, as well as all water used for drinking or food preparation. 

Monday, November 8, 2010


Escape and Evasion (E&E) is generally thought of as a military survival technique to be used when you're in a combat theater and there are people out there trying to kill you.

Normally, in a civilian survival setting, we aren't concerned about having to escape and evade to keep from being hunted down and destroyed by the enemy. Actually, under normal circumstances, just the opposite is true — we want to make ourselves so visible and so audible to the outside world that rescuers will have an easy time finding us. That's why the fundamental principles of signaling are such an important aspect of survival education.

However, there are situations in which it is desirable to make ourselves invisible. This can happen in both wilderness and urban settings. Let me paint a couple of scenarios for you.
  • You are hiking the deep woods of the Oregon coast and stumble into a marijuana plantation being tended by a couple of gorillas carrying weapons. They see you just about the time you decide it would be prudent to evaporate into the forest, and they come a hunting. 
That would be a nice time to know how to vanish into thin air.
  • In an urban setting, imagine that you are in New York City the night the power grid fails and the city goes dark and spooky. Traffic lights die, and instant gridlock occurs. Everybody is on foot — good guys and bad guys. But the bad guys are looking for ways to take advantage of this windfall, filling their pockets and maybe notching their guns at your expense. 
Becoming good at E&E takes practice, but there are a couple of foundational concepts that might help you live through experiences like those I've described. I'll just hit the high points, and then I will urge you to go out and practice these techniques by playing a game of "stealth" and seeing how imperceptible you can become.
  • Movement is the enemy. When you're trying to hide, you must become an absolute stone statue. Any movement at all will give away your position. Motion will get you caught because it is often accompanied by noise, and the enemy doesn't even need to be looking directly at you to see you — he can detect you in his peripheral vision. If you can get to a hiding place, don't be tempted to leave it and scurry to another one. Take up your position and be completely still until you are totally certain that the threat has passed. Then wait another half hour before moving. 
  • Noise is louder and carries farther than you think. If you are on the move, you must be so methodical that you create no sound. This takes a lot of practice. Go out in the woods on a dry autumn day when crisp leaves and twigs cover the ground. Practice walking through them without making any sound at all. Learn to pick up your feet and put them back down without disturbing anything. If you feel a twig underfoot, pick that foot up and put it down someplace else. This requires superior balance, and I recommend Tai Chi training to achieve this quality of balance. 
  • Silence your clothing and "stuff." Anything that jingles in your pocket will give away your position. It's better to empty your pockets and leave those things behind (hidden, so as not to leave a trail) than to keep them with you if they are going to give you away. Don't drag your feet or swish your pants cuffs against each other. Quiet your arm movements so the fabric of your shirt or jacket doesn't make noise. 
  • Quiet your breathing. This is difficult when you're frightened. Inhale and exhale deep, slow breaths through your nostrils. If it's cold enough to cause your breath to be visible, exhale into your shirt or jacket collar so you aren't sending up "smoke" signals. 
  • Do not look around. The movement of your head, or even the movement of your eyes, can give you away. Your face, regardless of color, is a solid block that, when it moves will catch the enemy's eye. If you wear glasses, remove them and put them in your pocket, if you can get along without them at all. A sun glint off the glass or frame will light up your location like a beacon. Same goes for all jewelry - watches, rings, etc. 
  • Take the difficult route. The enemy will likely stick with the easier path, so if you escape and evade along a highly undesirable route, you might not be followed. But move slowly and silently. Avoid the temptation to get up and run or make time too quickly. 
  • Hide where no one will look for you. I heard about one evader who hid in the pit of an outhouse, because he knew nobody would look there for him. 
There is much more to E&E, but begin your practice with these techniques (okay, you don't have to crawl under an outhouse) and build your skill.

In my military years, I have been literally close enough to reach out and untie the enemy's boot laces, but he never knew I was there. Remaining hidden takes discipline, but it's a technique that can save your life if the situation requires that you escape and evade.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dog Attack!

When I was about 7 years old, I was walking my dog one day when we encountered a dog fight in progress. There must have been 4 or 5 other dogs already fighting, and for some crazy reason my dog wanted to join the fun. Afraid that my dog was going to get hurt, I dove into the fray to rescue my pooch (ah, the misguided courage of a 7-year-old). The next thing I remember was waking up under an oxygen tent, being cared for by a doctor. My body was torn to shreds, and it would take some time to heal.

It would be understandable for me to hate dogs after that incident, but on the contrary, I have always loved dogs. However, that was the day I decided that I would never again be some dog's lunch. On a few occasions since my first adventure in the middle of that dog fight, I have been attacked by dogs. Twice while jogging alone I've had large shepherd-type dogs rush me with foul intent. I've been chased on my bicycle a couple times. And once while my wife and I were walking our young pooch, we were attacked by two dogs at the same time. On each occasion, I took action to prevent damage to myself, or to my wife and our dog in that last incident.

So it happens. Even though there are laws governing the restraint of domestic dogs (leash laws, or yard enclosure laws), dogs sometimes get out on the loose, and they aren't always warm and fuzzy and friendly. Someday you might find yourself facing the gnashing teeth of a threatening canine, so it's good to know what to do.

The first strategy is to avoid aggressive dogs, if possible. If you know there are aggressive dogs in a particular neighborhood, don't go there.

Another strategy, if you can't avoid dogs, is to feed them. Carry some dog treats in a pocket, and toss one or two toward the dog if it approaches you.

But when the situation gets nasty you have to take other steps:
  • Never turn your back on a threatening dog. If the animal tries to circle around behind you, keep turning to face him. If you are threatened by more than one dog and they attempt a coordinated surround-and-attack strategy, you're going to have to choose one dog to make an example of. I recommend taking out the most aggressive one first. Be quick about it, because as soon as you focus your attention on one of the dogs, the others might rush you. So work with exceptional violence to take one dog out of action and then immediately be ready to take out the next one. 
When we were rushed by two dogs, I immediately kicked the lead animal in the throat, dropping him like a hay bale, and then I prepared to take out the second dog. That dog saw what happened to his buddy, thought better of it, and whimpered back inside the open gate to the safety of his yard. 
  • Don't run. Running from a dog will encourage and trigger an aggressive attack. It's impossible to out-run a dog for any distance, but if you can scramble into an open vehicle or climb a tree before the dog can reach you, go for it. But if you can't reach safety within a few steps, don't run. 
I once spent an hour on top of a car while waiting for the dog's owner (the uncle of a friend of mine whom I'd gone to visit) to come home and put the aggressive doberman in the house.
  • Stop right where you are, face the animal and slowly back away. Sometimes a dog will rush out and snarl, bark and growl without completing the attack. It might be that the dog thinks you have violated his space, and if you are willing to leave slowly by backing away, he might let you. 
It's worth a try to talk to the dog, giving orders to "go home" or "sit" in a commanding voice. If the dog has been trained at all, it might obey you. Some dogs, however, might have been trained to obey commands in a foreign language. But the very sound of your voice giving a strict order might make the animal stop and reconsider. You might luck out and it will obey you. Like I said, it's worth a try.
  • Avoid making direct eye contact and showing your teeth because that might be perceived by the dog as a challenge, and might provoke an attack. Even though you are facing the dog and watching his every move, focus your eyes a bit to one side of his eyes.
  • Never lose your feet. That means don't fall down. Once you're on the ground, you are lunch. If you stumble, get back on your feet as fast as possible. 
  • Start yelling to arouse the attention of the dog's owner. 
  • Carry defensive weapons (and be prepared to use them) such as pepper spray, a walking stick that can be used to fend off an attack, a short stick or umbrella that can be used as a club or to jam down the dog's throat.
I've used my bicycle pump as a club, when being chased during a bike ride. You can't always speed away, especially if you're riding uphill. Get off the bike before the dog drags you off it, keep the bike between you and the animal, and keep facing the threat. Eventually, the dog might tire of this game and head back home, but don't turn your back on him. Keep him in sight as you climb back on the bike and resume the ride.
  • Take action. 
If the dog is going to take a bite, it's better to offer it something other than your flesh. A coat, a hat, an umbrella, a stick, a bike tire pump, whatever you can shove in the dog's mouth will be better than letting him bite you. If he grabs your arm, rather than try to rip it out of his mouth (thereby getting your arm torn up), shove it farther down the dog's throat. This will cause him to choke and release you.

If you have a coat, remove it and wrap it around your arm. Then present your arm as the target for the dog to focus on. Once he has your protected arm in his jaws, shove it as deep into his mouth as you can and use your other hand and your feet to attack the dog. Punch him in the nose (or whack him hard on the nose with your club), claw out his eyes, punch and kick him in the ribs.

If you can grab the dog by his nose and lower jaw, you can use a quick sideways jerking motion in opposite directions to dislocate the dog's jaw.

If the dog in question is a pit bull, there may be nothing short of death (preferably the dog's death, not yours) that will cause it to release you from its jaws. Nasty as that might sound, it might be your only solution, so be prepared with some means of causing the death of an attacking dog. A knife will do nicely. If the dog has part of you in his jaws, and it's your life or his death, focus all your attention on getting the job done as quickly as possible.

If you are totally without weapons, use your fingers to claw into the animal's eyes or gonads. Rip them out, if necessary. This is an ugly scene to even contemplate, so get it over with as quickly as possible.

After the incident you might need medical attention, including rabies treatment. If possible get information about who owns the dog, because you're going to need this to take steps to receive compensation for your suffering. Call 9-1-1 and have the animal control people take action to prevent this dog from attacking others. This is assuming the dog has survived his encounter with you.

Remember, I am a dog lover. But I love myself even more.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Commercial Break

In an act of shameless self-promotion, I'm going to tell you about my latest book. It's called A Lump of Clay. It is written as a parable with a powerful message for anyone who thinks life hasn't turned out the way it was hoped or expected. If you have experienced disappointment in life because you've worked so hard, done all the right things, and expected life to turn out better, this is a book you should read.

Everyone is asking if this is a children's story or a book for adults. I have to admit that at first I thought of A Lump of Clay as a parable I could read to my grandchildren. I began writing it after the fashion of a children's story, but when I came to the end of this book I wasn’t expecting what happened. It was a surprise — even for me. Discovering the end of the story was an emotional experience for me because of the powerful message that emerged.

This is a simple and engaging story. Children and grandchildren will enjoy it as it is read to them — and later in life, as they read this book themselves, they will understand the greater significance.

It is my hope that this book will cause readers to reflect on the deeper meaning, value, and purpose of life. You will discover it, if you ask the right question. And you’ll find that question in this book.

Once you read A Lump of Clay for yourself, you might decide it will make a perfect Christmas gift for friends and family. It's available at www.candlelight-books.com