For Protection

“I think I’m going to buy some pepper spray,” my friend Ginger announced.

What?” I replied as I bent down to free my dogs from their leashes.

“For protection, in the woods,” she emphasized, waving her hand straight ahead.

I watched the dogs, my two and her one, dash through the meadow that leads to the trailhead at the edge of the trees. In over two years of almost-daily walking in the forest, I’d never even once felt the slightest bit endangered, never seen any weird person or any mean dog.

“You know I won’t come in here by myself,” Ginger added as we walked through the field.

I did know. She won’t. But several times per week, when friends are busy, I do go alone into the woods and hike the 3-mile loop with my dogs. And I always find the experience to be very peaceful.

“I know. But it’s a bit over-the-top, Ginger. Have you ever felt threatened in here? I haven’t heard about anything more serious than minor spats between dogs. Have you?” I asked.

“Well no, I just worry,” she admitted.

“Seriously?” I laughed. “You have an 80-pound pit bull mix, a leash as thick as any bullwhip, and an endless supply of big sticks and rocks at your fingertips,” I said, marveling at her desire for superfluous pepper spray. “My dogs look like teddy bears, and I come in here by myself all the time.”

“I know. Still, you can never be too safe,” she held firm.

“I suppose that’s true. Whatever makes you happy. So, how are the girls doing on their college applications?”

Naturally, the hike was completely uneventful as were the many others we did over the next couple of months. Ginger neither bought pepper spray nor mentioned it again.


A parks and recreation guy approached us in the parking lot.

“You ladies know you should keep your dogs on a leash, right?”

“Of course!” we replied, knowing full well we’d release them once he was out of sight. Technically, dogs must be on a leash in the reservation, but no one follows that rule. Even county employees typically turn a blind eye. The regulation is widely regarded as a formality that absolves the county of any liability, not something ever intended to be enforced.

“It’s really important,” he continued. “A woman was attacked by a pit bull this weekend. You’d better keep your dogs close.”

“Oh no, is she ok?” I asked.

“Yes, she’ll be fine, but she did get bitten on the thigh, no stitches, thankfully.”

“That’s horrible! I’m so glad she’s ok.” Ginger exclaimed. Turning towards me, she pronounced, “I’m buying the fucking pepper spray.”

I considered, for the first time, that she might have a point.


The conversation above represents the gist but isn’t verbatim relative to the original. My memory just isn’t that good. And, my memory may have decided to make it slightly more interesting than it actually was. We have hiked in the woods for several more months with no issues requiring chemical warfare. Ginger still does not own pepper spray.

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41 Responses to “For Protection”

  1. Michelle LongoJanuary 14, 2014 at 10:36 am #

    I love the last line, “Ginger still does not own pepper spray.” I heard it in my head like one of the final lines in a true crime TV show, updating me on the whereabouts of the suspects.

    Whenever I’m hiking in any of the local reservations, I pretend the only things in there with me are butterflies. Butterflies can’t hurt me.

    • StacieJanuary 14, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

      I love the idea of a reservation filled only with butterflies. Then I wouldn’t have to pick ticks off of my dogs. I know, ewww.

  2. wcdameronJanuary 14, 2014 at 1:43 pm #

    Stacie, you are getting so, so good at this. Great pacing, dialogue, humor and then the punch. Loved it.

    • StacieJanuary 14, 2014 at 4:14 pm #

      Aw thanks Bill, you made my day!

  3. biz319January 14, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

    Love the f bomb at the end Stacie! 😀 I tell you this all the time, but you are so talented!! 😀

    • StacieJanuary 14, 2014 at 4:15 pm #

      That doesn’t surprise me! It was not embellished. And thank you, Biz!

  4. Samantha SJanuary 14, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

    Loved the last line, too! I run in the woods alone with my 80-pound Ridgeback all the time. Total peace.

    • StacieJanuary 14, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

      It’s one of my favorite parts of the day! But it’s been raining all day here, so the dogs went to doggie day care. It was very muddy yesterday in there already. Tomorrow should be interesting.

  5. Christie TateJanuary 14, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

    Stay safe out there. So sad we have to think like this.

    • StacieJanuary 14, 2014 at 4:18 pm #

      I have never felt unsafe in there. We are more aware now though.

  6. Samantha Brinn MerelJanuary 14, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

    I run alone on a trail all the time and have never felt unsafe there. But maybe a little pepper spray is in order, just in case?

    • StacieJanuary 14, 2014 at 7:40 pm #

      Probably. It just seems a bit like taking a gun to the mall because once there was a shooting.

  7. RobinJanuary 14, 2014 at 5:39 pm #

    I’m afraid I am a little like your friend, Ginger. Great story.

    • StacieJanuary 14, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

      Nothing wrong with that!

  8. icescreammamaJanuary 14, 2014 at 6:24 pm #

    i’m a bit like ginger as well. but i never expected the unknown in the woods to be a dog!

    • StacieJanuary 14, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

      That’s what kind of got me thinking. But all the dogs I’ve run across have been nice!

  9. Joseph CereolaJanuary 14, 2014 at 6:55 pm #

    You still need pepper spray because pit bulls are just appetizers for bears.

    • StacieJanuary 14, 2014 at 7:42 pm #

      Now bears do scare me. But I don’t think any have been spotted in the reservation I go to, thankfully.

  10. kimpuglianoJanuary 14, 2014 at 7:49 pm #

    Here’s the one bad part: pity bull mixes are considered to be one of the sweetest “breeds.” They could maime; they just don’t know it. My cat can whoop up on my lab/pit.

    • StacieJanuary 15, 2014 at 10:47 am #

      Yeah, Ginger’s dog is a sweet dumb thing (her words).

  11. Cindy - The Reedster SpeaksJanuary 14, 2014 at 10:50 pm #

    Your dogs are like my boobs: Endless material. Great story!

    • StacieJanuary 15, 2014 at 10:48 am #

      Haha, thanks Cindy! I write quite a lot about my boobs too, although those are serious posts not funny ones like yours.

  12. Louise DucoteJanuary 15, 2014 at 7:15 am #

    Great story, Stacie! I’ve read about your beloved three-mile loop so many times I feel like I’ve walked there with you. You know I walk my dogs everywhere and I never feel anything except peace, happiness and slight embarrassment over their occasional bad behavior!

    • StacieJanuary 15, 2014 at 10:49 am #

      I wish you could come with me! Our 5 dogs would have so much fun. Mine misbehave too. Especially the puppy. She jumps on people. And now she’s decided she does not have to keep Buster in sight and sometimes disappears for a minute. Might be time for professional help!

  13. My Muted VoiceJanuary 15, 2014 at 11:07 am #

    Such a great story and so well written! I’m with Ginger, the woods terrify me!

    • StacieJanuary 15, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

      The place I go doesn’t make me nervous at all. But there are other trails that I’d be less inclined to visit by myself!

  14. fatgirlinboxingglovesJanuary 15, 2014 at 5:06 pm #

    Nicely told, Stacie, and I love that Ginger is still without pepper spray!

    • StacieJanuary 15, 2014 at 7:40 pm #

      Maybe some day…

  15. Kelly Garriott Waite (@kgwaite)January 15, 2014 at 9:33 pm #

    Neat write – I love that you take the dogs off leash as soon as you’re out of sight. Lived in that neck of the woods until about 6 months ago.

  16. That Unique* WeblogJanuary 15, 2014 at 11:47 pm #

    Your writing is incredibly smooth and vivid, Stacie! I know I’ve said it before, but it’s been a privilege to watch as you’ve grown into an exceptional writer!

    • StacieJanuary 16, 2014 at 8:55 am #

      Thanks so much Kristin!

  17. Joe OwensJanuary 16, 2014 at 7:23 am #

    People can be unpredictable and thankfully I live in a place where there is no reason for concern. We have something called the Virginia Creeper Trail, which is a 36 mile trail that is very heavily used by bikers, runners and hikers. In its history I don;lt think there has ever been any incident.

    • StacieJanuary 16, 2014 at 8:57 am #

      Glad to hear you have 36 miles of “uneventful” trail. It sounds wonderful!

  18. zoeJanuary 16, 2014 at 8:50 am #

    Its not the four legged animals I worry about… the two legged predators are everywhere even if my dog is with me… he too can be incapacitated… I carry mace …its easy to register and adds just a bit of security to my head.

    • StacieJanuary 16, 2014 at 9:00 am #

      I think it’s a great idea, especially if it give you peace of mind!

  19. penneyfoxJanuary 16, 2014 at 11:10 am #

    Sounds like Ginger’s been watching too much TV like Criminal Minds. I get a little freaked in places like that so I’m with your friend on this one.

    • StacieJanuary 16, 2014 at 11:43 am #

      There are really two camps. I have one other friend who won’t go alone, but most of us do from time to time.

  20. dadofthedecadeJanuary 16, 2014 at 11:52 am #

    I’m so in the “slipperly slope” camp here. Having a weapon – any weapon – makes you more likely to use a weapon. Are there occasional monsters lurking out there? Yes. Are there enough to justify a heavily armed citizenry? I don’t think so.

  21. Linda RoyJanuary 16, 2014 at 7:16 pm #

    This is the fourth yw post I’ve read so far to mention pepper spray. Did I miss memo where we’re supposed to integrate pepper spray? lol But seriously, I remember walking through the woods in a kinder, gentler time (naive perhaps?) when it wasn’t so scary. When we didn’t feel quite so vulnerable. I miss that.

  22. cottercrunchiJanuary 18, 2014 at 10:10 pm #

    Oh I’ve missed your stories!

  23. The Dose of RealityJanuary 19, 2014 at 10:39 pm #

    I think I probably wouldn’t want to go somewhere too secluded alone. But I usually don’t think about it until I’m there and realize…whoops, I’m all alone. I think going with someone else would be better than pepper spray, though!

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