Thursday, October 25, 2007

Once Nearly Bitten, Twice As Scared

I had my first real dog encounter today. Scary. The roads were calling me to explore them on this beautiful autumn day, so I wandered rather aimlessly, visiting some of the churches around the town, including one from the thirteenth century. I decided to push on further down the road after the last church I visited, where Assen and Peter planned their rebellion against the Byzantines that led to a new Bulgarian empire. I was in awe of the scenery as I walked, the autumn colors blazing across the rocky hills like a painting, when I came across some trailers near the river and thought it best not to continue down the road. I turned back, passing a rundown house with a Trabant full of tires sitting in the front yard. Trabants are funny to me - what stupid Soviet thought it was a good idea to make cars out of cardboard? Anyway, I was contemplating approaching the car for a photo when I saw a black dog appear from the side of the house and walk towards the road. An older man was not more than twenty yards in front of me (sorry, I have no concept of meters) and the dog decided to walk between us. Slowly. I slowed down and tried not to get nervous because dogs can sense fear and it makes them aggressive.

The number of stray dogs here is incredible. I've heard that people have tried to do something about it but others think it is cruel to put them to sleep, so the dogs remain. Why not do what we do - put them in a pound and let people adopt them. If the people don't want to have the dogs put to sleep, let them take care of them!

I'm not one of those people who is afraid of dogs, but I AM afraid of rabies. Actually, I am more afraid of the six weeks of injections with very long, fat needles you have to get if you are bitten. When I was in Cairo, something I never saw bit me in the leg as I was wandering the city's filthy streets. I had two bite marks on my calf and started to freak out - should I go get the shots? Was I going to die of rabies? Yeah, it's funny now, but I was pretty anxious when it happened. It wasn't a bad bite, and there was hardly any blood, but it still scared me.

That's when I learned a lot about rabies. As soon as I realized something had bitten me, I turned around, booked it back to my hotel, and got on the internet. And got paranoid. I learned that the first symptom one has is a cold. Well, guess what happened? Two days later, I had a hundred and one degree temperature and was miserably sick. Logic later told me I had contracted something from the plane - something I am very prone to - but you can imagine how the paranoia set in.

The Bite has had a psychological effect on me, so I think of rabies when I see these scrawny dogs roaming the streets. And well, this black dog stopped walking. I kept walking past it, trying to ignore it. It began walking beside me on the far side of the road. I tried not to look at it. It picked up its pace and went in front of me. Then it stopped. I tried to go on the other side of the narrow road, but that is when it jumped at me, barking viciously as it began to attack. I thought, "This is it, it's finally happened! I'm going to be bitten and need those shots!" I took off my backpack and swung it at the beast, screaming at it as instinct took over and my legs took off. The old man had stopped to see what was going on, and I ran past him before stopping.

The dog could have followed me but fortunately did not. I never looked back. I didn't understand what the old man was saying to me but we kind of laughed about it, though I was shaking. I stopped at the first cafe I encountered to have a beer - a half liter for .80 leva - about fifty cents! I've been sitting outside on the terrace, but the patter of dog feet on the stone has left me quite jumpy, and I think I'm going to have to order a second beer. For that price, how can I not?

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