Rohan and I are dog sitting and a fortnight ago, when we were out walking, our charge, Lupey (see Lupey and I Grow Old), was involved in a spat. She was ahead on her lead when, without warning, a poodle rushed up from nowhere and for no obvious reason nipped her leg. Lupey, who is assertive by nature, responded in character and in seconds a ball of two growling dogs rolled across the pavement. It was when the ball was under my feet that trouble began.


My fall was in slow motion and I ended up lying on the ground stretched out on my side. After a quick check I decided that no bones were broken and no joints dislocated. There was, however, a hint of other damage – when I moved my left leg I felt pain just above the knee. Since my trousers weren’t torn, the skin over my knee wasn’t grazed and there was no obvious bruising, the damage was probably caused by twisting.

Assessment over, I lay on the ground and took stock – I was in no hurry to get up. My overriding feeling was one of vulnerability. A moment earlier I had been walking and chatting, now I lay prostrate having lost control and with it relinquished my autonomy. Finding myself feeling helpless and exposed on the pavement, albeit for only a few minutes, was an emotional jolt and a disturbing one at that.

A second concern related to my knee and what might happen next. Although the pain was slight, I imagined the worst; might it get worse and leave me suffering for months unable to walk any distance and with difficulty sleeping and climbing stairs? The prospect of prolonged pain was daunting. 

Finally, there was a feeling of anger. The poodle’s behaviour made me furious. He had tripped me up and my fall should never have happened. Why did his owner allow the dog to behave like this?

I declined offers of help and got back on my feet unaided – it was a matter of pride. Since then, I have gone over the incident umpteen times and two key issues have predominated. First, how was it that I could not adjust my footing as I would have as a younger man? Second, why was the fall so emotionally disturbing?

Walking is a very complicated process and our bodies use a whole set of mechanisms that enable us to stay upright as we move from A to B. Our brains need to know where our limbs are in space and how to move them without falling over. When I was young and everything was in working order, it was easy for my brain to integrate the thousands of messages that arrived almost simultaneously linking my balance centre in the inner ear, to my eyes, to my cerebellum, to my muscles – particularly those in my hip, thighs and legs – and to the sensory nerves in my joints. Now older, the workings of different parts of the system have begun to slow or fail although enough of them work to allow me to walk with confidence on a flat surface or where there are no surprises. If I trip, however, I can no longer make rapid and integrated responses, no longer jump out of the way or regain my footing. Falling when the dogs got under my feet was inevitable. 

Now to why falling over is an emotional matter. It can’t be the natural ‘human’ response, after all children, rugby players, acrobats, wrestlers all fall to the ground without the slightest concern. Feeling emotional is something that comes with age. Nor is it a matter of being on the ground. Nowadays, like many others, I do exercises that involve lying on the floor and I have no qualms. Nevertheless, in older people, fear of falling is almost universal. There are some explanations. It may be because falling reminds people that they are now old, a thought which many find depressing. Then there is the fear of damage. What if a bone is broken and I am unable to get up perhaps finding myself on the floor for hours, even days – a nightmarish prospect. There is also the fear that a fall might be the sign of some serious underlying illness. “Could I have had a fit or a stroke or perhaps even a heart attack?”

Very quickly the two dogs were separated and I was back on my feet. A man standing close-by asked if I needed any help and then went on to apologise. It was his poodle that had caused the problem, ‘Charlie is always doing this, he can be very naughty’. Then, after saying that perhaps he should keep Charlie on a lead, he shrugged his shoulders and walked off. 

By the way, first, Lupey showed no after-effects following her tussle; second, the pain in my knee, which has never prevented me from going for long walks, is now much better; and finally I have just started exercises to help make me more nimble.

The illustration is a pictogram which, if it does its job needs no description. 

For helping me write this blog I would like to thank Ajay, Sarah, Rohan and Vivien.

12 thoughts on “A Very Naughty Dog

  1. Glad you are okay Joe
    A fall can be very disconcerting and gets more so as we age
    Also the getting up,even without a fall,always seems a little harder.
    Playing with grandkids at their level areal challenge but we’ll worth it
    Stay safe
    Love Urs

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    1. Dear Urs, Thank you for your comment. With lockdown here I have not had the chance to play with River – we have had to keep our distance. I imagine that with the snow and ice in Canada playing must be particularly risky. Love, Joe

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  2. Joe! Glad you suffered no serious damage. Welcome to the world of arthritic knees (me) and its attendant clumsiness. The answer is to have a third leg: a walking stick. Nobody in Dorset would hike without a stout hazel thumbstick, and for you city slickers you can get wonderfully dandyish, antique sticks on Ebay. They have the added use of potentially fending off poodles…. and murdering their owners. You can also get sword sticks – great if you want to cut and thrust your way out of a mob.

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    1. Dear Merrily, I will now take my walking stick with me on walks. I used a long stick for keeping others at a distance for almost of the pandemic but had just stopped. I will start again. I am hoping that my knee pain won’t end up as arthritis. Similar pains have not gone that at previously. Love, Joe

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  3. Sorry to hear about this incident, Joe, but I’m glad you managed to avoid worse consequences. I fell in the stairs a couple of months ago and I hurt my knee. Since then, every time I’m about to walk down the stairs, I quickly assess if I’m in a stable position. My osteopath told me people should never put carpet on stairs because many people end up with bad falls because of it.

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    1. Dear Thierry, Many thanks for your comment. As to the advice about stair carpet, what is the rationale of your osteopath? We have it there partly because it will soften any fall.
      Yours, Joe

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  4. I wonder if a younger person would have been able to nimbly dodge the fall with the ball of Lupey and the poodle under foot; the sudden, quick and moving bundle would probably make most of us trip up. The shock of anything that makes us topple, trip or just about to fall is scary… that heart pounding moment of ‘what if’. I’m so glad you’re ok Joe, and good for you and Lupey for being assertive in dealing with naughtiness/bad behaviour.

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    1. Dear Caroline, Thank you for your comment. I am sure I fell more easily than in yesteryear – I would somehow have jumped clear. I should have given the man some advice about dog-minding ethics but I was so angry I just stayed quiet. Love, Joe

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  5. Dear Joe
    Glad to hear you’re recovering after your fall. I think you’re a bit hard on yourself – a younger person might just as easily have been tripped up by two dogs moving unpredictably around the feet. But of course the likelihood of falling is reduced by improving balance and strength. It’s amazing how responsive our bodies – when coaxed into action. The challenge is to persuade/educate people to do these things for maintenance to prevent falls. One way I’m realising the responsivness of neglected muscles is through continuing vocal exercises, starting finger exercises on the piano and developing yoga practice – the improvement happens surprisingly quickly with regular and only brief exercise. (I know I’m younger, and disease takes its toll, but such body maintenance must have mitigating effects.) Finally, I think you’re piece should be renamed ‘A very naughty dog owner’ – that’s who was at fault here.

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    1. Dear Andrea, Thank you for your comments. I am sure that, in my more nimble days, I would have somehow prevented myself from falling. I am encouraged to hear that exercise does not take long to work. I have a long way to go. Love, Joe

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  6. Dear Joe,

    I am so sorry to hear about your fall and do hope that there are really no lasting ill effects, either physical, emotional or to your dignity. I so agree with Andrea that the piece should be entitled ‘A very naughty dog owner’. If someone has a dog which has a tendency to attack others, it is that owner’s responsibility to keep it on a lead and to take other steps to mitigate the danger. This could have been so much more serious. And it’s a lesson to us all to keep exercising and staying as nimble as we can, whatever our age or limitations. Stay safe, Joe.

    Love
    JJ Fruitbat
    XX

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    1. Dear JJ, Thank you for your comments. Titles are very difficult things and as always, I thought hard about this one. If, by magic, I were to change it, the new title would probably be ‘Charlie, a Very Naughty Dog’. I still get some pain but it is slowly getting better and it certainly does not stop me walking or sleeping. My exercises are difficult but, encouraged by Andrea, I expect that they will soon be easier. Thank you so much for your thoughts. Love, Joe

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