When I was a little boy I wasn’t afraid of dogs, just the opposite. I’d walk up to a highly agitated barking dog and attempt to pet it; who would – crazy as it seems – generally let me. My grandfather warned me more than once that I was going to get bit but I never did.

At least not until Bart’s rescue bitch of a German Sheppard lunged out the back of his ’65 Ford Econoline van and took a chunk out of the rear end of my Levis. As an unprovoked surprise attack it quite frankly scared the shit out of me. Bart shrugged it off saying she had a hard time after being abandoned on the mean streets of Detroit. I was 19 at the time and it was at that moment when my fearless relationship with dogs changed forever. Getting bit by a dog is scary. And it hurts. Getting bit by a big dog you didn’t even see is something entirely else; terrifying, that’s a good word.

I’ve had several other frightening encounters over the years; never in the US where there are things like leash laws and legal accountability. I had two encounters in Bolivia back in the ‘90s which could have both turned out very ugly, but didn’t. And I’ve had more than one encounter down here in Mexico. The scariest encounter was with three big dogs while I was running up in the hills called the ‘Big Panties’ a few months back. In surviving that encounter I learned a couple of valuable lessons: immediately fight back, be very aggressive and show those dogs just who the big dog really is – in other words, bluff like hell. Big posturing with the help of throwing lots of rocks can save your life in such an encounter. It sure was news to me. I was in reaction mode.  I had no idea it would actually work.

This however doesn’t work with pit bulls. I learned that lesson here too. For example when that white and tan pit bull advanced on me I picked up a big rock only to find out almost immediately it was the wrong thing to do. His owner standing a few feet away looked at me and very matter of factly said, ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you. He doesn’t like rocks’. I looked at the big shovel headed brute and concluded that it would probably piss him off and bounce off his skull anyway so I sensibly put the rock down and the owner called his dog off.

A problem with pit bulls is you can’t read them. They typically don’t wag their tails or do anything to telegraph what their intentions are. You don’t know if that particular one was raised to be aggressive or what. And you can’t fool a pit bull. He already knows who the alpha dog is and you both know that it isn’t you. Other frightening facts: you can’t see into a pit bull’s eyes and that they come in only one color – stone cold.

I had an encounter with a bad guy here a few months ago. He had the same eyes; unreadable and stone cold. The man was a killer, no question about it. He asked me questions like what was I doing in his neighborhood and so forth. He liked my answers enough that his mouth formed the rictus of a smile but the eyes never changed.

Thinking about killers got me thinking back to ’77 right after I partied my way out of 5 useless semesters of university. The best job to be had at the time was that as a corrections officer in a maximum security prison in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I worked inside for one year (to the exact day) and in that time saw lots of killers. I talked to them too. During that year we took the transfer of one of the very first of the infamous serial killers – the young guy who murdered those 7 or 8 coeds at the University of Michigan back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Locked up in the Segregation Unit in B-Block with the other protection cases he looked like a baby faced punk who wouldn’t survive a week out in the general population.

Most convicts for that matter look like regular people. It helps that there is this running myth that every last man locked up doing time is innocent. Every last single man in the joint – just listen to them and they’ll tell you – they are there because of some huge mistake. And to keep the illusion and hope alive means that every other convict is working on some stage of an appeal.

There are very few tough guy acts in a maximum security prison. Most everyone just wants to do their time as quietly as possible. And paroles are easier to come by if you play the game and act the nice guy.

But here on the outside – down here in Mexico – bad guys and big dogs don’t have to pretend to be anything other than what they are.