I have always loved animals. I spent my childhood begging my parents for pets and I envied every dog, cat, hamster, bunny, guinea pig-owning friend I had. Now that I’m all grown up I still love every (furry) animal that comes my way. Occasionally one comes my way while I’m running. I’ve run past horses and cows, stopped to pet cats, and been followed (not chased) by dogs. I have caught glimpses of deer, squirrels and even a moose while pounding the pavement in the early morning hours. But there is one animal I do not mess with. Because on one morning run, I almost did.

It was just after six, the twilight of the morning, when I started my run on a regular route I could run without thinking. The morning was cool, although that would change when the blistering summer sun finally rose up over the eastern mountains. I would be done running by then. I turned the corner onto the busy street, as quiet now as it ever would be. Ahead, across the next intersection I saw the familiar white truck pull up to the curb, waiting for its carpool buddy. Another routine morning run.

I crossed the intersection and passed the still waiting truck. Twenty feet further on, a grey and brown furry lump lay lifeless on the shoulder of the road. The markings were as clear as the tragedy. “Poor little raccoon,” I thought, my heart aching that another cute, fuzzy critter had passed from life to road-kill in the night. I kept running, subdued.

Another forty or fifty yards on, in the growing light, I noticed a creamy orange furry mass in the gutter, this one moving and shivering and very much alive. It’s back was to me, and as I often do, I slowed down, hoping the feline was of the friendly variety, and I would get to pause and pet it before continuing on.

Just a note. I am not crazy. I know animals can be dangerous and unpredictable. I approach with caution. Some dogs love being petted. They wag their tails and jump on you. Some bark and growl and you know you should keep your distance. Cats generally let you know if you are welcome by running away or not. If you slowly approach a cat and it bolts, you have your answer. If it looks at you cautiously, sticks its tail in the air and allows you to come closer, you’re probably going to be rewarded with a few fluffy pets. Note over.

Like I said, I slowed a bit to see if this fluffy orange cat was in the mood for a good scratch on the head, getting close enough to think, “Is that a cat?”

It suddenly turned and glared straight at me. It’s beady black eyes were filled with fury. Its long nose tilted my way. Sharp. Pointy. Large teeth. “That is not a cat,” I thought, shocked.

Then it charged.

Another note. I like to think of myself as a tough woman. I’ve run miles in ice, snow, heat, smog, hail, thunder, and lightning. I’ve hiked into active lava fields. I’ve scrambled my way to the top of mountains without trails, guides, or any idea if you can even get there. In my mind, when faced with danger, I was sure I’d stay calm, cool, and collected. I was wrong.

When that raccoon sprinted onto the sidewalk hissing, growling, and baring its teeth, I hopped, squealed, turned, and ran. The creature wasn’t bluffing. It kept coming after me. I yelped as I ran, high-kneed, back the way I’d come. It was so close I could feel it’s livid breath on my ankles and for an instant, as my vocal chords produced involuntary high-pitched shrieks, I was certain it would be extracting a piece of my Achilles as payment for disturbing its peace.

I hopped, cried, and ran in terror until the little devil finally stopped its pursuit. After a few more paces, I turned to look. It jumped forward with a ferocious snarl, just daring me to stop. I yelped again and ran away. I had been humbled. The raccoon won the day.

The next time I ran that patch of sidewalk, I pulled out my pepper spray, thumb on the trigger, and sprinted as fast as I could. But the raccoon did not reappear. To this day, it is the only time I have ever been actively threatened by anything, human, animal, or otherwise, while running, and it was terrifying. So much for being tough.

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