By Mark Brazaitis

My latest advice to a first-time candidate—or any candidate: If you see a dog behind a front door, be wary of approaching it. The dog might open the door, burst outside, and take a four-puncture-wound bite out of your backside.

Yes, it happened to me.

One late Saturday afternoon, I was canvassing in the Woodburn neighborhood of Morgantown, West Virginia, where I am running for a seat on the city council. I approached the last house on the street, which, according to my canvassing sheet, belonged to a 73-year-old Independent.

My sheet made no mention of a dog—or three dogs, in this case. They stood behind the glass front door. I’d approached similar doors before. The dogs hadn’t necessarily been overjoyed to see me, but there had been secure barriers between us. In this case, however, the door wasn’t completely closed, and the three dogs—a Lab, a golden retriever, and a large Rottweiler mix —knocked it open and charged toward me, barking like hell’s guardians.

I turned immediately toward the gate I’d entered. But I wasn’t fast enough. The Rottweiler grabbed a portion of my rear thigh between his jaws and clamped down. If I’d been stung by a swarm of the most vicious wasps, it couldn’t have hurt worse. Seconds later, I managed to extract myself and close the gate behind me as the dogs continued to bark their suspicion and displeasure. My pants were shredded; blood poured down my leg.

Presently, I stood behind the gate and did my own barking: for the house’s owner to come out.

Eventually, he did. He seemed annoyed and resentful. The dogs, I guessed, were his version of a gun: protection against the frightening world that might knock on his door and ask him, as I had been asking his neighbors, “What would you like to see our city do better?”

I knew nothing about the man’s life, of course. But I wondered if he spent a lot of time in front of the TV, absorbing a skewed and sensationalistic portrait of our world, with its fear-inducing dichotomies: police versus young black men and women; U.S. citizens versus “criminal” and “rapist” would-be “illegal” immigrants; the United States versus an “evil” Other.

Perhaps typical of the climate, both political and personal, we now live in, the man did not apologize to me. Instead, he blamed me for what had happened. My bloody backside? In his book, it was my fault for having the audacity to want to walk through his gate to speak with him.

Later, my doctor confirmed with his veterinarian that his dog had been vaccinated against rabies. So I was spared serial shots in my stomach. But the incident left me unsettled beyond the lingering pain from the dog’s bite.

It’s obvious we have work to do to find a vaccine, metaphorically speaking, to restore to our country an ethos of responsibility and reconciliation.

What ever happened to: “I’m sorry. Are you OK?”?

If the man had apologized, I would have forgiven him, and his dog, immediately. I hope most of us would have.

Instead, we parted as suspicious strangers.

My family and I only have a pair of cats. Whatever their transgressions against the mice they occasionally find in our basement, they have yet to bite anyone who has come to our door to start a conversation.