You never know what will happen right in front of your eyes, or ears. Sometimes you have to, or should, get involved in something, even if you do not know what you are in for or are not completely sure what is going on. Melissa and I went home for lunch one day, a fairly common practice. Almost as soon as we arrived we heard horrible screams, the blood curdling type. We had new neighbors on one side and the screams were followed by “get him off me” being shouted loudly by a woman. Then there were sounds of things crashing, glass breaking, and then a barking dog, followed by more screams. Due to the privacy fence between our house at the time and the house where this was occurring, we had no way to see what was happening, we were only ear witnesses, but it sounded like what I’d imagine it to sound like if someone was being attacked, beaten, or stabbed, and a dog was trying to intervene to defend its owner. With only these few details, it was a bit difficult to decide what to do – maybe the problem would resolve itself – but the screams were so horrible that I grabbed the phone and called our local police department and reported what we had heard. I told the dispatcher the details suggesting it was a domestic dispute involving a dog (which we knew to be a pit bull). Though concerned about a pit bull being involved, the police responded quickly, along with an ambulance I told them to send. Then, during the call, the dispatcher told me they had another call from that house – the dog had attacked the owner. But, my call had started the response and the police were there by the time of the 2nd call and so I hung up knowing little more than the above. What we learned much later is that the dog bit the owner over 100 times, all over her body, and the blood loss was severe. The neighbor who was attacked sought out Melissa to tell her thank you – thank you for saving her life. What we did not know based on hearing these unseen events was that the dog bit through her leg and severed arteries such that she would have bled to death if the police/medics had a longer response time. The people in the house at the time were so involved in getting the dog off of her, they were delayed in calling for help. I relate all of this not to sound heroic, but to say, even if you are not sure when you hear or see something that doesn’t seem quite right, intervene. Do something, make a call; it probably won’t just go away, and you may save a life.
I am a social psychologist who is well versed on research pertaining to bystander apathy and bystander intervention. Because of my psychological training and expertise, I intervene in ambiguous situations more often than the average person. Sometimes, however, a situation rises to a level well beyond ambiguity, to the point that failing to render aid, call 911, or take other positive action can be the difference between life and death. This was certainly the case in the example David describes. Arriving home for lunch in a quiet, upscale, suburban neighborhood, something David and I do frequently, usually provides a quiet respite to our otherwise busy work day. On this particular day, however, within minutes of our arrival home, I heard a blood curdling scream. I walked outside to the back porch to have a better opportunity to hear, so that I could locate the source of the scream. More screaming ensued, people began to yell, and a dog began to bark. Although I had no way to see what happened, my ears (not to mention my common sense) told me something very bad was taking place next door, just beyond the high privacy fence that obscured my view. I quickly, without thinking of any other course of action, yelled over the noise to David, “Call the police, NOW!” Upon hearing my tone of voice, as well as the continued pandemonium next door, David called the local police department to report a woman being attacked. At that point, neither of us knew who, or what, was doing the attacking, only that the sounds we heard were indicative of something very, very bad. Thankfully, we lived in a small city and the police’s response time was swift. Upon their arrival, the police discovered our neighbor had been attacked by her own pit bull dog. They quickly called an ambulance and the woman was taken to the hospital immediately. This neighbor had just moved into her house and we had never met her or her roommate. Several months passed and we didn’t see either of these women and we didn’t know exactly what happened. One day, however, as I was walking in my front yard, a woman approached me and said, “Thank you for saving my life.” I was taken aback because, never having seen the people who lived next door, I had no idea who she was or what she meant by her comment. She went on to explain that she was the victim of the attack by her dog. The dog’s attack was so vicious and brutal that she lost an enormous amount of blood, was permanently scarred, and, because of serious nerve damage to her leg, was told she would never walk again. However, when she regained consciousness in the hospital, she was told it was only because of her next door neighbors, people whom she had never met, that she was alive. After months of hospitalization and rehabilitation, she returned home, was re-learning to walk, trying to handle living with all of her large, noticeable scars, but she was happy to be alive. Needless to say, I will continue to intervene and help anyone who I believe is in trouble. It just might make a difference in someone’s life.