Boogey-Dog, Thrill-Seeking and Halloween

My dog cracks…me…up.

A few weeks ago, we were strolling the neighborhood when a dog rushed to its fence then ran to and fro alongside it, barking as we passed. Being deaf, Zoe couldn’t hear the dog and her highly sensitive sniffer was fixated on fragrant grass. When the dog finally caught her attention, she lurched up in the air, like a ghost-spooked kid in a haunted house. With her face and body weight like magnets to the pooch, I guided her on.

The next day, she headed straight for that house and sort of tiptoed toward it with her head low, eyes glaring. The dog rushed to the fence for an encore performance. Zoe duplicated her previous response—totally freaked out, as though she had no clue what was coming. The spooked “kid” walked had purposely into the booby trap.

It happened again the next day, the next day…and the next.

On the cusp of Halloween, the daily run-and-spooks have me thinking. Like people, Zoe isn’t merely seeking fear. She seems to dig the anticipation, the feeling of everything else falling away, leaving only the present, heart-pounding moment. And she doesn’t want or expect to get hurt. At 90 strong pounds she could definitely hold her own if the fence weren’t there, but that’s not the point. It’s the exhilaration she’s after, and perhaps the later calm. After leaving boogey-dog’s terrain, she gradually calms to a state of bulldog zen.

Many of us are drawn to suspenseful, everything’s-at-stake stories for the same reasons Zoe is drawn to that fence. We long for intrigue and anticipation, the vanishing of other matters in our lives, if even for a short story-soaked time. We want to feel as though our lives are on the line, without actually going there. It’s what lures many of us into reading, watching and writing stories, and what compels many writers to convey personal beliefs and world-changing ideas through fiction.

Yet for others, thrillers, horror flicks and haunted hayrides rank up there with root canals and food poisoning in desirability.

There are people who have a tremendous need for stimulation and excitement,” says Stuart Fischoff, a professor of psychology at California State University. It can also be counterintuitive, as the highest levels of anxiety during films are linked with the desire to seek them. Strong feelings make suspenseful films, books and TV cathartic.

Yes. All of that. Yet you couldn’t pay me enough to get on a bungie cord, deep-water diving board or speeding motorcycle. I suppose we all find thrills in different places.

More Thrill-Seeking Facts

* A few studies have shown that males are more into scary stories than females. (Yet more evidence that I may be part-guy. ;-P)

* For a big chunk ‘o change, $1,500 to $4,000, you can pay a New York company to arrange your abduction with details of your liking, from being tied up and gagged to having as much fear inspired as possible.

* When The Exorcist hit movie screens in 1973, several adult watchers experienced such intense distress, they landed in the hospital.

* Freaky films can rev the sexual engine, says Dr. Joanne Cantor, a researcher and professor of communications at the University of Wisconsin. After the movie, sensual glances and touches can be more stimulating. Cantor recommends psychological thrillers over gory chainsaw flicks, particularly if you’re hoping to turn on a newish partner. 😉

* For kids, Halloween provides a safe way to explore and experience fear, knowing it’s all make-believe. It can also help kids manage pent-up stress, says researcher and University of Colorado professor, Leon Rappoport.

* Americans get a thrill from dressing pets up. We’ve spent $370 million on pet costumes this Halloween season, a 40 percent increase since 2010.

Are you a thrill-seeker? Is your pet? Would you go so far as to hire someone to abduct you? (Yipers.) Share the wealth!