Beyond Just Whistling in the Dark

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Afraid to run in the dark, Maria Fattal used to clutch her keys and grab a whistle before heading out the door for her regular jog.

But the Seal Beach mother found a faithful running partner a few years back, and now things are different. Panting eagerly at her side is King Charlemagne, her 120-pound Rottweiler.

"I tried not to be paranoid, but I used to find people along the way to run with . . . anything I had to do to be safe," she says, reaching over to give Charlemagne a pat. "I don't have to think about those things anymore.

Fattal is among many Orange County fitness enthusiasts who say they have modified their workout routines to fit growing concerns for safety.

Some who used to feel comfortable running outdoors have taken their fitness routine indoors, working out on treadmills or exercising at home to videotapes. Some have turned to running clubs to ensure they have a partner out there. And a number, like Fattal, have added a dog--sometimes a big one--to their side.

While some changes in workout routines are due to fitness fads and life changes, safety appears to be an issue on the minds of many joggers these days.

In Orange County, the daylight slaying last summer of a female jogger near Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley remains vivid evidence of the vulnerability a lone runner faces.

Jane Carver, a 46-year-old flight attendant, was shot to death June 10 as she neared her home after a run.

No arrests have been made in the case, which police say is still being actively investigated.

Fountain Valley Police Sgt. Dann Bean says that after the killing, detectives received calls from concerned joggers who regularly ran in the park.

"A lot of them said, 'I'm scared to death; I'm not going to jog there anymore,' " he says. "What we do is try to give safety tips to joggers, like not going alone, or in the dark. A dog can also be a good idea."

Dogs of all shapes and sizes have long been considered good personal security agents.

Gail Barber, 68, replaced jogging with a brisk evening walk years ago.

Though her two dogs (Jojo, a Labrador retriever mix, and Kelly, a golden retriever) "wouldn't hurt a soul," the Balboa Island resident never leaves the house at night without them.

"It's relatively safe here, but I do worry," she says, heading for her bay-front home. "I love the island at night, but a woman of my age, after dark . . . I'm glad I have the dogs."

Harvey Allen, of Allen's Sandstone Dog Training in Orange, says people buy dogs for companionship as well as for protection, but the trend these days--at least in his business--is toward the larger canine.

"Protection? I have to judge from my own business. Yes, it's increased for me. I don't know if it's because I'm advertising more or if it's a trend. Women do feel better about it if they're out there jogging with a dog that will take care of business."

Running indoors--on treadmills--has proven an attractive alternative for many, health club operators say.

Nanette Pattee Francini co-founder of the Sports Club Company, says the treadmill workout has become extremely popular at the company's 13 clubs in Orange County and elsewhere.

When it opened its doors six years ago, the Sports Club Irvine had 20 treadmills. That number has doubled to 40, Francini says.

"There are more people in the gym in the winter and during daylight savings; you see that around the country," she says. "When it's dark, you never know. People are a little more shaky out there."

Andrea Ponte, 42, of San Clemente says fear absolutely drove her exercise routine indoors to her VCR.

"You hear about violence all the time on the news, and it's a little scary," says Ponte, a bank teller. "It seemed like I was getting home later and later from work, and after that woman was killed in Mile Square Park, I figured it's just safer to work out at home."

With a stack of fitness tapes including "Buns of Steel," "8-minute Abs" and a few Jane Fonda oldies, she says self-discipline is the most difficult part about exercising in front of her living room television.

"It's hard to get motivated when you don't actually go out."

That motivation to get going--as well as a heightened sense of security--is something dog owners say their pets bring to a fitness routine. Talking one's self into skipping a workout is much easier than talking Rex or Fido out of it.

Looking over at King Charlemagne, Maria Fattal says those days of running alone seem like forever ago. In darkness or daylight, she feels safe pushing her two children in the double jogging stroller with her huge, German-bred escort.

"He's friendly, but when we run, he runs on the side and he won't let anything get in between him and the stroller," she says. "But we don't need confrontation, and we avoid it at all cost."

With the Rottweiler and the double-wide stroller carrying son Ryan, 5, and daughter Rachel, 2, Fattal says she gets more than a few looks from passing motorists during her twice-weekly runs.

"Some people cross the street so they don't have to go next to him," she says of King Charlemagne. "But mostly, people just laugh when they see all of us out there. Today, someone yelled, 'Did you bring the kitchen sink too?' "

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