Politics & Policy

Dog Days and Nights

An appreciation.

A loud bang woke me up the other night, but I figured it was just my dad in his apartment downstairs, shoving open one of his sticky doors or windows. Then I heard some angry yelling on the street. Then another bang, and then one more. Actually these two bangs sounded more like booms.

Still, it didn’t seem like anything worth getting out of bed for. I figured maybe a neighbor had bumped into a post or garage while parking or something–I’ve done that myself on occasion. It was hard to work up the energy to prop open my eyelids and go take a look-see at that time of night.

But then my dog Linda crept quietly into the bedroom, tail between her legs, and pushed me gently on the chest with her paw.

Now that woke me up. Because I realized that while she normally barks up a storm at even the slightest commotion outside, followed by a furious race through the dog door into the backyard to bravely chase off intruding raccoons or owls, she’d been as silent during all this yelling and banging as the dog that didn’t bark in that Sherlock Holmes story.

It’s funny how animals can sometimes convey a message so clearly. This one was, “I have no intention of investigating this myself, but perhaps you should.” Then she slunk away.

So I got up and went into the living room to open the front door. Normally when I do this at night, Linda gets very excited and rushes out with me. Not this time. In fact, where was she? Oh, over there. I caught her eye, along with another clear message: “I’m comfortable here under the coffee table, thanks.”

I walked alone out onto the street and saw, just two doors up, a car engulfed in flames so huge they’d spread into the hill and trees above it. Luckily, firemen were already there, and they got the whole thing under control in about 15 minutes. Apparently the car had parked where no car ever should park on these winding, hilly streets, and another car zooming around the curve had smashed into its rear, causing the gas tank to explode.

If Linda hadn’t woken me up, well I really hate to think that… that… I wouldn’t have gotten to see a burning car, that’s what! This is something you don’t see often these days (maybe it was an old Pinto?) and is really quite spectacular. If it hadn’t been for good old Linda, I would have missed that enjoyable rubbernecking moment.

And that, my friends, is all I think most of us can reasonably expect from dogs–unless we’re professional animal trainers, say, or work in police K-9 units. To give Linda her due, she’s quite good at letting me know about ordinary intruders (the gas meter man, the UPS guy), as long as they’re not too imposing.

No one’s ever loved a dog more than I love Linda, a whippety little Terrier X (this was the label on her cage at the pound) that I adopted as a puppy nine years ago. But I have no illusions about her character. I got my first inkling that Linda was no Rin Tin Tin a few years ago, when one afternoon I looked up from working in my home office to see an extremely large fireman–he must have been around 6′6″–inspecting my backyard for brush.

Strangely, I’d heard no barking from up in the house. “My dog didn’t bother you?” I asked.

“Well, she started to come out the dog door,” the fireman said with a shrug, “but then she just sort of looked at me and backed up again.”

That’s my Linda, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. But too many people these days see dogs as the extension (or projection) of some awfully strange notions they maintain about themselves. Some dogs serve as substitute children; others express their owners’ inner machismo (or machisma). The worst is when this gets combined with self-important fantasies that, somehow, a bad dog can be redeemed by a very special and dedicated dog owner.

I suppose that’s what the French face-transplant patient was thinking when she adopted an aggressive Labrador from an animal shelter; not long after, the dog ripped off the bottom half of her face.

Maybe some aggressive dogs can be rehabilitated–by experienced dog trainers who know what they’re doing. But when animal shelters destroy so many perfectly healthy, unaggressive dogs each year for lack of homes, I can’t see how people justify risking the safety of their family and neighbors by taking in a vicious one.

Much as I love dogs, I don’t believe in treating them like people. When Stanley “Tookie” Williams was executed here in California, there was much discussion about whether the convicted murderer and gangbanger had really changed his ways. I have no idea if he had or not. But I do know it wouldn’t have been worth worrying about for a second if he’d been a Labrador retriever.

Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy’s World. She is an NRO contributor.

Catherine SeippCatherine Seipp had been a frequent contributor to National Review Online prior to her death in 2007.

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