linking to Dogs Are People, too in Sunday’s NY Times
Roy DeGregory and I went to high school together, but it was a large high school and we only met many years afterwards. Still, by now we have known each other long enough to be old friends. Roy writes:
I have had many run-ins with dogs, especially as a telephone company repair person, and once a cat trained me to fill his food bowl and open the door on command ( a series of gestures, really) but that seems pretty mundane.
The dog story goes like this. I was thinking of hopping over a short chain link fence to enter a yard with a telephone pole in it that I needed to work on. There was an angry, snarling, spitting dog in the yard, and he made it quite clear that 1.) he knew what I was thinking, and 2.) he didn’t like it. Finely honed instincts caused me to decide to drive around the block and try getting to the pole from the other street, but then another dog appeared. He came right up to the fence where I stood, tail wagging, and stood with paws on the top bar to let me pet his big head. I did, and then before I could turn around and go back to my truck, he did something interesting–he began barking at the angry dog and then made him back away, in other words, he herded him back through the yard to the far corner, where he stood and blocked and checked his every move, trapping him there. Then he turned his head and looked at me and wagged his tail.
I figured I was being given safe passage, so I hopped over the fence and went to the pole and climbed it, unimpeded by the angry dog, who was still trapped in the corner. They both came to the pole to watch me, eventually, the good dog wagging his tail, the angry dog barking and snarling, but when I started down the pole, my new friend again herded his yard-mate over to the corner, and I descended and crossed through their territory again. The good dog came over and stood again by the fence so I could scritch him between his ears, and I left, sure that I could not ever repay him, and all the more impressed with his nobility because he probably knew that.
But those are just stories of animals, being like humans, that belie the underlying assumption of superiority that colors most of our encounters with animals. The real story is very tame and anti-climactic, but something that sticks in my mind. We live in an old, old suburb of Kansas City. Our streets were put in 60 years ago, and we live under a canopy of enormous oak trees. While walking along in the shaded tunnel on my evening walks, I would watch squirrels tearing back and forth and spiraling their way up tree trunks, see birds sailing through the halls of air above me, and of course the occasional rabbit dining on someone’s imperfect lawn. One day I saw one such rabbit sitting very close to the sidewalk, nibbling on some sort of clover, probably. I chose to hold my course and let him decide how best to make himself feel safe. As I walked by, within just a few feet, he kept on nibbling the clover and making no move to run off. I passed him completely and never interrupted a single bite. It made me realize what forest dwellers we really are–I was on a human trail, and the hungry rabbit had no real reason to flee. I was his encounter, I suppose, if he had a blog, and it made me feel in a quiet but profound way like I belonged.