Novelist | Singer
The domestic dog is an incredibly controversial, much loved, at times maligned, but vital companion in our society. I have read that humans could not have become stock keepers if it weren’t for the assistance of the dog, particularly in the case of sheep. Rupert Sheldrake, in his fabulous “Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home,” (http://www.amazon.com/Dogs-That-Their-Owners-Coming/dp/0307885968) asserts that dogs are psychically connected to their owners, that they are attached by an invisible elastic band that can draw them together no matter where either happens to be.
Human beings are usually skeptical of claims like his, even if they haven’t read Sheldrake’s research. Our magnificently superior race of Homo sapiens must be more advanced than the canids, for how else could we construct such colossal wonders such as the Pyramids, Sydney Opera House, the Parthenon, Hadrian’s Wall, Walmart? Well, I have a story that really defies reason and explanation. And it stars my Lila, a ten-year-old Aussie Shepherd, the smartest individual I know.
Aussies are protective, and I have had to stop more than one of those big-brained Home sapiens as they reached through the open car window to pet my cute little dog. Luckily, I was able to stop them before they had to withdraw a bloody stump. When a stranger invades Lila’s private space (and especially her car, her cave), her head splits open and an alien emerges from the inside of her skull. This transformation takes place in the fraction of a second. She turns from an adorable puppy-faced smooch hound into an ugly troll, saliva dripping like blood from the tips of her canines as her sharp Aussie yap commands the intruder to stop. It’s really cool, but not for the surprised big-head. I leave my car unlocked with complete confidence whenever she is riding shotgun.
If a stranger leaves her alone, she’ll ignore them completely. In her mind, no human beings exist outside of her world of me, my husband, and a few select people she has allowed into her exclusive fan club. Not that she’s unfriendly; she just simply doesn’t care about other people. If you take the time to get to know her, say, six or seven months, then you, too can be part of the club. If not, it doesn’t matter to her one way or another. Why can’t people be more like that? Several people have said to me, “She doesn’t like me.” And every time I’m compelled to explain, no, you don’t understand. Once you become a “regular,” you’ll be in the club. Then, you, too can be the recipient of the butt-wiggling greeting. Until then, she’ll just ignore you. At times I will ask her to say hello to people whose feelings are particularly wounded, and she looks at me with an exasperated expression. Really? Why do I have to acknowledge this big-head?
She’s spawned great stories. She stops cars intentionally with the turn of her head – because she can, and pretends that she doesn’t know the difference. Afterward, she looks back at me and smiles. She knows she is The Almighty. She brings the ball and invites you to play. She works us expertly for treats in elaborate scenarios that in the end make you feel as if you initiated it, but she never tells, never. She’s an expert liar and squeezes out two breakfasts if the big-heads in the house fail to communicate with each other.
My favorite Lila story took place in Indiana, when I was moving my mother from her three bedroom house to independent living. The temperature was cookbook hot, with humidity to match. I had let Lila out (she’s very dependable on her own) and was watching her through the front window. A man was walking on the road past Mom’s house, around 150 feet away. Lila turned her head and took off like a shot, “Wo wo wo wo wo!” just like she always does, and I’m watching, as if in slow motion, preparing mentally for her to stop and provide a barking presence from a distance of 20 feet. Like she always does. But this time, she didn’t stop.
By the time she had made her first lunge, I was at the front door, screaming like a crazy lady on acid. If she had wanted to bite the guy, she would’ve, I’m sure. I could hear her teeth snapping from that distance, and the poor man was jumping up and down, yelling “Ahhh, yah, ah, ah!” finally gaining the far side of the dog, and running as fast as he could down the street. Lila chased him to the property line (how do they know where that is?) and then headed back toward the house like a triumphant gladiator, chest and tail held high, lips still in a pursed growl.
I was mortified. There were at least three neighbors out in the front yards, of course, as witness to this strange dog viciously attacking a member of the community. I figured the only thing that prevented a call to the police is that my mother had been the Neighborhood Association President for 20 years. As soon as Lila came inside, I pinned her to the ground by her neck and screamed into her face. She held her front legs up in surrender, pitiful, pitiful. “But Mom, really, Mom, you don’t understand!”
There was no real explanation. The man hadn’t done anything. She didn’t even have time to smell him. One quick look at him and she was gone. It was the first and only time I have witnessed behavior like that from her. A bit of time passed and no one came, no cops, no neighbors. I was able to breathe a little easier, but my heart rate was a bit elevated until evening.
The following day, Mom’s next door neighbor Judy was out, and I yelled a greeting. She came over.
“I’m so sorry about what my dog . . .”
“No matter,” she answered. Her smile was genuinely warm. I noticed she didn’t try to reach down and pet Lila. “Your dog was wonderful. That guy is a registered sex offender.”
What? Just how is that possible? I apologized to Lila, and she took it all in stride, even gave me a quick lick to make me feel a bit better about questioning her judgment. Since that time, I have seen that reaction periodically, not quite to that extent, but there are some people who just set her off. It isn’t a “slow, reach out and then the doggy reacts” kind of thing. It’s instant, from the moment she sets eyes on the pitiable character. For social graces, I usually correct her, but then take my first chance for an exit.
That instant judge of character capability seems to belong to the world of canines. In that regard, dogs are smarter than people. We can’t sense things like that. This world would be a different place if we could. Certainly, we would have far fewer politicians.