Our dog Bobby is the object that induces love from everyone in our family. He has made us all better people. He’s not possibly worthy of all this praise, and in another sense, he’s completely worthy of it. We make him worthy, much as God makes us worthy. It’s about what we choose, how we make meaning, how we imagine.
Bobby is a small Lhasa Apso, a long haired Tibetan breed with sad brown saucers for eyes and a very gentle nature. His greatest delight – apart from my wife – is the off-the-leash park. Within blocks of the park, he starts whining longingly from the passenger seat of our car, a kid nagging dad outside a milk bar on a hot summer’s day. Please please drive faster I wanna I wanna I wanna.
Late this past winter, we pulled up at sunset on a Sunday afternoon for his special treat, and at the same time, a couple arrived with their two Irish Wolfhounds. These are Hagrid-worthy beasts, dimensionally more mythical than actual, more monster than dog. They were 18 months old with all that pubescent energy and size and strength and relatively tiny brains. The owners assured me their dogs were gentle and would not be a problem. I am a fool.
Less than ten minutes into Bobby’s gleeful abandon, one of the monsters spotted him from a distance, and loped over to where Bobby was, pinning him to the ground in what may have been playful exuberance. But Bobby did not interpret this towering mass of slobber as playful. I don’t blame him. He became defensive. And that was all the other dog needed to switch. I rushed to Bobby’s aid, and the owners chased after their dog, so of course their other dog joined in the ‘fun.’ Now two behemoths danced over my little boy as he whimpered and they snarled and bit and made Nazi salutes. All the while I’m thinking “how on earth did the Irish not conquer the world with these animals? Perhaps their humans were too full of Guinness. It’s odd how things slow down in crises and your brain offers obscure, meaningless ideas.
I shouted – in what sounded like a limp, pathetic apology “please get your dogs off my dog….. oh dear, oh no, please stop this.” I was powerless. Anger was nowhere to be found in my tidal waves of horror. I imagined Bobby dismembered, myself sitting sobbing by his mangled, limp form. I tried to pick him up but the wolfhounds turned on me. It was all going south terribly rapidly.
Eventually – with the help of everyone in the park – we managed to get Bobby to safety. We sat in our car, him panting, me shaking. I could not turn the ignition. The owners came over to me and apologised repeatedly (and offered to pay any vet fees). I just wanted them to go away, but I thanked them.
After a while, I slowly drove home. And then the anger came. No, it was rage. Oh hello manly Richard, where were you when I needed you ten minutes ago? All courage and strength when you are safe and snug in your home, but cowardly and impish when your Bobby needed you most!” shouted my inner headmaster. “The cane for you, Mr Fay!” I know that voice, the judge and executioner. Then waves of shame. Oh, this being human.
Perhaps I’m being revisionist, but I’m not so sure my character was malfunctioning in that moment of trauma. Perhaps my response was the only appropriate thing I could do. Perhaps rage would’ve escalated things dramatically, leading to all out war, ushering in the dawn of the planet of the Irish Wolfhounds. I can’t say for sure, but my seemingly limp-wristed response felt like the authentic me. Not that I am weak or afraid, but that my love for my dog sterilised me from violence in the moment when violence was swirling around me. I stayed involved, I risked myself in aid of my dog, I sought to de-escalate a dangerous moment. I’m not seeking accolades here, nothing I did was pre-meditated, I had no time to observe and reflect.
All my life I have been more a flight than fight man. In a society where the only valid emotion for a man to display is anger, in a culture when violence is the primary ingredient in male-oriented movies, music, console games and sport, that doesn’t feel manly. It feels emasculating. Hence the shame. Shame is a violation of identity, even if that identity is constructed by miscued world that has no idea what a man really is. A man will do anything to run from shame. So I wanted to sue the ‘idiots’ who took their hairy maniacs to the park. I wanted to get even. I could’ve followed this emotion to it’s illogical conclusion, but the shame was about the pain and the pain was about my dog and that brought me full circle back to where I started. Our family’s love for our little Bobby.
Love really does conquer all, especially when it doesn’t feel like it possibly could. It holds together what threatens to blow apart. It makes life about what matters, instead of getting even, which never matters, because it doesn’t work.
And because you might be asking, the vet had a good look and declared that Bobby only had soft tissue damage. Irish wolfhounds are gentle maniacs after all.
It seems like I write about violence a lot lately. I see it ripping apart the fabric of our world too often. I don’t watch the news much anymore. I used to think I needed to be informed. Now I think information is overrated. I’d like to unlearn what society has taught me. I’d like to play with my dog instead. Something Hafiz said:
You carry all the ingredients to turn your life into a nightmare –
don’t mix them!
Your have all the genius to build a swing in your backyard