I’ve been a self-described pacifist for a while now. I think of being a pacifist as sort of like being a member of Alcoholics Anonymous: being a pacifist means that you admit that there is a problem—a prevalence of physical and emotional violence in our relationships with people, with animals, with the earth—that you are no longer going to be a part of that problem, and that practicing nonviolence is a never-ending struggle.
My, my, the lessons we learn from our critters. I’m eating my humble pie, and here’s why.
A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me to go check in on his dogs—for the purposes of this story, we’ll call his dogs Audrey and Piggy. He had recently started a new job and it was keeping him late, and naturally he was concerned that the change in schedule might be hard on them. Our dogs had met a couple times previously, and despite his statement that Audrey had aggression issues in the past, Audrey had seemed to do fine with my girl Rowan. So when my friend asked me to check in, neither of us thought there would be any problem with my going over there with Rowan, in fact we both thought it would be nice—they could get in a little play, romp a bit while I checked their food and water.
So Ro and I show up at my pal’s house, let ourselves in, puppies sniff each other like puppies do, and I let all three of them out back to relieve themselves. After a few minutes, I let them back in, and just as I turn around to fill up the water bowl, it starts. I have no clue what set it off, but both Audrey and Piggy were on top of my girl, one on either side of her, and within moments she was on her back, struggling to defend herself. Without thinking I jumped right in and was able to get Piggy back out the back door. But Audrey wouldn’t let go.
Time slowed down like it does in a crisis, and I found myself split somehow. Part of me was shrieking and pleading for Audrey to let go of Rowan. The other part of me was methodically searching through options, trying different strategies:
First, dominance—big voice, strong posture, command. No beans.
Second, trying to pry Audrey’s jaws off of Rowan. No good, plus a few cuts, and I’m lucky I didn’t get worse.
Third, a cutting board to try to stun the big dog, which did nothing but make it worse. At this point I’m pretty clear that I may actually be watching my dog die.
Lastly, my rational part saw a large chopping knife on the kitchen counter. While trying to keep my hands on Rowan to keep her body from being broken, I contemplated how best to kill her attacker. And then it happened. Ro had been screaming the whole time, but now she locked eyes with me, and she howled. At me. In one moment, all of my love and desperation just choked me. I love my girl. There aren’t even words. And she loves me. And I’ve never had children, but I imagine it’s a bit like that. To have someone that depends on you for care and protection, crying out to you for help, and to feel completely incapable, impotent, helpless. And at the same time, they remind you so thoroughly of who you are, who they need you to be.
And I could not kill that dog.
So I reached into my metaphorical toolkit and I asked for a tool. If I were a dog, I thought, what would I do to get Audrey to stop? And even as I reached for it, the tool was placed in my hand, without any doubt. I released both animals, got down on my belly, made soft sounds saying Audrey’s name—I made myself submissive. I don’t know if it was out of sheer shock or if Audrey really recognized my gesture, but regardless, he released my girl. Within seconds I had him out the back door.
Rowan and I were at the animal hospital till just past 2 a.m.
Ro is doing fine now. Stitches and staples are out now and she is mending well, in body and spirit. She’s still a little jumpy, understandably, but it’s getting better every day.
Me, I’m still digesting. I’ve been scared in my life, but I’ve never been as scared as I was that night. I’m still having dreams about it—there are many lessons here. But here’s what I’ve got so far.
- Complacency is a bitch. Rowan has been a constant source of love and companionship for eight years, and she depends on me. I got sloppy, reckless, and I put her in a situation that could have gotten her killed—the warning signs were there. It won’t happen again, that’s for damn sure.
- When the shit hits the fan, it’s a real test of what you believe. Being nonviolent is a lot easier when violence isn’t pounding on your door. I never thought it would be so hard to stay my own hand.
- You can only find and use the tools that you’re willing to ask for. Now, I’m not recommending that if anyone gets into a dog fight they should go submissive. In my case, it worked, miraculously, but if I was looking objectively at the scenario I’d have to say it’s probably a really bad idea, harebrained, and reckless. But in the moment I was certain it would work. I asked for the tool, and I got it. Our rational, cynical minds can often forget the strength of intuition, instinct, clarity. Faith.
- And lastly, Rowan is unequivocally the bestest pup ever. Period. No contest.
I’m a very grateful girl.