Friday, July 25, 2008

Lessons From The Pit Bulls Next Door

A couple of weeks ago , my neighbours had family coming in from Georgia. What was interesting to us was that they brought three well behaved dogs with them, including one who was very pregnant and gave birth to a litter of puppies in New York. The dogs were so well behaved, the lesson from their stay seemed to be not to judge a breed by its reputation. The contagious kindness of the dog's owners seemed to impart another moral to the story, that a person can through their kindness and decency transform the world around them.
Towards the end of their stay, the dogs have taught us some sadder lessons as well. About a week into their stay, the owners went traveling upstate. We had assumed that their pets were going with them. Instead, they stayed in a kennel. When they returned, the pit bulls were high strung and irritable. Everything they had learned about boundaries in the back yard seemed to be forgotten. There was a different sound to their barking, a sound of fear and defensiveness that could easily have fueled a fierceness. Instead of distinguishing as animals often do between the young and the adults of other species, the younger dogs got angry even when my children played in our half of the back yard. Seeing a change in the dog's behavior, I moved my children to the front yard and told them not to play in the back until the dogs went home. I still talk to the pit bulls in reassuring tones as I pull my motor cycle out of the garage, but the sound of my voice does not seem to resonate with them as it did before.
The behavior of the animals seems to point to some occurence at the kennel that upset them. Perhaps it was simply the fear of abandonment that shook their sense of security. It is all but impossible to know what triggered such a change in the pit bull's behavior . Although they are expressive in a general sense, they still can't talk like humans.
Telling my children to stay away from the dogs brought back sad memories, not of animals in my past, but of people. Sometimes a child in a loving home hits a difficult stretch in their life. A neighbour or family friend develops an angry edge, maybe even starts using drugs or alcohol. With the sad wisdom of experience, I try to redirect my children, hopefully meriting enough respect that they listen to me . Sometimes it's safe to have a kid come over and play Monopoly or computer games, even if you don't want your kids going out on the town with their questionable friend.
Seeing that personality change in the pit bulls reminded me a lot of kids who get knocked over by life's challenges. Family problems, difficulties at school or even serious issues like molestation and physical abuse can make a kid feel beaten and worthless. With children and adults, those most in need of love are sometimes the hardest to love.
What got me through some of my darkest hours? The warm glow of a kind word can melt a wall of ice years later. There are conversations that replay in my mind from decades ago. My father always used to say, "Buy a book even if you aren't going to read it right away, so it will be there when you are ready for it and need it." What you say to people becomes part of the library of their mind. I remember a neighbour years ago who knew I was going through rough times that I didn't want to talk about. An empathetic look at the end of a stretch of small talk was all I needed.
Seeing the dogs next door scarred by an experience that they are not equipped to describe has helped me to look at the human suffering around me with increased compassion. Going to my back yard, trying to be friendly to my canine neighbours while at the same time protecting my family and myself is much of what goes on in life. The pit bulls next door have held a mirror to my own struggles. They remind me in their simplicity of a reproduction of a Chinese ink drawing I once had. With two lines and an ink blot, it portrayed a panda bear as unmistakably as would a photograph. Human emotions are mirrored in the animal kingdom with the austere directness of a haiku poem and well placed lines in a drawing that evokes an inner image.
The pit bulls will be going home soon. The garage next door will soon be silent.I am quite relieved at that. The dogs have taught me their lesson like a book borrowed, read and soon to be returned.


Anonymous said...

Well said, well written, and enjoyed reading it.

Magdeburger Joe said...

Thank You for your compliment. I looked at your blog. It's a good read and a welcome switch from all the Obama garbage here in NYC. Keep up the good work