A long time ago, back when I was first dipping my toes into the world of writing for Regular People, I drafted a piece about how great it was to be a woman with a big dog. Nothing ever happened to that piece, but I stand by my main point: we live in a world that, because of craploads of patriarchal crap, is frightening to a lot of women a lot of the time. Having a big dog on your side evens things out a bit.
Walking down the street can be scary as a woman in this culture. You get looked at, you might get catcalled or messed with in various ways, you might even be assaulted. If I'm walking down the street with a big dog, however, what I most often experience is people backing up just a tiny bit. Benya is a big girl--around 120 pounds. She could not be a friendlier or more laid-back dog, but she's got just enough size, and just enough Rottweiler in her, that she looks a little bit dangerous to folks who don't know her well. I appreciate this. I especially appreciate it when Benya, Maybelle, and I are out walking together, because then I feel that all I have to worry about is Maybelle having a good time. Benya has figured out that Maybelle is her responsibility to protect.
The same is true in the house at night. This is another space that can be scary for women--I can't tell you the number of female students who've told me stories about frightening prank phone calls, guys trying to break into their houses, or just noises on the street that made them suspicious and wary. I've had that fear, too--but not since 1994, because having a big dog in the house has meant that I've felt pretty safe. If I'm the only adult at home at night (this happens a lot these days) and I hear a sound outside, I immediately turn to Benya. If she's chilled out, I know I have nothing to worry about. In fact, I realized the importance of a big dog in my life one night in 1996, when Biffle took Baxter on an overnight camping trip. It was that night, at home, that I realized that someone could have broken into the house and be hiding in the closet and I wouldn't know! The whole house felt like a different terrain.
I tried to take a picture of Benya in Dangerous Dog mode, but she isn't good at playing a role, so this was the best I could get. Use your imagination: you wouldn't want to walk into our house at night if that creature were going to greet you, would you?