Good dog

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.

I've had a close relationship with big dogs since 1994.  I'm not going to go through and discuss each of these dogs and their strengths (in honesty, this would then become a post about Baxter, and I would be crying, so let's avoid that).  Instead, I want to talk in general about big dog benefits, and in specific about Benya.

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.

A great thing about Benya is that about 98% of the time she's incredibly floppy--lots of skin hanging off of her, a lazy attitude, mostly preferring to lie on the ground.  She's the kind of dog that Maybelle can crawl over, and Benya won't even move.  If Maybelle finally resorts to yanking on Benya's lips or ears, she might sigh, stand up, and move three feet to the left, and that's about as assertive as she gets.  But if she senses that something is up, she can instantly switch to Dangerous Dog mode.  The other day Maybelle, Benya, and I were at the playground, early in the morning, by ourselves.  As I was pushing Maybelle on the swing, I noticed that Benya had switched into DD mode.  She suddenly looked like a dog you ought to take very seriously--alert, big chest thrusting forward, Rottweilerish face.  She was not going to take any shit, and it was obvious.  I don't know what she saw that made her shift like that, but I felt this lovely sense of affection and admiration for Benya in her toughness.  I knew that Maybelle and I were being watched after.

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?


erniebufflo said...

I share your praise of big dogs! I feel so safe with my two mutts, whether it's walking down the street or being home alone. They're very protective of me, whether it's sticking close by when they know I'm sad or scared, or being extra on guard when I'm by myself.

Blogless Reader said...

You are Benya's patriarchy.

Cate Bush said...

Your post really makes me think more seriously about getting a dog ... at some point.

RNW said...

I had a wonderful black lab who made me feel safe, especially in the mid 90's when I was in grad school at The Citadel and living alone north of the Crosstown. When walking her downtown BIG guys would cross to the other side of the street to avoid her. Anyone who knows labs, knows they are just big loveys with a single focus --- find a ball, a stick, a frisbee and chase it! And to top it off, her name was PHOEBE - real tough, huh? :) I had to put her to sleep last fall which broke my heart. I miss her tremendously and still cry when I think about her.

Pam said...

My dog Stanley barks ferociously at folks walking outside the fence - and I've overheard kids say 'that dog is really mean'. What they don't know is that the minute you come into the gate - Stan rolls over so you can scratch his belly.

I don't know how he'd respond if there was a real threat, but I guess while the intruder is scratching Stan's belly (yeah, right) I could hit the intruder over the hit with a frying ban (yeah, right).

I love big dogs too.