Dogs of war and peace

July 15, 2008

Tonight we’re in Sidney, Ohio, due north of Dayton. Today we rode with my brother Eric and one of my dad’s former students, Zach. Eric and his family met us in Lafayette a few days ago, and we’ve been riding with him for the past two days. Sadly, both he and Zach had to abandon the ride today and return to their real lives, so for the first time on the trip we are down to the three of us (mom, dad and myself). Kind of strange, really.

In any case, I wanted to write about something we’ve been encountering for the past few days: dogs. Yes, dogs. To our great surprise, we didn’t have to deal with this particular genre of four-legged beasts for most of the trip. I’ve surmised the reason for this was that until the Midwest we were riding on major highways, U.S. 20 in particular, which had the effect of keeping us away from houses.

Since Illinois, however, all this has changed because we’ve been riding on tertiary roads. These are the roads that don’t appear on the maps that you buy at the gas station. As a result, a lot of the residents along these roads seem to think that it’s ok to let their dogs off the leash and trust that they’re smart enough to not get splattered by passing traffic — generally speaking, a very bad assumption when it comes to dogs (the intelligence part, I mean).

Now, there appear to be two types of four-legged friends. The first type are the dogs of war. These are the beasts who appear to be threatened by anything passing by except a car or truck and will move heaven and hell to get to it to rip to shreds. Now, the demands of this job far outstrip the physical capabilities of most of these dogs. Our tormentors have included a Jack Russell terrier (which got an “A” for effort if nothing else), a miniature collie (the experience was a bit like being chased by a furry tumbleweed), and the world’s smallest poodle (I’d call it a French poodle but doing so would be an insult to French poodles).

The ones we really fear are the big, angry dogs, those that not only want to rip you to shreds but have all the capabilities to do so: big, fast and full of venom. Most of the time these dogs don’t see or hear you until it’s too late for them, i.e., you’re already at their yard before they notice, meaning they pick up the chase just as you accelerate away from them. In that case, the battle is no contest and the dog has lost — which, I might add, gives us considerable Schadenfreude (I’ve even yelled insults at these dogs, just to rub salt in the wounds; of course, they don’t speak English, or German for that matter, so the effects of my expletives are, I’m sure, lost on them). What we all fear is the big, angry dog that sees/hears you before you get to their yard, in which case the dog is in the catbird’s seat, so to speak. Here, you’re in the middle of a trigonometry problem, and you’re about to fail miserably. We’ve all decided that if a dog were to cut off our route by barging into the road ahead of us, the solution would be to charge it and yell at it simultaneously. If the dog is smart (again, a dangerous assumption) it will get out of the way, you’ll sweep right past, and you will have reestablished your tactical advantage. If the dog is dumb (a far safer assumption), it won’t move, you’ll hit it going full chat, probably slice it in half and you’ll do a head-flip right over the bars, which may or may not kill you. Let’s hope we don’t encounter this scenario.

The second type of dog is the dog of peace. These are the dogs who seem to be very happy to see us, and show it via much tongue-lolling and tail-wagging, followed by either the world’s most apathetic chase or no chase at all. By far my favorite suh dog was a black dog with a brown nose, who was lying serenely under a tree in its yard, staring peacefully at nothing in particular. It may or may not have noticed me going by — it was hard to tell because its expression didn’t change and it never looked up. There was something about this particular dog that struck me, something I can only describe as Zen-like, almost as if it was deep in dog-meditation and couldn’t be bothered by the mundane trappings of this world. It was the Buddha of dogs.

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