Thursday, April 24, 2014

Us & Them (#atozchallenge)

I've had to stop taking all the dogs to the beach together, and I miss it. It was such a joy to watch them chase each other, splash into the water together, hunt in unison. Beautiful.

But unsafe.

Not when it was just the three of them--Panchita, Rusty, and Winter. If we ran into other dogs, they'd sniff a bit, Winter might get a bit snappy (she's short; Napoleon complex), but it never escalated. Same thing with people. None of my dogs like kids (they do say dogs resemble their owners...), but they behaved as long as the child didn't harass them. (And I made damn sure they didn't.)

Even when the puppies came. Puppies--they're 17 months now, but I guess they'll always be The Puppies to us. All seven of us (six of them, one of me) would walk the beaches like one big, friendly family.

And then they grew up.

Sometime around their 10-month birthday there was an incident. A couple of teenagers in a kayak got attacked. Sure, I told them to stop lunging with the oars at the dogs and they didn't listen, but in this world a dog is guilty until--no, no defense possible. A dog is guilty and stays guilty. Fortunately it wasn't even a scratch; no blood, no doctors.

But it taught me a powerful lesson.

In a pack, my dogs--my lovely, sweet, and wonderful dogs--become dangerous.

In a pack, accepting strangers--people or dogs--becomes impossible.

In a pack, all their little quirks of behavior that seem so manageable--or even harmless--at home become exacerbated, magnified, replicated like a mirror in a mirror.

They become a threat.*

Just like humans.

I'm not talking just about mobs (or soccer fans)--those are the ultimate extreme. Families, homeroom groups at school, neighborhoods, cities, countries, even continents: all of these give us a sense of identity. But in that very identity lies the problem. We define ourselves by differentiating from others.

There can be no Us without Them.

This behavior, the pack mentality, is so ingrained it probably resides in our lizard brain. Every animal has it; maybe even plants do. It's a matter of protecting resources, of survival; one can't just allow any dog to waltz in and take over our food, our human, our safety. Spontaneous generosity towards a stranger can be dangerous.

I get it. I do. We all need, in lesser or greater measure, a place to call home, a group to call our pack.

Strength lies in numbers, after all.

But I wonder. Can't we use it, this strength, for something other than division lines? 

Now I go to the beach with one, maybe two dogs. It's still Us, but I'm working on turning around that Us vs. Them into Us and Them.

It's a start.

* Note: Pack behavior that becomes a threat to others happens because of faulty leadership. Meaning me. My mistake, not theirs. I'm working on that, too.

~ * ~

Thanks for the visit, so sorry about the late post, and happy A-to-Z-ing!

(P.S. -- I will catch up on visits. There's so many great blogs I've discovered this April that I think I'll be busy until October reading everyone's A-to-Z posts.)


  1. OK I agree that dogs in a pack could get out of hand even the sweetest and gentlest because of the pack mentality and the dogs would be the ones who would suffer as a result. I will also say those teenagers were brats from what you mentioned. They were egging the dogs on and scaring them and thinking it was funny and not respecting your wishes. If anything would have escalated the dogs and you would have suffered and that is unfair since it sounds like the pack was protecting. protection and survival from what is perceived as a threat is also a basic instinct in all animals. People have "struck out" to others when they perceived the other to be a threat. I am glad nothing more happened as it is a scary moment you must have gone through. It sounds like you not only have to be wary of the dogs but of other people

    1. So right, Birgit. In my world it's the people, not the dogs, who are the threat ;) Thanks for the visit!

  2. Like Birgit I am glad nothing happened. I am also glad that they still get to experience the beach even if not altogether.

  3. just like people, they get a sense of power when in a gang..that's all. and most dogs don't behave ferociously until and unless they feel threatened. on the other hand, people gang up to threaten!

  4. It is sad that you can't exercise all the dogs together at the beach, the more so because it resulted from an avoidable incident.
    We have recently had a couple of minor events (one of which will be alluded to this weekend at Our parking space on the Information Super-highway), where our two little terriers have run towards someone, barking excitedly as they went. There is nothing even vaguely threatening or dangerous going on, but if the person they are running towards doesn't know them, they have no way of knowing whether any danger exists.
    Life doesn't always give us the luxury of time to evaluate situations rationally. Sometimes our only choice is to react, and that reaction, based on our experiences or prejudices, will often be one of self-preservation, defending ourselves against danger - real or perceived.

  5. I visited your blog today after quite some time since I was busy visiting other A-Z blogs.

    You said, "There can be no Us without Them."
    But, as I read your post, it struck me that, "There can be no Them without Us." With humans, Us (family, country, etc.) gives a sense of belonging. But when that sense of Us becomes chauvinistic, hostility towards Them is created.

  6. I've mentioned a Gang of Four on my dogs A-Z blog but you're right that really they are a pack as you can see every time a squirrel, racoon or deer invades their territory. They only tolerate UPS/Fedex deliveries because they know the delivery men have a pocket full of treats.

  7. Interesting lessons in your post today, all the humans would get along much better in this world if they (we? us?) start thinking in terms of "Us AND Them".


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