Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Other Side of the Fence

Last week, our mail was delivered to my place of employment. It seems that Toby and the mailman had had a few words, all of which came from Toby and started with "grrrr." I was mortified and apologised profusely and promised to put Peter on the case. You can't have 30 kilos of madly barking Alsatian greeting visitors.

When we adopted Kodiak, the woman who gave him to us told me that he would bark ferociously at anyone who came to the front door, but that all he wanted to do was check them out. After he'd had a sniff and assured himself of the person's worthiness, he was fine.

The woman also told me that Kodiak didn't like Latinos. I thought to myself "Great, now my dog's a racist." Deep in the heart of Republican DuPage County, I didn't think Kodiak was going to run into many Latinos. On the rare occassion that he did, he showed no ill will towards them. In retrospect, the area where the woman lived was a little rough and a lot of the residents there were Latino, so it's likely that Kodiak was responding to the woman's apprehensions about certain individuals.

Since I was terrified of those killers who talk their way into your house, I found Kodiak's doorman act reassuring. And what an impressive act it was too. Kodiak was actually a great big teddy bear of a dog, but he was huge. In a few instances, I had people cross the streeet or go out of their way to avoid walking past him. So when the doorbell rang, we had an 8 stone (50+ kilos) dog, barking and lunging at the door. If you came to the door with bad intentions, you sure weren't going to stick around to carry them out.

Sure, he came across all fierce and terrifying, but once he'd had that sniff, he was fine. In fact, he was so fine and friendly, I doubted, in the event of a real intruder emergency, that he'd protect us in any other way than with playful licks and offerings of toys. Peter often assured me that Kodiak would "rip the throat out" of anyone who tried to hurt us, but I just had a hard time reconciling that image of a protective avenger with the goofy, happy dog with the propeller tail.

On the weekend that my parents came to collect Kodiak to take him to his new retirement home, we received a delivery of a half-ton of small granite boulders. The rocks were about the size of a baby's head and I wanted to use them to line the flowerbeds. The yard looked a little worse for wear, but I figured it was nothing that woodchips and attractive rocks couldn't hide.

When the guys came with the rocks, I met them in the front of the house with my wheelbaroow. My parents, Peter, and Kodiak were all working away in the backyard. (OK, Kodiak wasn't so much working as supervising.) The delivery guys were two young Latinos who didn't seem to speak a lot of English. I tried to help them load the wheelbarrow, but they were having none of it, so I returned to the backyard, leaving the gate open for them.

When yer man came through the gate, wheeling a load of rocks, Kodiak realised that he had guests to vet. He raced over to the guy, barking his greetings. I called to the guy reassurances that Kodiak just wanted to check him out. This all happened rather quickly, but I will never forget how the guy reacted. He dropped the handles of the wheelbarrow, clamped his hands over his privates, and closed his eyes. He was probably praying, too, but I wasn't close enough to hear that.

I nearly thought it funny, until I remembered Kodiak's alleged problem with Latinos. My heart was in my throat and I rushed over to grab Kodiak. True to his past behaviour, once he'd had a good sniff, Kodiak was happy to escort the guy around the yard, propellor tail in full effect. I helped the guy unload the wheelbarrow, apologising to him even though I wasn't sure he could understand me. The other guy brought in the next wheelbarrow load and the delivery was quickly completed without incident.

I used to be one of those people who would blithely say "Don't worry, he's not going to bite you." But seeing that guy's reaction, I suddenly saw things from the other side of the fence. Having a big, menacing-looking dog bearing down on you is no picnic, no matter how much the owner reassures you that the dog is fine. So that's why Peter will be working with Toby and mailman to broker a detente. Or at least, he'll be training Toby to leave the guy alone.


At 18 March 2008 at 08:41, Blogger Babaloo said...

Oh this is so funny. Bet the delivery guy didn't think so.
Honey will bark loudly if there's someone at the door. Or if she hears the flap of the mailbox. Or the gate. Or a car being parked in front of the house. I'm pretty sure she'd stop an intruder.
But Toby needs to let the mailman through, that's clear. Honey barks at our mailman, too. But he doesn't seem to be scared of her. She sniffed his hand a while back and seemed to understand that he was friend not foe. But she still barks at him. Hm.

At 18 March 2008 at 13:09, Blogger laurie said...

i remember when i was living at the thurber house, one sunday afternoon my toby and i were playing fetch in the little park in front of the house.

a black man and woman came out of one of the buildings and toby raced over to them. he had his tennis ball in his mouth and he wanted them to join in the fun, but they had no way to know that.

i remember the man stopped cold and raised his hands in the air, like toby was a cop with a gun. i shouted, 'HE'S FRIENDLY!!!' but the guy looked terrified.

toby dropped the ball, sat, and wagged his tail, and the man was so charmed (or relieved) that he started throwing the ball for him and kept it up until his wife got pissed.

a black friend of mine told me later that blacks don't much care for dogs because they've had so many used against them for so many years.

At 18 March 2008 at 14:39, Blogger Kaycie said...

Schnauzers are barkers. Jack and Maddy both bark up a storm if we have someone knock at the front door. Jack's bark just sounds like a normal bark, but Maddy's is much higher and kind of yippy. It makes me laugh every time she barks. Jack's unpredictable, so I keep him from strangers completely. Maddy just licks people and wags her little stub of a tail ninety to nothing. She loves people.

At 18 March 2008 at 14:44, Blogger wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

Jake barks at guys in hats or dressed funny so obviously he's letting them know he doesn't think much of their sartorial style. He barked this morning while waiting at the vet's at an unfamiliar noise. When I pointed out the flickering neon light to him, he figured it out and calmed down. Aren't dogs great?

At 18 March 2008 at 17:55, Blogger Jan said...

We once had a weak-kneed mailman who would not put the mail in the mailbox, outside, about 4 feet from the front door, because our dog barked at him. We actually had to rent a P.O. box to have the mail delivered, until the dog died. She was a wonderful dog, and we weren't home when the mail was dropped off. When she died, I wrote the postmaster - "Dog is dead, deliver mail".

At 18 March 2008 at 20:12, Anonymous Harlequin said...

My Muffin barks at everything and everyone - she's a Westie and they like to do that apparently. But it's not exactly scary, unless you're seriously dog-phobic, since she's just a little ball of white fluff with a big smile. :-D

By the way, the line "The rocks were about the size of a baby's head and I wanted to use them to line the flowerbeds." has left me with an unforgettable image of baby's skulls arranged prettily around a flowerbed. Ick.

At 19 March 2008 at 02:54, Blogger Alison said...

Our Zack is the same way, with one exception. He has bitten the mailman, much to our chagrin...so if you are not a mailman..you get the obligatory barking and sniffing and then all is well...Zack is big too..120 pounds.

At 19 March 2008 at 04:35, Blogger ped crossing said...

When we lived in our other house, the electric company said they couldn't read our meter because there was a dog in the yard. We had a dog run and a dog door.

When I went to go check, the meter was on the other side of the house. The only way Velcro could have greeted the meter reader is if we were in the yard. After we let them know that they were misinformed about the meters location, we never had a problem again.

At 19 March 2008 at 05:59, Blogger -Ann said...

Babaloo - I bet Honey would do anything for you guys.

Laurie - Excellent Toby story, as always.

Kaycie - Jack and Maddy sound so cute and I love that they're a matched set. :)

WUASTC - Dogs are definitely the best. Hope Jake's surgery was successful and that his recovery is swift and smooth.

Jan - That's crazy about your mailman. I mean, the dog was in the house, right?

Harlquin - Westies are quite cute - I don't think they know they're little dogs. Sorry about the unfortunate mental image, I just couldn't think of another way to convey the size. I suppose I could have gone with 16-inch Chicago softballs, but a small head is so much more universal. :)

Allison - I live in fear of the day one of our dogs bites someone.

PC - Toby's not had any run-in with the meter reader, as far as I know. Although the meter's in the back of the house and Toby tends to be more lenient with people who come to the back door, since they must be friends if they know about the 'secret entrance'. :)


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