Really, I would say it was Ren’s Stephen King moment, as I’ve never seen / read Cujo. But it’s the moment right out of a horror movie in which you learn that something’s off. The meaningful cat scare.
Thursday in the wee hours we gave Ren a chewing bone (also called a busy bone, though that’s a specific branded Purina product. Dried ears fall into this category.) Dog owners will often feed their pets treats that take a long time to fully consume. It serves as entertainment as well as reward. But sometimes rather than chomping away at his treat, Ren will hide his away and then guard it, snarling and snapping at anyone who gets near.
Needless to say we’re trying to discourage such behavior, and this is what he did in the Thursday wee hours so we took his treat away. Later on, when it was time for me to return to bed (I have a weird sleeping schedule) I gave the bone back to him in his kennel, figuring that if he didn’t sleep all the hours, he’d have a snack.
To minimize his captivity, I have the habit of opening up his kennel upon awaking, because, though he’s better behaved when kenneled at night, neither of us is thrilled about it. Usually when I wake up, he’s already sensed that I’m coming to and starts wiggling and whining in anticipation of the imminent rush of sweet, sweet freedom.
But not today. Today he was quiet.
I talked to him, but nothing. I opened the door. Rather than rushing out and greeting me and doing the walky dance (that’s his excited jig for Oh Boy! We’re going on a walk!) he was still, his eyes shining in the darkness.
Ren? Silence. Ren’s blank eyes continued to stare at me from the shadows.
You okay, Ren? Still, Ren’s shadowed form didn’t move. That icy stare continued to peer at me.
I reached in.
And SNAP! Ren’s jaws lunged forward chomping my hand. I flinched back. It was only a nip, not breaking skin. But Ren was back in the shadows of the kennel, peering at me with those glassy eyes.
In a proper horror film, this would be the first sign that Ren is turning into a murder machine.
Better yet, it is me. Ren is the first to recognize my transformation, his doggie sense picking up cues of my sinister metamorphosis long before there are any visible symptoms. Perhaps I’m becoming kind of sleep-killer or a fish-monster, or that I’ve already been replaced, though am certain with every fiber of my being that I’m still me.
In real life, it just left me pissed off at Ren and sad that my sweetheart may be right and we’re not fit to keep him after all.
From a Buddha-in-the-road standpoint, Ren’s lesson to me is that, despite my position in authority, I need to recognize and honor my own feelings. I can’t expect myself to be perfectly rational always. This is not to say that I should retaliate with violence, but that I should give myself permission to be twice-shy as long as I need, or the temptation to retaliate (violently or otherwise) will be all that much greater later. Really, I recover faster than I expect.
Resource Guarding is a common behavior among dogs but the process of extinguishing the behavior is long and requires a lot of attention that this household is not able to provide. I remind myself that Ren was a rescue. My sweetheart took him in (seduced by sheer cuteness) because he was showing signs of being problematic early on and was going to be put down as a puppy. Ideally, he’d have a happy life in a dog refuge, but his gig here is way better than no gig at all.
And to be fair, most of the time he’s not that bad a dog. It’s just when he starts snapping at kids that we have to confront this as a problem beyond our control.
As I mentioned before, I look at this from the Lilo & Stitch perspective. It’s partially covered in the concept of ohana. The thing is I’m a veteran of dealing with relationships that might be regarded as dangerous or abusive when distilled to their most basic terms. United States Marshal Teddy Daniels is the most dangerous inpatient at Ashecliffe Hospital because not because he’s a remorseless sociopath. Rather he’s a skilled WWII veteran who cannot differentiate friend from foe, or safety from exposure to threat.
Dangerous people need love too. And it’s often (typically?) not like they mean to be dangerous.
In my own past (which is also not entirely clear of trespasses against my fellows) I sometimes had to face the dilemma of staying with a dangerous person, or leaving and facing insurmountable survival costs. It’s a classic San Francisco storybook setting, where a haunted house makes a much more appealing dwelling if it’s rent controlled, and it doesn’t really matter if the haunt is a malicious spirit or a roommate with an unpredictable mean-streak.
So the nuanced bar is this: how often does danger and abuse happen? If dishes are being tossed weekly, that’s an untennable problem. If I come home to blood on the walls (It’s a long story) once every year or so…meh. (And she did clean it up the next day.)
Ren means well. And his mean streak may be predictable and manageable after all.
At least until we get to the ironic twist in the end.