Barney is a fairly small dog – – about 18 pounds. I can pick him up. But I learned in obedience school that picking him up when big dogs threaten us – – or when I think big dogs are threatening us – – disempowers Barney, and I should let him stand on his own 4 feet, no matter what.
This morning a big, black pit-bull mix came bounding up to us, and I remembered not to pick Barney up, but I hollered at the black dog, who was all on her own with no tags and no human. She desperately wanted to see Barney, and I now know that she was friendly, but:
- With the time change, we are walking while it is still dark out.
- She was a large, block-headed black dog — black dogs are intrinsically scarier than lighter colored ones (it’s loup-garou syndrome: we think of them as werewolves!) —
- And she surprised us.
No wonder I was scared. I shouted at her to back off! And she looked at me as if I were insane. She wasn’t threatening us, but at this point, I was scared and reacting.
(Years ago when we had our smaller dog, Chance, 2 big black labs roughed us up and flipped Chancey over on his back and were snarling and snapping at him — I still get all fight or flight when a big dog we don’t know approaches me with Barney.)
In a couple minutes it was obvious this big girl was quite friendly. But by this time, of course, my shouting had upset Barney, and he was snarling at her. It was a right mess, of my making.
And the stupid thing is: I am not afraid of dogs. I love dogs. If this dog had bounded up to me by myself — without my little Barney — I would have been petting her and asking her where she lived and figuring out the best way to help her find her way back to her family. I would have seen her as she was, a lost dog on a chilly, dark morning.
But because of Barney, I saw her as a possible threat.
It occurred to me, as I tried to settle Barney down and apologize to Black Dog, that this little mess is a good snapshot of what is happening in our country right now with regard to the immigration/refugee crisis.
People are fearful for their families. They were traumatized by 9/11 — they’re haunted by the brutality of ISIS — and they panic when they feel like terrorists are coming for their children.
If you sat them down at a table with a refugee mom and dad and kids, they would gladly help them with food, clothing, money, whatever they needed … but if you tell them you’re bringing 100,000 Muslims to resettle in their country, they see terrorists! And demand they be stopped at the border. Just like I saw werewolf and hollered at the unknown black beast to back off!
They’re not being mean and stingy and heartless any more than I wanted to be mean to Black Dog … They’re just scared. Like I was scared.
For me, this morning, the answer was to stop, stay calm, watch, listen, and then talk baby talk to Black Dog and Barney, which seemed to make everyone feel better.
Helping people get over the fear of terrorism and access their humanity again will take more than that, I get it. And I think it can only happen when we stop, stay calm, watch, listen, and talk to one another. Hysteria — panic — and slamming the door can only make it worse.
So please, at least for today, don’t indulge your fear. Think about Black Dog and how friendly and sweet she really was. Appearances can be deceiving, and you know what they say: an enemy may just be a Jesus you haven’t met yet. Or something like that.