My neighborhood’s straight out of The Lady and The Tramp. We’ve got bicycle-friendly sidewalks, Victorian architecture, well-tended lawns, quiet streets, wide avenues and plenty of groomed dogs (sorry Tramp). Walking the Schnauzers in the gentle glow of an Indian summer afternoon, the ‘hood’s aura gave me an all-too-rare sense of quiet satisfaction. I watched a woman of a certain age returning her city-approved rubbish bin to her immaculate garage. She peered up into the sky above us. “Is that a hawk?” she asked. Indeed it was.
A magnificent bird wheeled high above us, looking for prey. I knew from her expression and tone of voice that her question wasn’t really a question. It was a statement: “What the hell is a raptor doing above my predator-free piece of paradise? Doesn’t that freak you out too?”
I understood her apprehension. The idea that an enormous animal with razor sharp talons could swoop down out of an otherwise empty sky and carry away a small mammal in a blur of bloody fur was an affront to her sense of a peaceful ordered universe. She wanted reassurance. Affirmation that the hawk was an alien other that had no place in our mutual world.
“Nature,” I said, restraining my bird-oblivious companions. “Red in tooth and claw.”
It wasn’t the response she expected. Like so many others, she was put off by my childlike delight in an uncomfortable truth.
“I bet that bird could take one of your dogs,” she said.
“That’s not a bet I’d like to lose,” I answered, defending myself against further conversation by continuing my canine constitutional.
She was right, of course. That big bastard of a bird could carry off one my beloved Schnauzers. And guess what? I’ve seen that same massive bird perched in a tree not 50 feet from my back yard. Waiting. Watching. Blending.
This neighborly exchange occurred on the same day that a pedophile was spotted cruising two nearby playgrounds. He tried to pick-up a little girl. Someone phoned the cops with the plate number. The car was stolen.
In both cases, the predators’ appearance makes perfect sense. Lots of prey. No competitors. Few natural enemies. Plenty of places to hide. Happy hunting grounds.
Lesson learned: they’re out there. The creatures who would take and/or destroy everything I hold near and dear to my heart—and do so without any conscience about the effects of their actions.
It’s my job to protect my loved ones from instinctive, amoral predation. It’s a three step process. First, acknowledge the danger. Second, remain vigilant. Third, be ready. I don’t wear a firearm because I want to. I wear it because I have to.
And I’d wear it to the dog park, if I could. Well, it’s not really a park. It’s more of a wooded area near the river with a network of well-worn paths. I’m not fearful of an attack from a two-legged assailant, although the thought is never too far from my mind. It’s the dogs that worry me.
Some of them are dangerous curs. You can see it from a hundred yards away. As can my smallest Schnauzer, a tough little bitch who rarely cowers. But every now and then we encounter a dog that makes her whine and my heart race.
I can read dog body language well enough to identify bad dogs and take evasive action. But sometimes you can’t avoid a dangerous dog. They’re fast and cunning and, well, dogs.
“Don’t worry, she doesn’t bite,” the owner will call out just before his or her animal growls and attacks. “She’s only playing,” comes next.
Which is why I keep the smallest, most vulnerable Schnauzer on a leash; I can pull her out of harm’s way quickly and efficiently. It’s the same reason I have strict rules for my twelve-year-old step-daughter’s movements around the neighborhood.
Nothing gun-related there, then. Yes, well, any dog walker will tell you that the real danger occurs when dogs pack up. I’ve seen a small dog nearly ripped to pieces by a pack of “friendly” dogs.
I’m not saying I’d shoot a dog to save mine. But I am saying that I would take action to save one of my children from life-threatening gang violence. Which is where life-threatening violence usually occurs. Remembering that a “gang” doesn’t have to have a long history to act as a unit. And once they do, individual responsibility disappears.
It’s a lesson that I keep in mind whenever I see groups of strangers. A lesson I teach my children. And another reason I have a gun for self-defense, and the defense of my love ones. Because trouble can strike out of the clear blue sky. And getting into serious danger can be as easy as walking a dog.