A Golden Retriever's Trick or Treat
Almost every night I take a 2-year-old golden retriever on a long walk through a safe and sylvan suburban neighborhood. This is Champ's dominion, and he prances through it with the happy confidence of a not-so-long-ago puppy who now assumes he is undisputed sovereign of all he surveys.
Champ is particularly tolerant of the lesser creatures in his realm. Chipmunks skittering by in the dust, geese honking through the skies overhead, squirrels scrambling for the nearest tree – these things rarely disturb his princely mien. Even the arrogant red fox – who has made a habit of casually strolling across the road 50 feet in front of Champ's otherwise attentive nose – elicits no response at all from this most benevolent of neighborhood monarchs.
Nor can the Doberman who barks with impotent fury from the far side of a picket fence, nor the obstreperous pair of mini dogs that drag an elderly couple down the avenues every evening howling in falsetto as they go, nor even the occasional raccoons that are revealed only when some errant headlight captures them off guard in places they should not be.
The worst Champ might give these creatures is a jovial bark and a wag of the tail. He must move on. His walk is not done. There is still more neighborhood to see, more grass to sniff, more trees to water and more minions who must witness his evening's progress.
Yes, there are two beasts who give him pause. Deer simply anger him. Whenever he senses them nearby, he leaps to the end of his leash and lets them know in a clear canine voice that were he not physically restrained at that moment he would personally chase them out of his realm.
Then there is the standard poodle that lives along the way. He is large, strong, young, proud and male. Champ would banish him, too.
One October night, however, something strange happened to Champ.
We were walking our standard route through the dominion. He was his normal happy and confident self.
Then he stopped – rigidly and instantly – and began growling in a low, deep, ferocious tone I had never heard before. This new type of growl grew deeper and louder and more intense as I followed his gaze to find its cause.
Across the street, on a corner lot, someone had erected a Halloween display at the edge of their yard. It featured four almost-real-looking – but more sinister than real – human skulls shrouded in flowing black robes and illuminated in the darkness by deftly placed greenish lights.
Not only had Champ never growled at anything like he growled at these skulls, he did not want to stop growling at them – or move on from the scene.
When I eventually tugged him down the street and away from that corner, he kept pivoting his body so he could keep his eyes and his growl targeted at those hideous skulls.
Eventually, a turn in the road and intervening houses blocked our line of sight back to the place. Champ returned to his normal, happy strutting self.
We walked by many other Halloween displays that night. There was a cartoonish skull about 5 feet high with its eyes spinning in its head, a massive ball with a fan inside that forced what looked like little bats around an internal moon, and many jack-o'-lanterns and even effigies of witches riding on their brooms.
Champ paid them no more attention than he would a red fox or retreating raccoon.
The next night, Champ again stopped and growled in deadly earnest at the ghoulish skulls. By the third or fourth night, he took notice of their presence as he walked by but no longer bothered to growl. Soon he was walking by those ugly green-lit faces of death as if they were just another part of his dominion.
Champ's dominion might as well be America, and his reaction that first night was right. There are those in this nation who would like us to become accustomed to ugly and evil things, to things that reject and deny the truth and beauty of the natural order – the way God made things.
Resist them forever.
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