Warrior Dog

You have heard the theories—people who are thrown together in unusually close situations develop a bond that would otherwise never occur. This happens with soldiers who have to depend on each other for their very survival; with prisoners who share a cell; even with people trapped in an elevator. Surely by now you have guessed where I’m going with this. Your dog, by circumstances, has been thrown into an unusually close relationship with you over these past few weeks. You eat together, walk together, sleep in and laze around the house together. If bathing and using the bathroom were solitary events before this strange situation, by now, it has morphed into a team effort—with or without cheering and pom-poms. You, sheltering in place with your dog is the fox hole situation, the stalled elevator, the strange bedfellows.

In the best of cases, you have become warriors in the fight to shelter in place—you and your dog against the world. Your closeness has fostered an unbreakable bond between you. You probably talk to your dog and possibly even imagine their side of the conversation, if they could talk. Some of these unusually close relationships come naturally—no strange circumstances forcing the closeness. Dog and human come together at exactly the right time to fill a need. Take Jasper, for instance, my husband’s dog when he was a teen. Jasper was a smallish dog—50 pounds tops, of mixed origins. Jasper was many things—a rogue chaser of feral cats, an escape artist, a chicken slayer (to my mother’s horror), and a tireless explorer. At the heart of all his actions (save the chicken slaying), his end goal was to be a good and faithful companion and unfailing protector. They never went through a pandemic together, but they certainly had an unbreakable bond—a boy and his dog against the world.

Rob was a teen in the mid ’70s. Anyone who lived through it will tell you that it was a far different experience from teen life today. The freedoms were greater and the consequences less dire. Parents had expectations, but they were more general, as in “don’t get into trouble,” rather than offering a guidebook on how to avoid it. Daily life was less like a nurturing community and more like “Lord of the Flies.” There was also less focus on anti-bullying efforts. That being said, Rob had a friend who was incapable of defending himself and was constantly being picked on by bullies of cartoon-like stature. He could not stomach bullying and was just big enough to hold his own and teach a lesson or two. The combination of those two things made for many a fight. It was a good thing that he had Jasper the warrior dog by his side.

Jasper was built for war. He had the instincts for whatever danger came his way. When they went camping, Jasper would mark a perimeter around the tents and guard it. After the perimeter had been established, he would pace along its edges, like a line had been drawn in the dirt. If someone came near, he would sit at the line and warn the intruder with a growl. Rob did not teach him that trick—he just knew. The same was true for going down into the neighborhood creek to practice rock climbing. The creek, like many parent-free zones, was ruled by those willing to take a stand, whether in defense of another, or over the right to climb on a particular rock face. Jasper knew it well, seeking out the rocks that were best for laying in the sun and where the best shade was when it got too hot. Whatever his own pursuits, he never strayed far from Rob’s side.

I have heard the legendary Jasper stories and witnessed many too. That dog was a force to be reckoned with. He was smart and calculating and fiercely loyal. This is one of my favorites: After Rob had schooled a bully over picking on people less fortunate, the bully gathered backup and sought him out days later to even the score. The group came across Rob in the creek alone, except for Jasper the warrior dog. You can imagine the not-so-subtle taunts and posturing that ensued. Jasper clued in immediately, putting himself between Rob and the threatening mob. Rob squared off to fight—it would not be his first nor last rodeo—but he would not be fighting alone. Jasper stood watching, the wheels in his brain seeming to turn, calculating what would happen next and the right moves to take.

One of the guys took his shot and it was on. Rob and the bully exchanged blows and grappled on the ground. Jasper leaped into action. He was fast and ruthless. He chased after, jumped and nipped one guy in the back of the upper arm. He was good at grabbing and pinching without breaking the skin. The guy screamed in fear, shook Jasper off and ran from the scene. Jasper did not chase after him. Instead, he went after the next guy who was getting ready to jump into the fight. Then, another and another. Jasper could have hurt his opponents badly, but he chased and threatened rather than go on full-blown attack. And just like that, with no direction or training, he evened the odds. Instead of five to one, he had made it a fair fight. The backup squad ran away, never looking back. Rob and the bully were grappling on the ground when the instigator realized he was alone in the fight and suddenly the courage drained out of him. He begged for mercy and cried uncle. Typical.

It would not be the only time Jasper assisted in helping Rob out of a tight spot, but it is one of my favorites to hear about. He was a dog with some fierce protective loyalty. That he, a warrior dog came along at the perfect time in Rob’s life was written in the stars. They were warriors for the underdog that day, which is why I like the story so much. They were well matched with a hunger for the fight and the fight was honorable. That they made a bully cry and his cohorts run home with their tails between their legs was justice. I have always had a soft spot for the underdog and despise bullies. I don’t normally condone fighting but, then again, I was a teenager in the mid ’70s too.