It is the nature of fearful man to arm himself with the latest defense technology. For over fourteen thousand years, that was a dog.
It was armies of trained and ravenous hounds that spread the Roman empire across Europe. And throughout history, various breeds of weaponized canines rendered homeland security in times of peace. “Never, with them on guard,” wrote the poet Virgil, “need you fear for your stalls a midnight thief, or onslaught of wolves, or Iberian brigands at your back.” Horace called dogs, especially big dogs, “the shepherd’s dangerous friends.”
Menacing technology has pretty much outpaced the dog these days, but seedy neighborhoods are eternal, and if you live in one like I do, it’s always nice to have a couple of dangerous friends.
Both have their drawbacks, of course. It’s the cold precision of a .38 – pure and simple as true belief – that makes a gun both so seductive, and so difficult to cuddle up to on a rug beside a roaring fire. Guns have a long and tragic history of turning on their owners, while at the top of the list of admired traits of dogs – courage, loyalty, intelligence – is the beast’s instinctive ability to distinguish friend from foe.
“Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies,” Sigmund Freud observed, prompting his contemporary August Strindberg to develop a deeper analysis. “Dog owners,” he wrote, are “cowards who haven’t got the guts to bite people themselves.”
Which brings us to the towering mush-burger that is the modern Great Dane. Generations of breeding have produced a “gentle giant” with bones of iron, a magnanimous disposition, and nothing to prove. Immensely swift and strong, this “Apollo of Dogs” could rule the planet with nobility and grace, but would prefer instead to amble about and sniff the flowers, when not lounging full-length across the couch. In short, a Great Dane is what Rush Limbaugh would probably be like if he had his own yard and no natural enemies.
And while all dogs instinctively distinguish between friend and foe, there’s something about going walkies flanked by 250 pounds of giant pooch that causes these groups to self-identify.
Brigands who live by the sword cross to the other side of the street, while little old ladies put their shopping bags aside to throw their arms around the wagging, slavering beast. Happens every time.
When it comes to protecting the homeland, however, there are no guarantees. On the one hand, it’s nice to have a security system that bellows at the doorbell when you’re not at home; on the other, a revolver won’t eat its way through three rooms of drywall when it wants a little drinkie out of the toilet.
Both are unreliable at best. While the sight of a Great Dane at full boil is still enough to make you think about turning your country over to the Romans for awhile, tales abound of watchdogs snoring happily while thieves ransack your apartment, and your gun.
It can also work the other way around. The other night I was awakened by the sound of a large intruder lumbering about inside the house. I staggered to the kitchen to discover a giant, shadowy figure lapping cream pie from the top of the refrigerator.
“Hey!” I hollered. “Get down offa there!” and, on the way back to bed, slipped on a foaming puddle of drool in the hallway.
Sometimes a nice clean .38 seems like a pretty good idea.