A few years ago my son graduated high school. As is usually the case in these situations, there was a lot of family around. My parents hosted the festivities, which was convenient since our property is next to theirs. We have about 12 acres combined. We had enjoyed a great brunch before driving together to the university in the next town to enjoy the ceremony. Afterwards, we were cleaning up at my parents’ house and had hopped in the car for she short drive on up the driveway to our house to relax and unwind.
At that time my parents had this huge dog. His name was Button, but most of us just called him Dawg. He was a mutt, but was mostly solid black with long heavy matting hair. He hated getting in the creek. None of us could understand his aversion to the water. We all felt he would be happier if he hopped in and cooled off in the heat of summer. He was a beloved friend to all of the grandkids. They could crawl on him, jump on him, hit him, etc. and he never growled or complained. On many occasions as we all sat by the creek under the over-sized tulip tree we would find him positioning himself between the creek and a wandering toddler. His protective nature was strong, but gentle.
On one occasion Dad was out mowing when a pack of wild dogs showed up. Dawg always found a shady spot to lie within sight of the mower when Dad mowed, so when he saw a pack of wild dogs approaching Dad, he got up to intercept. Dawg was big, but there were about a dozen dogs in that pack. Their leader was a pit-bull. Undaunted, Dawg stepped up. He instinctively went for the pack’s leader. The fight was fierce. Even though Dawg was out-matched, he had heart. He beat back the pit-bull while the rest of the pack barked their encouragements. The pack retreated.
Dad and Dawg headed to the house to get the shotgun. Dawg’s hind leg was dragging a bit as he followed Dad’s mower. Dad resumed his mowing wearing a nail apron full of 12 gage shells and a single-shot shotgun across his lap. Dawg resumed his position under a nearby tree. As expected, the pack returned with renewed fervor. Even though he was beat up and had lost the use of his left hind leg, Dawg dutifully got up from his resting spot and headed for the pack. Just before Dawg entered the danger zone, Dad let loose a round from his gun. He was dead on. The lead dog dropped. Within seconds Dawg had him by the throat. He locked on until the offender went limp. It didn’t matter that the shotgun blast had beat him to the pit-bull, Dawg was given credit for beating the pack leader. The remainder of the pack scattered and was never seen as a pack after that day.
This same beloved Dawg was using the shade of my back bumper to escape the heat on that graduation day. Our family of four climbed in to the car, I started the car, I put it in reverse, and I backed completely over Dawg. The sound was sickening as his body rolled under our low-slung Honda Accord. I knew immediately what I had done. I hopped out of the car and stood over the mangled animal. Dad walked up beside me. As Dad approached, Dawg dutifully attempted to rise to his feet. His hind leg swung grotesquely by his side. He made no noise. I think that’s what sticks deepest in my brain is that he never made a noise. His attempts to stand were in vain.
We knew what was next. He was a farm dog. He was old. He wasn’t going to be taken to the vet with a blank check thrown at his recovery. This was it for Dawg. Dad asked if I would do the deed. I told him I only had a shotgun. He replied that he was in the same position. We ended up calling our neighbor to bring his handgun down to cleanly send Dawg to the other side. I sat in the house and held my crying 14-year-old daughter as she recoiled with the sound of the 9mm shot.
There’s a lot about that day that sticks in my memory. I remember enjoying celebrating my son’s graduation. He wasn’t the best student, but he set his eye on graduation and made it happen. I remember he wore my Bugs Bunny tie. I’m not sure what was best about that, the fact that he wore a tie, or that he chose my Bugs Bunny tie. I remember the sound of Dawg rolling under the car. I remember his silence as he tried to stand to greet Dad. I remember my daughter’s tears as her beloved playmate lost his life. We always used to say, “They were puppies together.” I think, though, that I most remember the helpless feeling of having to call the neighbor to do what was my responsibility.
Later that same year we found out that a registered sex offender had moved in to our country community. Now, it could very well be that he moved out here to start a new life, to get away from the stigma of his past mistake. The problem with the sex offender registry is that you don’t know the story. Whatever his story I had a beautiful wife and a young daughter who looked to me for security. Their safety was my responsibility.
Around that time a man in Connecticut stole his mother’s guns, killed her, and shot up an elementary school. President Obama, the media, and a lot of celebrities began to cry out for the banning of certain types of guns. My wife and I had a conversation in the hot tub (where we have all our deep conversations) about buying a handgun. The awareness had been raised in the national media. I had already been considering the purchase of a handgun because of the sex offender & the Dawg situation. This seemed to cinch the decision for my wife and I.
Based on the decision my wife and I had made, I began to discuss guns with some of my brothers. A couple of them agreed that it would be a good time to get a handgun, get trained, and get our concealed carry permits. When I told my wife I was going to get licensed to carry she said, “Not without me.”
We had another hot tub discussion. It centered around the registered sex offender and any other threat. In our discussion of having a gun for self defense we talked through scenarios where she might be at risk. One would be the offender is in the house as she enters. At that point, it’s a 50/50 chance of getting to her gun at best if it is stored somewhere in the house. If she is carrying her gun, those chances go in her favor. Another is being approached by an offender between the car and the house. Her chances of getting her gun from in the house is near zero, while her chances are still above 50/50 if she’s carrying it. Each scenario seemed to give the same impression. If she’s carrying her gun, she has a better chance to defend herself.
The next question was whether she should defend herself. I know this may seem a bit strange, but it’s a real consideration. There are police. Isn’t it their job to defend us? We looked at that question. Did you know that the police have no true responsibility to protect? Their job is to enforce and report. Protection, while it looks good written on the side of a police car, is not technically required of our police officers. Now I want to make one thing clear here. I know a lot of police officers. Every one of them would put their life in harms way to protect anyone from an attacker. The reality is that it is extremely rare for them to actually be present when an attack takes place. As the old saying goes, “ When seconds count, the police are minutes away.” In our case, that is probably about 45 minutes. We reached the conclusion that we are our own first line of defense.
Ultimately, my wife and I got trained and earned our Concealed Carry permits. I carry every day. My wife carries occasionally. I would prefer that she always carry, but it’s her choice. We train as often as we can so that we are comfortable handling and firing our weapons. We research the best ways to safely carry our weapons. We keep tabs on the laws concerning the carrying of our weapons. We try to be aware of what is going on around us. In short, we take responsibility for our safety and the safety of those around us.
I often look back on Dawg. No one trained him to take on the responsibility for the safety of Dad or the kids who played around him. It was instinctive for him. I find it strange that we as humans have to discuss it and make a conscious decision whether or not to take responsibility for our safety, the safety of those we love, and the safety of those around us. We can learn a lot from an old mutt.