I’ve had her since she could, literally, fit in my palms. But I am just now realizing how badass Esme is.
God knows I bray enough about the dogs, like a granddad with a photo album. And I’ve spewed plenty of wind-baggery on her intelligence, her fetching skills, her TV viewing habits (I can’t watch America’s Funniest Home Video because, when she sees a dog or anything similar, she hops on the TV stand for a closer look).
But, truthfully, Teddy has always overshadowed her. Four times as heavy and eight times as social, he sort of insists on making out with anyone who steps into my house. Esme has to wait for an open lap.
Today, however, on our daily stroll at the dog park, Esme didn’t need a lap, bitches.
As we did our clockwise walk through the park (we’ve always walked in the fenced-off Big Dog Yard; otherwise didn’t occur to us), we stumbled on a thick, gray pit bull. Beautiful, but menacing not only for his maw and baritone bark. A leash hung off his neck, a telltale sign that an owner doesn’t trust a dog to roam free.
The pit wasn’t pouncing other dogs. But it insisted on sniffing every hound there. And when a dog dared lift its head, make eye contact or venture a sniff, he held stock still, as if awaiting a sudden move. When he came up to us, Teddy made the mistake of saying hello. As he sniffed the pit’s ear, I heard a deep growl. I’ve had a pit mix, and I know that sound. They also make it when they see a cat they’re about to maul.
I stepped between the two and ushered an unwitting Teddy away. “The owner’s over there,” I heard a guy say as he nodded in the direction of a woman, perhaps late 30’s, glued to her cell phone. If Darwin is correct, one day the human hand will evolve into a curve to naturally cradle its most vital tool, the cell.
He walked over and said what we all felt. “You need to watch your dog,” he hissed. The woman not only continued on the phone, but covered her other ear to hear the line.
The man held his ground, pointed in the dog’s direction. Without moving the phone from her mouth, the woman screamed “Apollo!” The dog trotted by her side as the man shook his head and joined the other humans and canines. He stopped by me again, introducing Bella the Beagle and allowing me to blather yet another theory: If you have one long enough, a dog will reflect its owner.
Witness Teddy: Dim-witted but a glass half-full kind of guy; terrible vision but will come along for any road trip; foreign parts in his body and shaved down with the clippers set at No. 8, same as me. I can’t wag like him. I do, however, drool splendidly.
As we walked toward the exit, I began to leash up Teddy. Esme trotted behind. Suddenly, I saw Apollo was back, now sniffing the girl. His head, about the size of her torso, nearly lifted Esme by the hind legs as he got a bouquet-full of her rear. I stopped to grab Esme by the collar while I attached the leash.
Too late. Without warning, Esme turned and snarled as I’ve never heard. Faced Apollo, who froze for a second.
I guess that’s all the beta signal Esme needed, because she suddenly lunged at the pit, snapping and snarling. I’m sure, in an all-out fight, Apollo could snap Esme like a twig. But confidence is everything. And she does not lack for it. She was so mad that she not only had the dog on his heels, but the owner dirtying hers.
By the time I picked Esme up (still flared, still growling, still glaring at the pit), the woman was at her dog. She took his leash, castigating him while she checked for (his) blood. If we could, Esme and I would have stepped over the two like Jack Johnson stepped over wannabe contenders.
“Your dog all right?” I cracked, not awaiting an answer. I fixed the leash on the girl and we all climbed into the car.
As we drove home, I remembered once getting suspended in Detroit for scuffling with a student known for picking fights. I was certain Dad would be furious. Instead, that night, he simply offered me a fighting tip: “If you get cornered by a bully, punch him right in the nose, and he’ll back down. Bullies always do. And he’ll stop picking fights.”
I don’t know if bullies will ever stop picking fights. But I guess that’s less the point than standing your ground. And, in all honesty, Esme may never understand why she got a rawhide wrapped in cheese when we got home.
But she sure is going to enjoy tonight’s America’s Funniest Home Videos.