Noises that were probably a couple of firecrackers disturbed Dexter Saturday night. He spent a few minutes trying to curl up in the closet across the room, but the cluttered floor gave him no place to lay. He also tried to fit himself under my desk. My wife beckoned him to a safe space with a biscuit. Every summer, particularly around the Fourth of July, we have neighbors who set off a few fireworks during a weekend get-together. While an infrequent thunderstorm will also trigger Dexter’s “panic” attack, these fireworks lasted barely long enough for anyone not paying attention. Since California ordinances and a plurality with good sense in wildfire season limit fireworks to city- or county-managed celebrations, popping noises do not trigger him very often. I thought little about the noises until occurred to me that its the second Saturday after rioting in nearby La Mesa. The absence of any sirens in the time till I went to bed and Dexter’s calming down assured me that it was nothing.
Past experience molds perception of the present, whether in canines or in humans. Comet, formerly a street dog (but for how long I do not know) is sociable with people and dogs but not overly attention-seeking outdoors. Dexter, raised from a pup in our home, was an ‘only-dog’ for five years. He seeks attention from any visitor, passerby or dog. Dexter and Comet will remain outside with me while I work in the yard but Comet soon retreats into the house and air conditioning. Though neither is bothered by rain, when we walk past the church’s active sprinklers, Comet does not mind the spray. But Dexter acts like the witch Dorothy melted in The Wizard of Oz, going into the street to avoid them. Dexter never rummaged through household trash but for the first couple of years with Comet, we had to hide or empty waste bins before leaving the house every time. Comet would forget himself and pull out trash and pull loaves of bread left on counters while we were away. Yet firework-like noises and thunder do not trigger anxiety like Dexter. Comet was calmly eating a biscuit in the living room at the time Dexter was panicking.
It isn’t the first time I cared for a dog that feared such things. During the first half of the nearly twenty years my wife and I have been married, we lived with two dogs I brought into the family. Sydney, a high-energy Aussie-mix had three qualities that made life a little crazy then. She barked non-stop only when we went somewhere by car. She had a wanderlust and was skilled at escaping the backyard. And she panicked when she heard thunder, and every Fourth of July, or neighbor’s party where some firecrackers were set off. At least two bedroom window screens were mangled from her launching through them. (We did not have air conditioning in those days). Happy, a Newfoundland-mix was very calm, but would disappear with Sydney on her neighborhood wanderings to keep an eye on her. But before I came to San Diego, there was one dog that was raised in the desert, rural country and Mid-Atlantic big city during my early career in the military.
Thirty years ago, the abandoned dog I rescued in Tucson, Beagles, became accustomed to hearing and seeing all sorts of things. Frustrated arguments between me and my then-wife. Possums and raccoons in the rural Maryland country. Military helicopters flying overhead. Gunfire and police sirens in the city. I was living in Bellevue Naval Housing (now the Anacostia Naval Annex) in Southeast Washington, D.C. Sandwiched between the Naval Research Lab and the Potomac on one side, and Interstate 295 and the Bellevue (Southeast) neighborhood on the other, we all became accustomed to staying on base in the evening, or going places in the region that were “more diverse” than the Bellevue neighborhood.
Accustomed as Beagles was to urban disturbances, my adjustment in those years was to separate my military relationships – a color -blindness of sorts, from the general population. I related to black and brown people differently if they were locals, or military or veterans. It never occurred to me that being uncomfortable or relaxed in some neighborhoods (but not others) was likely similar for black people up to the present day. Fearing an encounter with police, or feeling other’s suspicion, a daily reality for innocent non-white citizens, never occurred to me.
Becoming a Christian and twenty-three years of fellowship with multi-racial Brothers and Sisters, I did not understand that persecution in America was very real yet not because of our mutual faith. After long talks with family and members of my faith community, listening to documentaries, and empathizing with protestors, I have changed my perception. I am angered by avoidable fatal encounters with law enforcement, and “patriots” who tune out the injustice that exists. There still are criminals committing horrible acts, but misunderstanding still grows while politicians gesture.
As for those of us who hold to Jesus as our Master, we still have a mission. Jesus teaches us when see our brother and sister in need but do nothing for them, we have not honored Him (Matthew 25:35 -45). Jesus calls to himself all those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). Healing is more than changing practices and procedures in the world. It is changing perceptions. To those whom Jesus has called, He needs our willingness to teach the Word, to model Brotherly love and to train others to do the same.