Wednesday, February 24, 2010
By Ruthie Bently
Growing up I had several incredible dogs in my life. We lived on two acres at the end of a gravel road, and I had to walk a quarter of a mile to catch the school bus. The man who lived across from the bus stop had a Saint Bernard, and every morning the dog would come out of the house and walk me to the bus stop. As soon as I was on the bus, he went back home, and every afternoon when I got off the bus he was waiting for me. No matter the weather, he would walk me to the north end of his owner’s property before returning home.
My family owned two boxers, though not at the same time. They were both named Duchess, and were our constant companions. Dutchie (the first) watched over us in the summertime when we went racing across the yard or rambling through the woods that surrounded our property. Whenever I was ill, she would climb on my bed and nestle next to me, keeping me warm with her body heat.
One cold winter day while we were playing inside, Dutchie began whining, barking, growling and pacing the room. We looked out the window and saw a man with no coat on walking across our back yard. The closer he got to the house, the more upset Dutchie became. Mom tried to call the police but the line was busy (this was before 911). The man took off down the drive to the main road. Our neighbor across the street had reached the police and they met the man at the end of our road. We found out later he had walked away from a psychiatric hospital over ten miles away. Dutchie used that innate sixth sense dogs have when danger is near.
Our second boxer (Dutchie II) tried to save me one day while I was swimming. I had swam underwater to see how far I could go on one breath and when I disappeared, she came after me. She caught up to me and began tugging on my hair trying to save me. I wasn’t in any danger of drowning as I was a good swimmer, but Dutchie didn’t know that. After this incident, Dutchie was always watchful when I went swimming, and often swam with me.
I have read several accounts of dogs saving children from drowning or guarding a child during a cold winter night when they accidentally wandered from their home. I even read a story about a pit bull that saved children from a cobra with no apparent thought for its own safety. But why do they do it? Very simply, dogs are pack animals and when we bring one home they accept us as members of their pack. Because we become the alpha dog of the pack, they are bound by their instincts to protect us, and in their eyes our children, as offspring of the alpha, must be protected as well.
All female dogs (wild or not) protect and teach their pups, and although human children are larger than most puppies we are pack members and they accept us into their care. In the wild, the pack must make sure the pups reach adulthood, as they are the continuation of the pack’s lineage. Protectiveness comes to our dogs from their wolf ancestors and the years of breeding we have added to their genealogy. Dogs instinctually know that human children are in need of care.
I heard a story about a boy with seizure issues, and though his dog was not trained could recognize symptoms and would warn his mother when he was about to have one. The school year started and the boy went off without his four-legged companion since dogs were not allowed. One day, the dog began whining, acting strange and looking out the window in the direction the bus had gone. The boy’s mom couldn’t get the dog to settle down and on a hunch called the school to speak with the nurse, who told her that the boy had just had a seizure. The school was ten miles from where the boy lived, and yet his dog knew what was going to happen.
We as humans need to be taught to be wary of potential dangers, but our dogs do not and they act accordingly, whether they are raising puppies or babies. While we as adults can usually see danger coming, our children cannot and our canine companions act to protect our precious two-legged family members.
Read more articles by Ruthie Bently