I went out knocking on doors collecting donations for ADRA*, our local charity. I love going out and admiring people’s gardens, patting cats warming themselves on sunny doorsteps, and saying g’day to people. But another one of the rewards of door-knocking is meeting so many different dogs.
I have patted old dogs, young dogs, slobbery dogs and mangy flea-bitten dogs. One couple I met were out in the back yard when I came to their place. While I gave them the spiel about ADRA, their dog slipped out the door and raced into the yard.
“Oh, no! Get him back inside!” They tried to grab his collar and manoeuvre him towards the house again. He wasn’t your average little house dog, but what looked like a Siberian Husky. He had silvery grey fur and icy blue eyes and was a friendly thing. The owners explained that he kept taking off up the road chasing cats. I could see by his size that the standard wire fence was not enough to keep him in, so that was probably why he was being confined to the house. I wonder whether he let anyone else share the couch?
Another house had a sign on the gate saying “Beware of the Dog”. I know enough about dog owners to realise most signs like these are meant to be warning signs for potential burglars, more than a statement about the dog’s ferociousness. I opened the gate and walked up the path to the house. The front patio had a little paling fence around it, and I opened the gate on this, to press on the doorbell. I shut myself in, in case the owners of the house had a small child who shouldn’t venture further than the patio.
While I waited for the resident to come to the door, I saw the dogs of the house walk up the driveway. They were two Staffordshire terriers, black, stocky and short-haired, one of the breeds you are least likely needing to beware of. They pushed their faces up to the palings and I reached over and patted them. One of the dogs liked this attention so much that he whined as I went back to press the doorbell again. I gave the poor attention-starved creature some more pats before leaving the obviously unattended house.
I came across another “Beware of the Dog” sign and opened the gate. This time, a large dog came barrelling towards me, barking loudly. It was a Labrador cross, black and furry, and I said, "Hello! What’cha doing?”
Instantly, the dog stopped its attack and looked at me hopefully. I gave it some more kind words and let it sniff my hand. Now the dog was licking me and jumping around me for attention, while I spoke to the owners of the house. Again, I was reminded of the value of a few kind words and friendly approach when dealing with strange dogs.
Dogs, being pack animals, just love people. They want to be involved, and they want to be recognised. We can learn a lot about human behaviour by watching the way animals fit into their group. People of course, may disguise their motives more than a growling, or tail-wagging dog but we all have likes and dislikes and want to be accepted into our ‘pack’. Sometimes we jump all over someone in our attempts to be liked, or sometimes we put on a hostile façade that soon evaporates with some nice friendly pats.
I spent a good amount of hours over a couple of weeks walking down the streets and meeting people and even more dogs. The dogs were always a delight, except for one type of dog that is always hard to get along with – the yappy dog. You know the sort, small with annoying little barks. They jump up and down and don’t want to engage in any attempt at making friends. They could be scruffy or short-haired, young or old… but the thing that sets them apart from all the other dogs is their persistent yapping.
I went to one house where a yappy dog greeted me at the front fence. I entered and the yappy dog shadowed me, letting me know its displeasure at me being on its property. I knocked on the door and had a friendly chat with the lady of the house. As soon as I turned to leave the door, the yappy dog resumed its tirade.
“All right, all right,” I tried to console the animal. “I’m going now.”
The yappy dog kept on yapping.
I left the yard and walked out on the footpath. The dog followed me and seemed to be telling me, “…And don’t come back!”
Even as I walked into the yard of the house next-door, the little yappy dog eyed me through the fence and barked again. With the dog’s limited understanding of the English language and my limited understanding of Yappinese, I was unable to communicate my good intentions. Whatever harm or scary event the dog imagined, was still a real threat in its little brain. Whatever I said or did was not able to relieve its fears.
Funny how some people are like that – fearful and nervous, ready to make their suspicions known to all around. Wary of letting people close, wary of plans going wrong, wary of outsiders or change. And no matter how you try to convince them otherwise, their mind is working with a different language and cannot comprehend the good news that no harm will happen!
Perhaps human efforts will never help, but only the grace of God.
1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (NIV)