I’d be the first to admit that I have some shortcomings. I’m very short, have bow-legs in the front, and my hairy body sheds everywhere. My skin is so loose and baggy around my neck, I look like my clothes don’t fit. I wear a perpetual worried look on my wrinkled face and I tend to have a rather unpleasant body odor no matter how often I bathe.
On the other hand, my large brown eyes can make the coldest heart melt. I enjoy snuggling close and kissing those I love. –And oh, the people I love! I love the postal carrier, all my family members, all my family members’ friends and every single person at the veterinary clinic. I love the strangers who walk down the street and the strangers who come to the door. My motto is: “every stranger is a potential friend,” and that’s how I treat them all. Everyone, that is, except Mr. Bill Henderson. On the day after Christmas I growled at Mr. Henderson.
My name is Sammy. If you haven’t guessed already, I’m a dog—a very friendly, loveable dog who rarely barks and never growls, unless I sense danger or I’m really involved in a game of “rough-and-tumble” with my Top-Dog, Jim. –Sooo, when I went “Grrr!”, and all my hair stood on end and I got really stiff as Mr. Henderson bent down to pet me…all my people acted really surprised. Top-Dog Jim even had to warn Mr. Henderson away. He said, “Bill, don’t pet him! He isn’t wagging his tail and look at how stiff he is. I think he might bite you!” Bill stepped away, but looked kind of hurt. I didn’t bite him. I’ve never bitten anyone, except gently—in play. I just don’t know… if Mr. Henderson had petted me, would I have bitten him?
We had been holiday guests at Bill’s friend’s house…a Mrs. Peterson. She is Top-Dog Jim’s “mother-in-law”, whatever that might mean. We were about to get in our car and go back to our own house, when Mr. Henderson tried to meet me and I growled at him. On the long drive back home, my family kept trying to figure out why I growled at Mr. Henderson.
Top-Dog Jim’s wife, Carrie, said, “Hmmm. Sammy met Bill for the first time at the end of May. That time Bill was getting out of his pick-up and had a bag in his hand. Sammy started to wag his tail when he saw him, and then he suddenly stiffened and growled that time, too. Maybe something about his smell or that bag scared Sammy? --And he remembered, and that’s why he growled this time.”
“Maybe Sammy just doesn’t trust Bill. Dogs sense these things about people, you know,” said Top-Dog Jim.
“Oh, Honey, there’s nothing wrong with Bill,” said Carrie. “He’s been seeing my Mom for over five years and they get along fine. He’s a nice man who loves my Mom very much!”
Top-Dog Jim’s child, Joan, chimed in, “I’ve been reading lots of books about dog behavior and I think Sammy growls at Mr. Henderson because he thinks Bill is going to try to fight Dad for ‘top dog’ position.”
“Then why didn’t Sammy growl at my sisters’ husbands, Joe and Frank, when they were at my Mom’s for Christmas?” questioned Carrie.
Joan thought a moment. “I know! They aren't at Grandma’s house much, so they don’t really act like they ‘belong’ and aren’t a threat. Mr. Henderson is so familiar with Grandma’s house, he walks in kind of like he owns it—like he belongs there. Sammy senses that, and thinks he needs to defend his master’s right to be ‘top dog’.”
“Could be, I suppose,” said Carrie.
Mike agreed, “It’s as good a theory as any…”
Joan tickled me under the chin as I curled on the car seat next to her. Ahhhh, that always feels so good! I don’t know why they are so worried about me growling at Mr. Henderson. We hardly ever see him--and that’s just fine with me. I could tell them why I growl at Bill. I’m a dog. Dogs growl from time to time. Dogs growl at people they don’t like. I don’t like Mr. Henderson. I don’t know why I don’t like him, I just don’t. I think even people who like most everyone, have people they don’t like. –And I bet people sometimes growl at people they don’t like, too!
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