My dog has saved my life.
I don't mean in a way that makes headlines. He's never dragged me out of a burning building, or walked ten miles to the nearest house to lead someone to where I'm trapped in a ravine.
But there have been plenty of nights that I could sleep because I know he can hear better than me, and will wake me up if something happens outside. And plenty of mornings that the only thing getting me out of bed, not holidays or due dates or court dates, is making sure he gets fed and taken out to piss.
And there are a lot of days where the only thing I can count on is him. Not even myself. He's there when nobody else is, or can be, or is allowed to be. He doesn't ask questions, he doesn't offer solutions, he doesn't even try to understand; he's just there. And he has an uncanny ability to know exactly when I want a hug and when the best thing he can do is watch the door for me.
He's smart as a dog has ever been, and whatever life put him in the county shelter for me to find is, I hope, only a distant and always fading memory.
Today, too, my dog saved someone else's life.
It was the first day in a long time that offered me a warm, sunny afternoon - "warm" of course being subjective, and cast against the backdrop of another brutal winter in a row. I decided that if I craved real sun and a walk as much as I did, it must be just as bad for the dog. So we walked.
I like to take him out to a scrubby field near the tracks, out where not even the crackheads go to smoke or crash. There are wild carrots and chicory in the spring, and rabbits and geese for the dog to chase in the summer and autumn.
On the way back I was taking note of the increased amount of broken bottles and silvery wrappers in the empty lots on the edges of the neighborhood; far more than last year. Probably need to find a new way to walk home, even if it meant the dog would get less time off the leash.
In an awkward area right where the houses start, there's one last empty lot that is edged by the first alley of the hood. The dog was snuffling behind a dumpster, and I was waiting for him by someone's back fence, not far from the street.
A man rolled out from around the corner, walking the ten feet between us with a purpose. I was immediately put on edge.
"Hey man, you got a couple bucks?" he asked, walking with an exaggerated, lurching roll.
It's the walk adopted by people who want you to think they have a gun tucked in their waistband, whether they do or not. It is, as I was once told, "how a G walk to make you think he packin', why a nigga grab his dick too, like holdin' up a piece in his draws, but now niggas do it but don't know why, just a style, too."
I'm backing up, now, not really wanting the guy in arm's reach. Basic stuff here. I'm looking over his shoulder, and then, quickly, my own.
"Nah, man. Don't have shit," I told him.
"Alright, you just give me what you got then," he said, taking a big step towards me and holding out one hand. Body language. Intentional. This isn't the first time he's done this. He knows how to intimidate. He reads me backing away as being scared. He's going to back me into the dumpster or into the fence.
I didn't recognize him, which means he either doesn't live around here (which is smart, which is bad for me), or only recently moved in (which means he's dumb as hell, which is worse for me). And he's not particularly observant if he missed out on the 65 pound dog with me. The one that is pure lean muscle, and has an awfully thick neck.
Looking at it now, I can only assume he read me as one of the trust fund fucks that have started to move in on the edges of the hood and forcibly gentrify the place. They are, as it happens, easy marks. Almost militantly unaware, defiant of reality, mostly used to living in places where you don't even need to lock your front door when you leave, and therefore frequent targets of petty crime. They have insurance, they don't care. Their chief complaints are that they're too scared to go out on the porch during daylight hours, and that they have a hard time convincing their friends who are from the city to come anywhere near this side of town.
They ride expensive bicycles done up to look "authentic", but everyone here knows that under the outer layers of affected poverty (dirty denim jackets covered in edgy patches, and tossed over the backseats of $60,000 cars) are expensive smartphones and iPods at the very least.
I don't have a nice car, let alone $1000 worth of toys in my pockets. The most expensive thing I'm carrying is, depending on how you appraise it, either the beat to shit Seiko diver, or the Glock.
The kind of thing you're supposed to lean into when you walk, to let people know you're carrying it, right? Except I'm not a fool, and I'm not letting him pat me down to prove I don't have anything worth taking.
So I looked over my options, didn't like any of them, and picked the big red button under the striped flip-top safety cover. There's a piece of tape laid over the old label. Written on the tape is "DO NOT ACTIVATE" and "DANGER".
It's the button that you push when the guy waiting to be let into the screening area doesn't put his hands where you tell him.
This is the button you mash with the ball of your thumb, and keep depressed, when you've just kicked in someone's door and you've found them asleep, and you want them to know that they have absolutely no chance because you've already got the drop on them.
The button that you hammer hard when you must go from zero to complete animal completely automatically. It brings a whole set of systems online, some of them automatic or semi-autonomous. The adrenaline dump is channeled into useful modes. Fear is put into a small faraway place where it can be consulted by teletype when needed. All speaking is done in the voice of command, every syllable punched out with the full force of the diaphragm, sinuses open for full resonance.
When the button is depressed, all animals from outside of the pack are subjugated or killed.
In the time it took for the panic to start in his eyes, I can't imagine it was much more than two seconds from when I pushed the button, the dog was already around the dumpster and growling. When he saw what I was focused on, he put himself between me and the asshole, barking from deep in his guts and throwing ropes of spit. This is what the word "وهږه" does when I say it, but he didn't need to be explicitly given the command this time.
Total elapsed time from button press: less than five seconds. I'm screaming at the asshole to get on the ground, commands coming out in three languages; I've taken two more big steps back, left elbow against the side of the dumpster for cover, and I've already cleared my holster for a draw. But it never happened.
The asshole disappeared, dog chasing for about the first five feet.
We finished our walk, took a different route home, and when we got there, the dog laid on the floor with me while I cried.