We have been experiencing brittle, hateful weather for so, so long that the pack of Wonder dogs are considering mutiny. Head pirate Clara Jack is summoning her band of sunshine-starved cohorts to hijack the Subaru and head to Key West. Hide your jewels and car keys, the Basset is on the move!
We live at a crossroads. Not a magical Robert Johnson kind of crossroads, more of a Gomer Pyle crossroads. Even though we are way out in the middle of nowhere, and it is not possible for me to overstate our rural-ness, it’s still a very busy intersection. When I visit my friends in the city, I actually sleep better. It’s quieter. Here at my little country corner, traffic starts rolling through around 3:30 in the morning so everyone gets where they need to be in time for work.
Just your average, garden-variety car tends to be loud and jiggly here since this county does not have vehicle emission standards. Air pollution is just not our most pressing problem. The average income in this county is shamefully low, so car maintenance is regularly postponed. There are a lot of vehicles on the road here that sound like they’re one lug nut away from extinction.
Making it worse, one of the roads running past my house accommodates all the tractor trailers going from the poultry farms to the nugget factory and from the orchards to the juice plant. The other road handles dump trucks from the quarry and the big rigs hauling roof truss systems. It’s a noisy, rattling junction, you can be sure.
That’s where the mastiff comes in. Joe is our official Security Director and alerts us to all things suspicious in our immediate vicinity. He’s the Top Gun of our thirteen acres and takes his position very seriously. I mean, drill sergeant seriously. Unless he’s sleeping, then you’re on your own. But other than that, he’s a perimeter enforcement beast.
The rest of the pack are fairly casual in their approach to home defense. The Basset hound couldn’t care less. The bulldog will bark once or twice if the event exceeds a certain time limit. The boxer will at some point utter a supportive bark, but will never know why since he’s deaf and doesn’t get it. So threat assessment falls squarely and solely on Joe. He sees it as a somber responsibility.
Lumbering, squealing, jostling trucks are never going to be accepted by Joe as anything other than an imminent threat to our well-being. They are the mechanical equivalent of a dragon suffering a violent seizure and everyone needs to be made aware that something awful is happening this close to the house.
Every dump truck, every garbage truck, every Department of Transportation vehicle, every big rig has to be chased off by ferocious barks. These are serious, slobber-slinging messages of doom. Woe be to the vehicle that dares to slow down, or horrors, park near our property.
I am torn about this security soundtrack. On one hand, I like the fact that everyone knows we have a protective, 200-pound dog on the property. It makes my life a little easier. It helps preserve my privacy. It has totally eliminated the annoying visits from the “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior?” crowd. To the couple trying to sell insurance door-to-door, Joe didn’t think much of you either, but I guess you got that memo while standing on our porch.
On the other hand, shut up already! I have attempted dozens of times to record a series of pod casts. I do not have one that I can use because somewhere in every single recording is a series of ear-splitting alarm barks. What to do? I’ve always approved of Joe’s behavior in the past, even encouraged it. Now that it doesn’t mesh with my goals, how do I tweak his protectiveness? He just doesn’t understand, “Not now baby, Mama is trying to record the funny.” How many Benedryl do you think it takes to make a monster-sized mastiff sleepy?
This week has been particularly bad. It’s a holiday week, so traffic is heavier than usual. Also, Joe has a deputy-in-training. We are babysitting my in-laws’ Irish Wolfhound, Amos. Amos is all too eager to learn the ways of home protection. Amos is supporting Joe on every woof, racing from window to window trying to understand what it is we’re barking at. Doesn’t matter. Joe said it was time to howl, so mad barking is in order.
I’m pretty sure I can translate the barking after six years of hearing it. Allow me.
“Hey, you cow. I see the way you’re looking over here. Keep your eyes on your own pasture.”
“Oh my God, is that a cat?”
“Did you hear a dragon? I’m sure I heard a dragon. Dragons rattle and that was definitely a rattling sound. Y’all had better recognize the danger we’re in. Dragons kill, you know.”
“Is that cat still here?”
“Look at this! It’s a rabbit. Just who do you think you are? Go away. I saw Monty Python.”
“Motorcycle, motorcycle, motorcycle! That’s way too loud for a Honda, Mister. Move along.”
“It’s another dragon. Wait no, it’s a dump truck. I don’t like your looks, buddy. Keep rolling.”
“Wait, is that the same cat?”
“You! You with the bible. Get back in your car or else.”
“Intruder alert! Hey, that’s Daddy’s car, that’s Daddy’s car. Daddy’s home. Time to dance! Let’s bark to share our joy.”
“Daddy’s in the house! We missed you so much! Let’s bark to show you how much we worried while you were gone.”
“It’s dinner time. We will now bark to express our gratitude.”
“It’s TV time. There’s that nasty little Jack Russell terrier on the PetMeds commercial. We hate him. Bark to convey our collective disapproval.”
. . . . and repeat.
Our English mastiff is getting on in years. His muzzle is peppered with white hair, and his hearing is not quite reliable. In Joe’s massive chest still beats the heart of a Samurai warrior, and he takes his role as chief protector of all that is ours extremely seriously.
Be warned all that venture near, Joe is on duty and you are suspect. Even if he has met you a thousand times before, you are merely an unwelcome trespasser until he decides otherwise. Being deemed a friend at present does not convey those rights automatically in the future. Acceptability is decided on a case-by-case basis.
Joe’s suspicions are triggered by certain events, sounds, or even words, that he has decided pose a threat. Since most people who possess the intestinal fortitude to come to our front door start with a tentative “Hello,” this word now triggers a Def Con 5 level response. Unfortunately, he applies this criteria indiscriminately. So when Gruff or I answer the phone — Hello — fierce barking erupts.
Intruder alert, intruder alert, unauthorized person attempting entry. All security personnel to Sector Three. And by security personnel, I mean an indolent bulldog and a deaf, three-legged boxer who is inept but unfailingly enthusiastic. The Basset hound does not participate. The princess hound couldn’t care less if we were invaded by a mariachi band and a horde of ninjas as long as one of them stopped and scratched her tummy.
Joe’s reaction to the word “hello” has gotten so visceral, I’m thinking of changing the way I answer the phone. “Hola” did not fool Joe. Neither did the way my daddy used to answer the phone, “yellow.” “Wazzup?” doesn’t seem quite professional enough, and “Dude!” even less so. I guess I could use “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” but since I am so rarely aware of the time, this might come out wrong.
We’ve recently suffered an irritating rash of telemarketer calls, so Gruff has devolved his phone greeting to the formal, “Please identify yourself.” My man is so gracious and friendly. Now you know where Joe gets it from.
I know that some of you are wondering why I just don’t break Joe of this habit. Fair question. It is useful to me to have a 200-pound mastiff who feels protective. We are way out in the hills and fending for oneself is a time-honored tradition in these parts. Fending is much easier for a plump, middle-aged, non-athletic, diabetic chick when you have a concerned mastiff by your side.
I’m willing to grant Joe a little leeway in the area of his early warning systems. He has discouraged uninvited people from coming into the house before, and I respect and appreciate that. It doesn’t matter that I might be inconvenienced, or that callers are confused. It’s what Joe needs.