The gorgeous redhead is Bucky, our beloved golden retriever. The chubby blonde with the bad perm and acid-washed jeans is no one I know.
Bucky was The Best Dog In The World. This fact is undisputed. He was not, however, the brightest bulb in the lamp (unlike my parents' dog Jim, who had his own car service). I never saw Bucky do anything even slightly cranky, and I do not know if he could in fact growl.
When my brother Bocci was living at home he would take the dog out into the pasture for a run, throwing the tennis ball for him for exercise, and encouraging Bucky to poop. Bucky needed no encouragement to run, fetch OR poop. But multitasking was not Bucky's strong suit, so once on one of these "constitutionals" Bucky accidentally pooped on his tennis ball. This is the very definition of a dilemma. Bucky had a big big choice to make. I'll spare you his decision.
Bucky liked to sleep on the concrete patio in the shade. There were then, as now, several stray cats who dozed out there, too, running away when people showed up. A particularly large male cat started sleeping closer and closer to Bucky, until before long they were intertwined and snoring and purring away in the afternoon heat. None of us could get close to that cat in those days; we named him Tom but he was Bucky's pet cat.
But I didn't come here today to tell you that; I came here to tell you this:
Bucky was a killer.
I know, I know -- we didn't believe it at first either, but it was true. Our neighbor told us that there was a big commotion under his house one day, and several neighborhood dogs had cornered a cat and they were savaging it. Bucky was one of those dogs.
"What? No, it can't be," said Mom. "Bucky loves cats -- he even has his OWN cat!"
"It was Bucky, all right, and he was just as into it as the other dogs," said the neighbor. I went to the sliding glass door and looked out onto the patio at Bucky, snoozing away with Tom lying across his chest. Bucky The Cat-Killer was rather hard to imagine.
What this story illustrates is the pack mentality, which we have of course all heard of. I was trying to explain it to my daughters today, talking about the coyotes we heard last night. "Can they eat us?" asked Smedley.
"No, one coyote -- even a big one -- will leave you alone," I explained, hoping that was actually 100% true. "But a pack of coyotes would kill you if they could."
And then I told them what my cousin in Tahoe witnessed a few years ago. A neighbor dog -- a very large breed, like a labrador or rottweiler -- was barking his head off in the middle of their suburban Tahoe street. A single coyote was backing slowly away from the dog as my cousin watched. The coyote turned and trotted off, looking over its shoulder to make sure the dog followed, staying just ahead of the dog. The dog didn't come home that night, and the neighbors later found it dead. The coyote had lured the dog back to the pack, where it was out numbered and killed.
"Why did the coyotes kill the dog, Mama?"
"Either they felt threatened by the dog in their territory, or they were hungry. Or maybe they were just doing it for fun, which is also possible." Just like Bucky and the other dogs killing cats under the neighbor's house. Sometimes "why not?" seems like as good a reason as any, I guess.
Whatever you call it -- pack mentality, herd mentality, safety in numbers, groupthink -- it is even more dangerous among people. Ethnic cleansing, McCarthyism, Rosie O'Donnell allowed on television -- all of these owe much to pack mentality.
"So always be sure to think for yourselves, girls," I told them. "Make sure that when you make a choice it fits what you really believe. Don't let anyone talk you into doing something that seems horrible to you." Like killing cats or watching "Rosie Live," I thought.
Or wearing acid-washed jeans.
Updated 12/28, an addendum to the Bucky story from Mom: I, too, believed that Rusty* (my name for said canine) was a gentle soul and a cat lover, until one day on our daily walk near the pistachio orchard north of us. Rusty was roaming ahead of me and suddenly spotted a cat near the orchard, took off chasing, and ran that cat right up one of the trees. Not satisfied, he jumped until he reached the terrified cat, dragged it down, and wiped the ground with it in his teeth. I was screaming in disbelief, to which he paid no attention, and how that cat got loose and climbed higher than the dog could reach is beyond me. I could not believe what I had seen, especially since I had witnessed his cozy relationship with HIS cat. Hard to understand.
*Laurie's note: who names a dog RUSTY? : )