The summer of 1939 was an emotional rollercoaster in Europe. Neville Chamberlain had sighed the “Peace in Our Time” treaty with Germany the summer before.
I’m sure that most of the population believed that war was inconceivable in “modern times” —after the Great War (the war to end all wars).
Then in the summer of 1939, Germany and Russia signed a nonaggression pact— in which they secretly split up Poland. That September, Germany invaded Poland. (And the Polish Calvary tried to take on the German Blitzkrieg on horseback.)
On September 3rd, England (linked by treaty to Poland) declared war on Germany, and World War II, the inconceivable war, began.
Inconceivable: (def) Not capable of being imagined or grasped mentally
And here we are. In 2022. We are exactly like many European and American citizens in that fateful 1939 summer. We are watching a land war develop in Europe, watching in horror, praying that it stops. Wondering if we will get drawn in. Wondering if we have a moral responsibility to help. Wondering what the cost would be to help. Know that as individuals, we are powerless. We are the grass under the feet of fighting elephants. We realize that we may have missed a dark corner of human nature in our belief that this could never happen again.
The Novelist, Anton Myrer, wrote in Once an Eagle, “Once the drums begin to beat . . . there is nothing ahead but fear and waste and misery and desolation . . . once the engine has started it must shudder and rumble to the very end of its hellish course, come what may.”
Much is being written, as well it should, about the suffering inflicted on humans as the drums beat. In our living rooms, on our social media, we are witness as never before to the hellish course of war.
There is such incongruity. Russian tanks crushing Audis and Toyotas. Russian Rockets destroying modern Apartment buildings and homes. It is as if someone took a World War II film and photoshopped an Apple store into the footage.
And because of who I am and what I write about, I see the dogs of Ukraine. A woman holding a wounded Chihuahua. A younger woman carrying a Husky puppy on the route to Poland. A German shepherd with a red collar running through the rubble. A mix-breed wrapped in a Ukrainian flag.
We see seconds of what they must be enduring twenty-four hours of every day. We hear the sirens. But we cannot smell the war. And smell is a dog’s primary sense.
How terrified they must be as the Russian noose wraps around cities and the shelling, and the rocket attacks increase, and there is the smell of cordite, smoke, and fire everywhere — and the smell of death.
Ukrainians, the millions that have fled, are taking their pets with them, as we would, right? There are dogs on leashes and cats, parrots, and rabbits in crates. They are running for their lives.
Take a minute and imagine what it would be like for you to flee. Conjure up an image of you having days or hours to get out, to leave everything, to take your animals, food for them, water for them, and run to a new country and new unimaginable future.
What’s worse is that in times of war, of catastrophes, we rebalance the scales of who we can save and who we cannot. It is the triage of war. An elderly parent or a dog? What if you had to choose?
Maybe because of circumstances, you leave a bag of food on the floor and a bowl of water, and the door to your home open, for a dog you cannot take. Then you hope that she’ll survive until you get home. This is war, and sometimes you can only do your best, not what you want to do.
As I write this, our two dogs are running around, oblivious to everything except the toy rabbit they are play fighting over.
In my worst nightmares, I cannot imagine having to make the decisions that Ukrainian pet owners must be making now. I cannot imagine our dogs running, terrified, through the rubble of war. I cannot envision the futures they face, win, or lose, whether they go back to their homes or become permanent refugees.
We won’t know for a long time until this war shudders and rumbles to the very end of its hellish course.
(If you wish to help, you can donate to the Humane Society International at www.hsi.org)
Dogs, Friends, delivery folk and Mormons meet at our front door and it’s Mayhem!
As I write this, trying to elevate the conversation of the human-dog relationship, Toby, our Great Pyrenees, is chasing his tail.
The upshot of this is that although dogs can teach us a lot, sometimes they’re just dogs, content to sleep on couches, eat, poop, chase each other around, bark up a storm and chase their tails.
It doesn’t seem to matter what breed or mix of breed we’ve had, German Shepherd-mix, collie, Bernese Mountain Dogs, the aforementioned Great Pyrenees, or chihuahua-mix. Once they’re in our house, they all seem to adopt the same “Katie-bar-the-door” love of chaos. The common denominator appears to be, um, us. Although no trainer we’ve ever worked with has told us that flat out.
We are holding out hope for Toby. Great Pyrenees are supposed to be chill, but he’s only two (we think) and still has that puppy energy right now.
The portal to the crazy is often our front door. (Although our German Shepherd, Sombra, did go through a screen window once to be with us.)
We have done everything that our trainers have suggested. We have treats stationed by the door. This has demonstrated one of the most frightening aspects of some dogs: those who care not about treats. With some of our canines, we could use hot dogs, and they would not be distracted from their mission of alerting us that someone is on the other side of the door!
To attenuate them, we have practiced knocking and coming in and out of the door.
To no avail. They all could tell the difference between our efforts and an actual live stranger. Yet weirdly, none of them could distinguish between a person and the wind blowing the trees in front.
When we’d have friends over— which is rare because of the chaos — the drill goes like this:
Everyone knows to call us first—no surprise visits. So it was wild when the Mormons came, and a couple of non-Mormon-like words were uttered.
With that knowledge, we assemble at the door because it takes more than one person to manage what might happen. Then we make a plan. Someone has to a) Put the dogs outside in the back. All that causes is an uproar of barking and scratching on doors that makes conversation impossible. b) Sometimes, when we are hopeful, we choose to keep the dogs with us, let them get to know our friends, and see what happens. Usually, that means Laurie and I are holding dogs and collars, explaining that the dogs won’t bite, but they are just enthusiastic.
The last strategy is to put them in a bedroom and hope for the best. After a few trial and error attempts, we abandoned this approach. Not only because of the damage inflicted but also because most of our dogs learned how to open doors. When we try this, Laurie and I become terrible conversationalists because we are keenly focused on hearing a doorknob creak open. When it does, we are confronted with two or three dogs storming down the hallway, terrifying our guests, wanting to be the center of attention. (which they usually are).
Finally, in full disclosure — stop me if I’m being a bit defensive — we need to talk about nipping.
Most dogs, at one time or another, will nip. This is not a full-on bite (that can have a force of over 250psi for a dog. You’ll know it when it happens). But, when dogs are playing or excited, they often nip. Here I must take full blame. With all our dogs, I’ve played rough and tumble chasing games. Sometimes they have grabbed my shirt to hang on to me. Sometimes our tug of war gets out of hand. So, as a trainer pointed out to me, I have been teaching them that nipping is fun! Go for it! Even if it’s a guy fixing our fridge! Yay!
Thus we have had front-door excited dog incidents of nipping. The most infamous was when my brother (a dog person) burst through our front door where our German shepherd, Zuni, was dead asleep. Zuni jumped up, barked, and nipped. I think I mentioned something like “letting sleeping dogs lie.” But then, at Laurie’s insistence, I offered an apology. But come on, my brother grew up in a house with that sign: Don’t get out of your car! Dogs!” He should have known. . .
How a bunch of volunteer firefighters taught me radical kindness
When the “mama bear” is an attorney, things get interesting. . .