Monday, November 19, 2007

My Dog is a Racist

Elsa barks. Anyone who has ever rang the bell or knocked on our door… or merely walked by the front of the house could tell you that Elsa is fiercely adamant about protecting her property. God help you if you peek over the wall unannounced; you may just see firsthand what she ate that day. Lately, I’ve been paying a closer attention to Elsa’s barking pattern and I’ve noticed a key personality trait: She’s a racist. She barks more ferociously at black people than any other race, and I’m surprised to discover this.

Surprisingly, I’ve given the topic a lot of consideration, and I add up more examples to confirm or deny my theory every time the bell rings. It isn’t as though a black man rings my bell every day, and I can count on one hand how many black people have come to the door this year (four of them have been “former gang members/drug dealers/inner-city victims” trying to sell me magazine subscriptions,” one was the Terminex guy, while the other was a Jehovah’s Witness—whom I, in a rare mood, actually enjoyed talking with).

And each of those five times, Elsa literally wanted to disembowel whomever pushed their finger on the button, and somehow, she knew their color before I opened the door.

Normally, when someone rings the doorbell, like the UPS guy (Mexican) or a random salesman (usually white), she barks, albeit loudly, but just regularly, as if to say, “Go away. I’m in here. We’re not interested. Step one foot in here and I’ll be forced to take matters to the next level. Don’t make me come out there, because I will and you and me will exchange words.” It’s just regular, irritated and agitated barking to exclaim that she is in charge of all that she can see and she isn’t going to give it up without a fight. But it isn’t terrifying and it doesn’t emanate a sense of urgency or danger. The hair on the back of her neck doesn’t stand up and her tail isn’t curled under her legs, ready for action. She’s just bouncing around, excited, and her bark is relaxed, almost rudimentary and pedestrian, just a matter of course.

Regardless of who is at the door, I always let her peek her head out first when I open the door. For one, it freaks people out who are stupid enough to still be standing on the porch, and I find that funny; and two, it’s like pointing a loaded gun out the door. When people see Elsa standing there showing her teeth and leveling at them a serious stare, especially after hearing her, it usually throws them off and makes them nervous, and I like that. Some have even start stepping back as they talk, keeping at least one eye on Elsa, my loaded gun.

However, when a black person rings the bell, she goes ballistic like she wants to tear through the door and rip whomever’s out there to shreds. I don’t know how she knows, but there is a marked difference in her demeanor and level of barking. It’s ferocious, vicious, dangerous.

Oddly, it happened twice today. The first time was around 2pm this afternoon. Matthew was in mid-nap and Natalie was enjoying Playhouse Disney on the computer in my office. I was on the couch, reading a book, and no sooner did the bell ring—that split second the reverberation of the ding-dong filled the house—Elsa hit the roof. Her initial bark was so violent that it literally made me jump, which isn’t easy to do with merely a bark. By the time I got to the entry hall, Elsa stood at the door, rigid and howling with anger, the most fierce and brutal of barking that I knew instantly who was at the door.

And I wasn’t wrong. He was a black guy with dreadlocks and a nice tie. Not only was he not standing on the porch by the time that he rang the bell, but he was about 10 feet from the porch. Both of his hand were in the hair in a very defensive manner when Elsa thrust her head out through the narrow crack in the door. And I had to really hold onto her, as I could feel her yanking on her collar. In haste, the guy blurts out, “I’m selling magazines and newspapers. Are you interested?” “No thanks,” I replied. “Good day,” he said and left without hesitation.

Later tonight, the bell rang again, but this time, Elsa wasn’t in the house. But that didn’t stop her from trying to chew through the brick wall and sound out so that everyone on the street knew she was pissed off that someone she finds especially threatening is coming too close to her domain. Yeah, this guy too was selling magazines for those poor inner-city youths (and corporate America who is exploiting them).

But I don’t get it. Why is my dog a racist? Is it something that is inherent to German Shepherds specifically or to all dogs in general? Do all dogs bark fiercely at black people or is it Elsa? Perhaps certain types of people emit a certain aura that dogs negatively react to. Maggie, the Sheppard we had when I was a kid, used to bark at people wearing hats, which I thought was weird and wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it.

So, is it just German Shepherds? It would be easy to make the connection between the historical origins of racism in Germany during the middle part of the last century to the fact that she was a popular breed among Germans (who can’t picture an Nazi SS officer with a German Shepherd at his side?), but I can’t make that assumption because I think racism is bred from society’s reaction to stereotypes and not through genetic breeding. If that were the case, I think Elsa would bark at Jews more than anything, and I’m sure there have been a few to ring the bell here. What stereotypes has Elsa developed to make her bark more cautiously at one race over another? None. She doesn’t have any contact with black people, so what makes her bark so violently at them?

Kara suggested that Elsa’s racism spurns from the fact that she hasn’t seen or been around very many black people in her life, which is true, and she is merely reacting to the fear of change, the fear of seeing something different. I argued that it was impossible for her to have that predisposition because she starts barking like a dog trained to kill long before I open the door and long before she sees exactly who is on the other side.

As it is now, at least I can tell if I’m about to be sold a magazine subscription by the tone of Elsa’s barking.

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