Pack Behavior

/ Evolution /

Streaming movies I’m lately coming to like Martin Clunes more and more. He’s a British presenter for nature shows. Family type stuff, he’s no David Attenborough, no Jacques Cousteau, but his films are companionable: and he favors animals that we favor: horses, dogs. Good, there’s a warm place for him in the TV world. In a show on dogs he visits a guy who lives with a wolf pack as one of the wolves. The pack is a social hierarchy, he’s fit himself into it. He’s not the alpha male, he not one of the famlaes, he’s not the beta male; he’s the enforcer. At feeding time nerves are raw, the big males are ready to fight at the drop of a hat, but before the hat can actually drop our pack-man dives head first into the melee, defusing things, for a moment, then he has to dive again.

I’m reminded of an incident in the 1960s with my German Shepherd dog, Angus. I was walking Angus in Riverside Park, Oh, my god, here comes that incredible blond with the huge shepherd. She’s got an ass like a Maillol sculpture. Her dog is huge; Angus is slight as German Shepherds go. Her big male is going to start fights and win them quickly; Angus will cower, whimper, run away. I walk Angus off the leash, this girl has her monster on the leash. I trust Angus to have the sense to steer clear of her Golith, but I want to get a gander at this girl’s rump, the more so as the slope where I’m walking is steep, her gluteus will be flexing to the max.

No, I shaved it too close, Angus has wandered into danger, her dog attacks. Instandly Angus is on his back, offering his belly, his throat in surrunder, the girl is yanking at her champion’s leash, and I, if I’d have any brains at all, should have stayed clear of it, trusted Angus to survive it somehow, or not, but it’s his feebleness that’s being exposed, not mine. But no, without thinking, idiot pk dives into the mix tyring to cover Angus’s throat, exactly where this dog is chomping it. Too late I realize the danger I’m in. But it’s over!

Her dog has found a human hand under this teeth. His jaws, furious to tear Angus, chomped me, and some kind of brakes came on. The bite wouldn’t have bothered a butterfly. Or so I thought: her dog has bitten my wrist watch with its Spidel band in half! Cheap watch, bitten in half!

The girl is “I’m so sorry”ing. I grumble and grunt, surrepticiosly still looking.

So: what did her dog imagine my position was in her dog’s imagined pack? Clearly I was magical. And clearly I knew it! Instinctively! or I wouldn’t have been anywhere near those jaws no matter how weak and cowardly my darling dog was.

By the way, let me here tell a different story from a decade after this one: I was walking Angus on Riverside Drive, not in Riverside Park, up from Riverside Park, after midnight. I n oticed two guys lounging together. One black, one Iriental. I saw them lean together, whisper, separate. I walked past them. Angus as always was off the leash, out of sight, way south. I was say around 100th St, Angus could have been as far south as 95th St. I had always thouyght that if a mugger came along I would have to protect Angus, not the other way around. And we’d lived happily together for say a couple of decades by then. Angus was still slight but now he was also all but blind, having been maced by a cop in Maine, 1968. Sill us, we could have rinsed his poor eyes if we’d known. Hilary didn’t know, I wasn’t there, and didn’t think of it when I was.

so: here we are. I’m walking along, a short braided leash, shredded from perpetual tugs of war with Angus dangles from my hand: but did it look like a weapon? No, something from S&M maybe. Anyway, I see the guys, the guys see me. I know this and that trick to try to avoid them, but this night for some reason, I don’t employ them. I walk deliberately right into these guys’ trap: if indeed they are muggers. They seemed to be.

My friend Larry from 1957 or 58, the Jew from Texas who liked to kill muggers with a switchblade, told me that if a guy who might be a muggers asks for a match, if you have a match, if you want to give him the match, throw the pack at him, say, Keep them. Do not let him get close to you to return the matches. Do not let him grab you.

I do. I let the guy tak the matches from my hand. When he takes hold of the matches, I smile at him and don’t let go, resisting his taking them. Oh, is that what I’m doing: acting crazy, scaring him. We’re both holding the matches, this is the Chinese guy, the black guy is lurking in shadows a couple of hundred feet away. Suddenly, terrifyingly between us, there’s a tornado of snarls, a whirlwind of canine aggression. Angus has this Chinese guy by the pants leg. The guy lets go of the matches. Angus backs the guy against a tree. Angus is slavering, his teeth, his lips, all foamed over. Off to my SE I see the black guy backing away, exiting the sceen.

“Hey, Mister,” pleads the Chinese guy, “call your dog off.”
I’ve never stopped smiling at him.

“Are you kidding?”

I walk on. Angus holds the guy against the tree. When I get a good number of feet away I whistle: “OK, Angus.” angus stops frothing, stops chomping. Angus lifts his leg agaist the guy, pees, and then potters away, totally ignoring his victim of the previous minute.

It was as smooth, and as comic, as if we’d rehearsed it. But we hadn’t. That’s the only such situation we ever encountered.
Or, I’m wrong, and Angus silently took care of them.

Angus was so smart. I think he understood French and German too.

2016 08 23 More coming, I so loved Clunes’ chapter on African wild dogs: pack behavior of a kind and degree we are unacquainted with!


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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