By Qin Sun Stubis
He is small. From the tip of his black-button nose to the tip of his white-brown tail, he hardly measures three feet in length. He perpetually holds his tail up like a proud flag. He’s our family dog, a wire-haired Jack Russell mix. His name is Banjo.
To an outsider, Banjo is cute and cuddly, a seemingly worry-free, playful two-year-old pup who is always ready to leap into the air for kisses and affection. But as his caretaker and friend for the past year and a half, I know Banjo is more than that. Like the rest of us, he’s a combination of great strength…and touching vulnerability.
Behind the façade of his bright brown eyes, I often detect some of the darkness from his early life when he was homeless. I have no idea of what had happened to him when he was a puppy or how he ended up in a shelter, but I know it made an imprint on him. This carefree little creature battles separation anxiety whenever we have to leave him at a pet hotel or doggy camp. When he returns home, he follows me from room to room–literally dogging my footsteps–for a couple of days until he feels comfortable and gets settled again.
But adversity also builds strength and character–and Banjo has plenty of both. His small body belies a surprisingly large and complex personality. Even after all this time, I’m still discovering more about him, and he never fails to deliver.
The other morning we headed out for a walk. As Banjo trotted along one of his usual routes, I noticed a mailman behaving oddly. Instead of walking on the sidewalk, he was creeping quietly alongside a house across the street, his head twisted completely around in our direction and his eyes full of fear. His six-foot body was visibly shaking. I would have worried he was a crazy person, if not for his uniform and the stack of mail grasped tightly in his hands like a weapon.
I looked left and right, but failed to find an explanation to his strange behavior. I kept my eyes on him as Banjo stopped to sniff a rock. The mailman finally loosened up and walked toward me. “That vicious dog,” he said as he gazed behind me at a flimsy wire fence only about 15 inches high. “The way he barks and jumps, no owner in his right mind should let him run loose.”
I finally understood the cause of his fear: the dog across the street. He used to charge at the old wire fence and howl like a mad wolf when we passed by. I, too, was fearful the first few times it happened. But that was a long time ago, so long that I don’t even think about it anymore. Whenever we pass by, instead of launching his signature vocal assault, this “vicious” dog now whimpers in submission when he sees Banjo.
Now that I think about it, how did Banjo tame this ferocious beast? Most dogs and their owners skittered across the street in terror when the black dog came blazing out of the bushes, teeth bared and foam dripping from his mouth. Banjo, on the other hand, nonchalantly continued on his way, seeming not to care at all, which had a unexpected and confusing effect on the black killer dog. Soon, this local bully was transformed into a whimpering baby, begging for Banjo’s attention. He, too, apparently, had his own complicated story, one I might never know.
I wished I could share Banjo’s strategy with the traumatized mailman, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that this terrifying aggressor was actually bowing down to my little fluff ball of a puppy. That would have embarrassed him. So I just told him to take care.
As I walked away, I couldn’t help a feeling of pride knowing I was accompanied by a mighty pup whose bravery and life experiences made him a bodyguard stronger than anyone could imagine.
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A longtime columnist of ours, Qin lives in Bethesda, MD.