When I was six years old there was a bully in my class. I was the youngest and by far the smallest kid in my class and, almost every day after school as I walked home alone, this bully would run up behind me, grab my arm, and punch me three times in the stomach. My mother called the school but they did nothing. She called the bully’s parents but they also did nothing. In the end it was up to me to look out for myself and I had no idea what to do. I wish I had known my dog Amy back then. I like to think that I would have been brave enough to try her solution.
More than forty years later, on a warm, sunny afternoon, my dog Amy and her best friend Chinook strolled along a gravel road, stopping occasionally to sniff in the sparse roadside grass. It was their favorite place to walk because it was quiet and few cars passed by.
Chinook was an enthusiastic, happy-go-lucky, thirteen-year-old dog with a soft, brown coat. She looked something like a Chesapeake Bay retriever, but had long ears that stood straight up and tipped over on the ends, giving her an everlasting look of surprise. Amy was eleven, tan, husky-looking and about the same size as Chinook. She was even tempered and moved with quiet confidence.
About half a mile down the road, there was a big grey house with a huge yard surrounded by a tall, chain-link fence. Amy and Chinook had never paid any attention to the grey house until the day the new dog moved in.
The new dog was big and their first encounter with him was pretty rude. As Chinook and Amy walked the road near his house, the new dog ran up to the fence, snarling and barking. Amy stopped, walked up to the fence opposite him, and casually sniffed the ground in front of her. Then, as if to say, “I’m not impressed,” Amy walked away like he didn’t exist. The new dog grew silent as he watched her leave.
Always eager to make a new friend, Chinook pranced over to the fence, wagged her tail and pulled her lips back in a big doggie smile.
The new dog flew into a rage. “Arrrggghhh!!” he snarled.
He grabbed the fence with his teeth, tugging and shaking it as if he thought he could tear the fence apart. Like most bullies he had too much self-confidence and expected Chinook to cower in front of him. But instead, Chinook cocked her head sideways as if to ask, “I suppose this means you don’t want to play with me?” Never one to let anything get her down, Chinook happily ran off to catch up with Amy.
Every time Amy and Chinook walked by, the new dog behaved the same way. If Chinook even glanced at him, he would launch into a frenzy of vicious barking and bite the fence.
The fence that surrounded the yard was about five feet high and had a gate that was always closed. With each passing day the new dog seemed more and more determined to get out of his yard. He began standing on his back legs and banging his front paws against the fence. Then he’d drop down and furiously dig, trying to tunnel under the fence.
One evening as Amy and Chinook neared the fence they could see the bully dog lying on the grass near the house, so they moved to the opposite side of the road. They were almost past when he raised his head and spotted them. He jumped to his feet, locked his eyes on Chinook, and charged across the yard, going faster and faster. Just as he reached the fence, he made a mighty leap and hurled himself upward.
He soared in a high graceful arch, rising higher and higher. Chinook watched in wide-eyed amazement as though she were thinking, “Wow! A flying dog!”
His front legs cleared the top but his body slammed into the fence. He fell back to earth and landed with a dull thud. The impact knocked the wind right out of him.
As he lay on the ground gasping for breath, Amy walked over and looked through the fence at him as though she were thinking, “Nope, still not impressed.”
Then Chinook and Amy turned and quietly walked away.
Months passed with no change in the bully’s behavior. About the time Chinook turned fourteen and Amy turned twelve, the difference in their ages began to show. Amy still walked like a healthy young dog, but Chinook was becoming a little unsteady on her feet.
Then one day something happened that changed their walk along the road forever. It was a lovely sunny day, perfect for an afternoon stroll. The bully was lying in the middle of the yard, gnawing on a huge bone. When he saw Amy and Chinook approaching, the bully slowly rose to his feet, spit out his bone, and fixed his eyes on Chinook. With lightening speed, he charged straight across the yard.
Only this time the front gate was wide open and he ran right through it!
Amy’s eyes flared with fear. Chinook looked at the ground, not knowing what to do.
The bully curled his lips back as he ran full out. He opened his mouth wide. He was almost on Chinook. He was going to sink his teeth into her neck! He was going to kill her!
In that moment, in one single step, Amy placed herself between the bully and Chinook.
The bully skidded to a halt - teeth bared, jaws snapping, throat growling - just inches from Amy’s face.
Amy didn’t even blink.
The bully curled back his lips, showing his sharp front teeth.
Amy did not back down. She stood perfectly still and stared straight into the bully’s eyes. When he moved over one step to the right, Amy moved to block him. He snapped and snarled as though he was going to tear her apart. Amy simply raised her head a little higher and stared back in silence.
Amy had made a decision. No matter where he moved, no matter how ferociously he growled, she was not going to let the bully get to her friend.
The attack lasted less than a minute and then the bully grew quiet. He turned his head and looked down the empty road as though confused about what to do next. After a few more seconds he lowered his head, turned around, and walked home in silence. Then, Amy walked over to where Chinook stood waiting. Side by side, they quietly finished their walk.
Thinking back on that terrible day, I realize that Amy must have been as frightened as Chinook. When the bully charged, Amy had choices. She could have stood back and done nothing, leaving Chinook helpless to defend herself. She could have charged the bully and gotten into a terrible fight. But she didn’t do either of those things. Instead, Amy confronted the bully in silence, showed no aggression, and simply refused to back down. And it worked perfectly.
Whatever happened to the bully? For the next few days he only watched in silence as Amy and Chinook passed by. Then one day he was gone, never to be seen again.