The Law of Tooth

and Claw

Copyright © 2003 
by Lin Stone

The urge to kill rose like bile in my throat, choked back only with grim effort. "Put that dog down!" I snapped.

"Sheís just licking my face," came back Sallyís innocent protest.

"No," I insisted. "She is looking for a place to bite."

"Just because CJ got her face ripped to shreds by a Chow doesnít mean that every dog is vicious."

I had forgotten how easy it is to hate. Now it was so strong in me there was a haze before my eyes. "Put the dog down."

Even though Sally gently pushed the puppy down at last she was angry with me for not understanding. "Iíve grown up with dogs. I have always had a dog. I love dogs. Lucy is just a puppy. You have to make allowances for puppies."

Was she right, I wondered. Was it really just the memory of CJís face being ripped to shreds that set me off? That answer did not feel right even though she had needed plastic surgery and 84 stitches before her grin wasnít a hideous grimace. It was THIS dog that had my hackles up. It was SALLYíS face that I worried about. I gritted my teeth, struggling hard to make allowances that would not come. "Do not let that dog near your face or throat again."

"Oh, POOH!" She retorted. Moments later it was only a feeble protest that Sallyís hands made as Lucy lunged for her throat again.

My hands were poised like claws, ready to rip and tear as I stood up and roared.. "Put that dog down or I will kill it, right now."

Sally had never seen me like that before. She had heard the stories before from those who had known me in the good old days; now she finally believed them. She shuddered as I moved towards the dog with every intention of carrying out my promise immediately with my bare hands. "All right. All right. But you have lost your freaking mind."

Well, I had, and that was the truth of the matter. Twenty minutes of tense silence passed before my feelings were back under control enough to try explaining them to her.

I was ready to talk; Sally was not ready to listen. "Living with an Indian is bad enough. Living with an Indian who has lost his freaking mind is impossible."

I had lost my mind. I had lost my religion. I did not want to lose my wife too. It was too bad; I knew I was right and would not back down. I could not back down. I could not make myself back down. Reasoning with my emotions was no good. Trying to analyze my reasons did no good. When Sally dragged the dogís bed into our bedroom I elected to sleep elsewhere.

Sally did not insist that I reconsider. "I donít understand why you hate my dog so much."

I didnít understand it either. "I love dogs." I said as I looked at Lucy. She was such a sweet puppy, wagging her tail. Mostly lab, all black and very beautiful. I smiled and said: "I love this dog."

My gaze moved to Sallyís face as I explained why I loved dogs. "I love a good killer." Then I looked at the dog again and nodded at the revelation . She would be a good killer indeed, if I let her live long enough.

I woke up in the strange bed that night remembering BiAhto. She had been a killer too. At first she had practiced on dead calves. BiAhto would dive for the navel cord and chew her way into the guts in a matter of minutes. I loved BiAhto with all my heart so I quit bringing her to work with me. It wasnít long before she had grown up enough to find the dead calves on her own though. And before I knew it, BiAhto was no longer waiting long enough for the calves to die first.

It was the boss that caught her taking a vigorously bawling calf down for the count. Both of us knew there had already been other calves to meet a similar fate.  He stood there for a long moment, gazing at his investment.   "Iíll take care of her," I promised.

I loved BiAhto but the world was not safe with her in it.  First it was calves, next it would be foals, then sheep.  In my mind's eye I once more took BiAhto out into the desert and I took care of her.  I had loved her so much I buried her instead of letting her lie where she dropped.

With great longing my mindís eye raced to the other bedroom; I wanted to take care of Lucy too. "There are enough coyotes around here, I wonít even have to bury her."

It was too late to begin planning how to execute the beast.  In a matter of days it was Bubba I had to bury first.

Bubba had come to us from a Euromerican home and it took awhile for his little feline brain to realize things were different in our home. We had to chastise him first over a lizard running across the floor. It took some doing, but Bubba finally understood the lizard belonged inside our home as much as the snake did. Every time the lizard came into view Bubba would deliberately turn his gaze slightly to the side, nothing but his tail twitching. The lizard disappeared later, but I donít blame Bubba because the king snake disappeared about the same time. The lizard will probably be back when Spring comes.

I had never loved Bubba, but everyone else did. Even people who hated cats as much as I do loved Bubba unconditionally. It shocked some of them. "I have never seen a cat that loved being petted as much as Bubba does." 

Bubba would make himself convenient to them and sooner or later they would scratch him somewhere. After that it was all over with except for the purring.  Bubba would twist his body around to get scratched just where it felt best and keep twisting around until he got scratched all over. One limb after another would slowly stretch out to get its share of scratching. When the scratching paused momentarily Bubba would give little hints as to where he wanted to be scratched next.

The only other unusual trait that Bubba had was sleeping. Leave a drawer open and Bubba would sleep in it. His body just molded over the contents and he slept soundly. Bubba could sleep with his head hanging off the edge too. It seemed that the more edges a thing had the more Bubba wanted to sleep on it. Sometimes there would be four or five levels of him sleeping on something, his body flowing down like over a stairs. The first thing returning visitors always asked was, "Where is Bubba sleeping now?"

I never loved Bubba, but like the lizard, he lived there with us and I am a peaceable man now. Even when he got between my feet in a race to the kitchen I didnít kick him very hard.  So it wasnít out of love that I became Bubbaís sole protection from the dog. 

It was my sense of fairness. 

It was a sense of place being violated that drove me. 

It was Bubbaís place to lie on Sallyís lap, but Lucy drove him out and usurped that throne. No matter where Bubba got, that dog would move him out, biting, snapping, curving around and biting again like a born killer. When I rose to interfere Sally snapped, "Theyíre just playing."

Reluctantly I would settle back and she would add. "Bubba can take care of himself. He has claws. He has teeth."

Then I remembered that Euromericans believe that animals live under the law of tooth and claw.  The law of tooth and claw is easy to understand: the biggest banty in the barnyard rules the roost until a rambunctious Rhode Island Red shows up. Lucy was bigger than a Rhode Island Red.

Even in these enlightened days there is far more cheering for the rugged team that moves a worthless piece of pigskin across some imaginary line drawn in the dirt than there is for the team that perfects the latest life-saving drug.

David is remembered far too well for his smiting of the simple-minded giant on the Plains of the Philistines, and known far too little as the author of the Psalms and architect of Solomonís temple. 

In my book the Goliaths of this world who run a rampage of sneers for the puny souls around them are not to be accommodated with admiration.  They belong in the barnyard, tangling with the banty.

Troy was lost for centuries; the Iliad was not. I believe that is because the sacking of Troy was less important than the writing of the Iliad. 

Like me, Bubba had trouble understanding why the law of tooth and claw had efficacy in our home where the Prince of Peace is supposed to reign. Bubba had progressed beyond the law of tooth and claw. He tried to treat Lucy as just another lizard, but Lucy was more kin to a relentless dragon. Any time Bubba was asleep, or turned his head the wrong way, Lucy would attack, snapping biting, pulling out massive tufts of hair. Sally laughed to see them having that much fun. "Itís just loose hair," she explained.

I growled deep within my chest, consoling myself only with the knowledge that it was her dog, and her cat and I didnít really want either one of them in the house. But as the dog progressively took over Bubbaís territory I sided with the cat. I even went so far as to pick him up in my own two hands and place him out of reach of the dog while he ate. Of course, I washed my hands laboriously when I had finished. 

Dogs are dirty enough. 
Cats are dirtier.

I hate cats but there was a war going on inside my home and I knew I had to take sides. It was an easy choice to make; Bubba was not encroaching on anyoneís territory. Indeed, Bubba wasnít even defending his territory. Bubba was trying to live, and let live. 

Lucy was the one trying to use the Euromerican tactics of conquest. The settlers always blamed the Apache for attacking them, but I never once heard of any Apache scaling the white cliffs of Dover to get at them in their own land.

Bubba hadnít gone to Wal Mart to attack a stray dog either.

I had staved off his demise with half-hearted efforts to separate them when Lucy first began biting too hard. Then Bubba moved out of the house just as I had moved out of the bedroom. He only came back to eat occasionally. Iíd let him in and kick the dog off him long enough for Bubba to finish his meal.

Lucy tripled in size soon enough. Outside became her favorite haunt. Her favorite outside activity was tracking Bubba down and harassing him. In a way it was very similar to the Pindos landing at Plymouth Rock and claiming the whole continent conflagration all over again. Bubba could not find anyplace to call home without Lucy bushwhacking him.

After Bubba had failed to come home for two days Sally got the flashlight and went looking for him. Because I loved her in spite of the separate bedrooms I went out to offer support. Lucy was leaping up at her every few seconds, giving little love nips on her legs, tearing away at her skirt. It was then I knew for a certainty that Bubba was dead. Had Bubba been alive Lucy would have been tracking him down and nipping on him.

"I think thatís him under there," Sally said a few minutes later.

I took the flashlight from her and kneeled down to look in under the storage building. "Yes, thatís him."

"Are you sure itís Bubba?" She asked after I had crawled under.

"Yes. Iím sure." Bubba had ended up dead, with his belly chewed out like he was a calf trapped in the stall.   "And Iím just as sure this dog killed him."  

It wasnít fair.  We could have done something to stop this before it happened. 

We came inside and sat together, worlds apart. After a few moments of bitter reflection I realized the fault was mine, not Sallyís.  Poodles or Pit Bulls, I knew the best dogs on earth are good killers, and I hadnít done a thing about it.  Indeed, time and again I had sat back when Sally administered inadequate correction to the dog. 

"Loving kindness always wins the day," she had explained to my shrugs. 

I had known that loving kindness did not work with killers, but I had not interfered even as the evidence mounted that loving kindness was not winning this day. Now, the law of tooth and claw had won out over the law of love.

Would you like to take a trip?" I asked her.

"Where to?" she asked.

"I want to scale the white cliffs of Dover gleaming in the moonlight and then sail up the Thames.  

"I think I'll take my lance --
"and even up an old score."

the end

Lin Stone is a professional writer, author and photographer.  Many of his works and books are published on the web for your free reading pleasure.  Click HERE to see the long list.


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