When I was very young, my father owned Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, duck hunting dogs that he'd grown up with in Maryland. His father had Chessies, as did his grandfather and his great-grandfather.
As Chessie lovers know, they're difficult dogs. I didn't quite understand that, having forgotten that Dad wouldn't allow his unruly Chessies in the house. They were working dogs, not household pets.
In the early '90s a Black Forest breeder was offering Chessie puppies for sale. It would soon be my daughter's birthday, so I thought to surprise her by driving her to Black Forest on her birthday and letting her choose a puppy. I called the breeder, and she gave us the pick of the litter.
The puppies were in a big outdoor playpen. In one corner, eight little Chessies were packed together in a squirming mass of cuteness. A ninth roamed the pen alone, peering curiously at the visitors.
My daughter reached into the pen and scooped up the roaming puppy, a beautifully conformed male. He nipped at her, and she tapped him gently on the snout.
"You be good," she said sternly. "You're coming home with me."
"That dog's gonna be a handful," the breeder said. "You sure?"
C'mon, I thought — how can she tell? A puppy is a puppy is a puppy.
I didn't know what I was seeing. Bucky, as we named him, was the alpha male in the litter. As we'd quickly find out, he was used to having his way. When Bucky was about 9 months old, I happened to meet a famous dog trainer at a party.
"I have this dog and he's pretty difficult..." I began. She interrupted.
"Breed?" she asked briskly. Chesapeake.
"Dog or bitch?" Dog.
"Alpha in the litter?" Yes.
"You can train a dog like that to retrieve over water in five minutes," she said, "but you can't train him to do much of anything else. A dog like that is a barn dog, not a house pet."
"Any advice?" I asked, dismayed and disbelieving.
"Build a barn!" she said with a cheerful smile, and walked away.
Bucky didn't change, we didn't build a barn, but I loved him anyway. He died at 14, and a month later we found a rambunctious young Chessie at the Humane Society. Dudley's 6 now, just as difficult and engaging as his predecessor. You adapt to Chessies, you treat them gently and eventually they become reasonably good dogs.
And so it is with our delightful yet infuriating city. In the past three years we've experienced two devastating forest fires, followed by flooding from the burn scars. It seems abundantly clear that drought and rising temperatures throughout the West and Southwest have created conditions that drastically multiply the number and intensity of such fires. Climate scientists tell us that global warming is partially responsible for these events, and that warming/drying/burning cycles will become the new normal.
But despite such stark evidence, a majority of our City Council members are proud climate-deniers.
In the past month, two individuals armed with assault rifles took the lives of six of our fellow citizens and injured nine more. Leaving aside the motivations of the shooters, why are such weapons so easily available? Their only purpose is to kill people rapidly and efficiently. They're not "modern sporting rifles" as manufacturers cynically dub them, any more than a ripple-edged switchblade is a "modern sporting potato peeler."
But will we have the political will and moral fiber to ban the open carry of such weapons, or even ban them altogether, as Australia did 19 years ago? Probably not — despite grisly evidence to the contrary, many Springs residents are firearms maximalists. Ignoring the dreadful toll of Columbine, Aurora and Planned Parenthood, they continue to fetishize gun ownership, apparently sincere in their belief that the Constitution guarantees unfettered access to AR-15s.
Many of my friends fall into that category and I love them nonetheless. But just as the most difficult Chessies eventually accept rules and boundaries, we need to accept the world as it is, not as we think it should be.
So c'mon guys — accept global warming as real and get rid of assault weapons. We'll all be happier ... and I won't have to build that barn.
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