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June 3, 2020

Lessons from Dog: How to be an Ally

Digging around for the right word, fate would bring me to these three stars:
“Alliance. Allegiance. Allies”
They all have one thing in common. They all have All-. That was the whole lesson, that shone into my eyes like a spotlight, one unsuspecting afternoon at my desk. Philosophy does not have to be complicated. It just had to turn on a light. Intellectually stunned, my fingers froze over the keyboard.
Like teachers, the words stood on the page in front of me, awaiting my response to the 3-word-riddle. I twirled a mental pencil until one thought bumped into another thought, and another …

Strength in numbers,
I hear the people shout,
Progress through accountability,
Stand up, speak out,
All one or none,
The future is coming now,
We are all related,
How could one ever doubt,
Whatever man does to the web,
he does to himself,
We see it all around,
A threat to justice anywhere,
is a threat everywhere we found,
Come march, my brothers and sisters,
Red, black, white and brown,
Justice for ALL takes Allies,
to bring a system down.

A long time ago, I pledged an allegiance to the wild things and considered them as my kin. This is a story about how a mixed species friendship between a girl and wolfdog, reminded a room of humans how to stand up for each other.
I have an ally from whom I constantly borrow courage. Courage is defined as the mental or moral strength to persevere and withstand danger, fear, and difficulty (Merriam Webster). From the French and Latin root word for heart, courage is also: to have heart or a frame of mind that elicits bravery. It implies that the challenge ahead might be unsafe but is also worthy. My ally gives me the strength to persist into territories that I deem unsafe. Likewise, he is often ostracized for how he looks, and thus I grant him my allegiance where he feels unsafe too. This is our sacred contract with one another. We borrow each other’s strength in different arenas, for the strength of the wolf is the pack. And the strength of the pack is the wolf.
It was raining when we pulled into a strange city looking for a familiar fix. I found a Starbucks in a strip mall with its’ chairs tilted against the tables to drain the rain. I usually tie my co-pilot to the railing outside and promise him a puppaccino if he waits patiently for me. But this morning, I seemed to have beat the rush, and I did not want to leave him in the rain, so he escorted me inside. Most Starbucks allow dogs on leash for the ordering process and on the porch thereafter. Maybe you have noticed the community waterbowl giving welcome to their presence. Still, my bestfriend is 40% wolf, so I try to strategize my movements away from the crowd, as he receives frequent fearful glances.
Instead, the baristas gave him a wildly excited greeting as soon as we walked in the door. Louder than I would have hoped, as it gave us the spotlight. I smiled bashfully and quickly approached the counter. Passing along the way, was a well-dressed man, chatting up a proper lady. I politely asked if they were in-line, though I could tell that they were not, feeling obliged to curtsey for pardons. The gentleman answered abruptly in order to get to what he wanted to say a little faster.
“Oh, no”, he said, with a stiff shake of his head and a tightened lip, all the while staring down-nose at my four-legged friend,” abolishing his presence.
I turned quickly to order, but he threw his question at my back.
“And, what kind of dog is that,” he asked?!
The girls behind the counter were quick to arrive at my defense, pre-trial, and fill in the blank for the now-attentive-jury throughout the cafe.
“Oh, that’s a husky! My best friend has a husky,” announced the confidant girl over the hissing steamer.
I just smiled back and looked up at the menu unnecessarily.
“That will suffice for the moment,” I thought.
“Heyyy, I’ll take a warm grande chai please, in this mug.”
About that time, I heard the door swing open behind me and a very large group of business men began to enter, their conversation quickly hushed. With great hesitation, they formed into a line behind me, their eyes falling to the Main Character at my side. Some proceeded over the threshold in slow motion, while others lingered outside the door. And Lakota, on telepathic que, let his front paws slide across the tile until he landed with a thump, on the back of my heels, in full stare-down of our next contestants. One man stepped through only far enough to take a bouncer-like stance to the side of the doorway and then cracked his knuckles in front of his chest.
As I turned my gaze away from the door, so did the barista, whipping her ponytail in 180 as she walked off with my mug. Recognizing the ensuing rush, the co-worker at the register graciously leaned in, her shadow unusually comforting as I swiped and paid.
You see, I have never trained Lakota to guard my back like that. He just slid into that plate because that is what allies do. As I typed in my pin on the keypad, I glanced back to the man long-awaiting my answer. Those last 10 seconds having set the stage in some dreamworld, I answered fairly wittingly.
“He’s a Standard American Mutt.”
Hearing this, the disapproving man, raised his chin for a long breath and then let it fall all the way deep down to his chest, and nodded to himself.
Our field, now inarguably, the same.
The tear of my receipt echoed across the counter and I turned back to the barista. With official business completed, I looked down to my friend at his post.
“Lakota, let’s go.”
He instantly alerted like he just does that all the time without heavy treats, and we backed ourselves up to that side door from whence we entered this ethical wonderland.
I took a lean on the edge of bar stool at the unoccupied window, knowing we were not long welcome at this table. Lakota pivoted in front of me and sat down in erect wolfy-posture on the ends of my toes, looking back across the room at the line of men. He was being a model citizen in every unbelievable way. That essential friction between stereotype and reality lingered in the air as there was no box to which the audience could confine him.
And then, as Lakota and I tried to disappear in the wings, something magical happened.
Having observed the whole scene, a white-haired cowboy in a crowded booth in the opposite corner, shouted over the room.
“Hey lady, I like your dog,” he said with a wink.
Before answering, I glanced over to see the well-dressed man near the counter still brewing in thought and quietude.
“Thanks,” I said, with a reluctant smile, both my hands crossed over Lakota’s chest.
I was about to shed a tear at the intense swing of emotions when my feelings were abruptly shattered by sound.
“Grande chai!” yelled the barista, presenting my steamy mug at arm’s length.
I swung a leg around the back of the saddle that Lakota had made of himself between my legs and started towards the counter. Meanwhile, another customer darted for our corner door, and I braked for his rushing. But to my surprise, he froze beside me, with hand on door. Pushing it open, he turned sideways and smiled radiantly into my face, flinging the door open toward our freedom.
“Take care,” he whispered, as Lakota brushed before his legs.
“Thank you,” I said, beaming back, as Lakota and I trotted off into the rain.

Because when there is suffering,
silence is violence,
And all must act with disdain,
Because a few raised voices together,
can heal all the pain.
Thank you, to all the allies, thank you.


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