Max got in a fight recently with another dog.
And before I go on, I assure you that he is perfectly ok and it was not his fault at all. It was about a month ago, and I intentionally waited before writing this to make sure he was all good. He had one little scratch that I was able to treat with antibacterial ointment that has since healed and I can’t even see it anymore. As nervous and cautious as I was in the moment and right after, I am equally thankful that he is totally fine now.
So, with that assurance, I return to the lesson…
Max got in a fight recently with another dog. Maybe more of a scuffle, but it felt super intense in the moment.
We were walking in our neighborhood, like we do every week, and suddenly a dog we didn’t know tore around the corner, ran past us a bit, then turned around and faced off against Max.
Up to this point, nothing seemed all that strange. Occasionally, dogs in our neighborhood get out of the house or backyard and run up to Max off their leashes. I understand that completely, it happens. When I was growing up, my dachshund would fly out of the house if he got a chance and run like crazy.
For most of these times, I stop, let Max and the other dog sniff each other, and then the other dog either tries to play with Max or barks at us to get us out of their space. The owner usually comes up very apologetic and corrals the dog back. Max and I go on our way. It happens enough that it really didn’t faze me when this dog came up barking – I assumed she just broke loose and was protecting her territory. When the other dog jumped at Max I even had a moment of thinking they were playing.
Then that moment passed pretty quickly. The other dog’s barks and behavior grew fiercer, and I immediately felt different about the situation. Max did respond, but all I ever saw him do was growl and bark and move around defensively. Another couple was walking on the other side of the street and one of them saw all this happen and ran over to help me separate the dogs. As much as we tried, the other dog persisted in jumping around to Max, and Max continued to move defensively. Finally, the owner came around with someone and they were able to pull the other dog away. She explained that the dog had gotten startled and escaped, and was very apologetic, staying to make sure we were all ok.
My wife and I were certainly shaken, even as Max played it very cool afterward. He did not act hurt and although he was amped up, he eagerly finished the walk after we all checked him over extensively to make sure no real harm was done.
So, that’s what happened, at least from one perspective with all the problems of hindsight. If anything, I remember the scene more mildly now than in the days right after. Regardless, I’ve thought a lot since then about what Max might be teaching me.
And in trying to learn from and with Max, I resist the simplistic lessons that this could symbolize the disagreements and fights that stem from not fully understanding one another, or that the world is dangerous and we need to be extra cautious. Sure, some part of those things may be true, but they don’t really fit what I have experienced with Max through and since that afternoon.
Instead, this is what I think Max has really taught me: Nobody ever wins a fight (which, as far as my limited research tells me, comes from Road House with Patrick Swayze, but since I have never seen that movie, I must have come across it elsewhere).
Nobody ever wins a fight. And yet, I’m still so tempted to believe that Max really won this fight. I mean, he protected me while not truly returning aggression, he demonstrated some pretty incredible moves, not to mention I’m on his side and I’m writing the story so no matter what happened I would try to spin it to show he won.
I even want to write that he won the fight by proving that fighting is not the way to go. Part of me thinks that still sounds good, but something about it just doesn’t fit the whole reality.
In all this, Max has helped me realize that something in me so desperately wants a winner, even though it does no good for Max to have won. He has taught me not only that violence breeds more violence, but also that struggles for control and power (even just in framing the story) can be quick to rise when threats, uncertainties, and feelings of powerlessness bubble over.
At the same time, Max has taught me that there is something so much more important than those responses, which I might be able to reach if I try hard. Harm was done. What is needed is not a winner, but rather healing.
Max has also helped me realize how hard it is to move past that kind of experience to find full healing. As I said, he almost immediately walked on like nothing happened, and if you saw him now, you couldn’t even tell he was in the fight. But he does bark very intensely when we walk by that spot and he hears the dog in her backyard. That space in the world is different for him now.
It is also very hard for me to be forgiving toward that other owner. I want to be, but I am just glad I haven’t had to talk with her again. I know so much of this was out of her hands, and she was not only apologetic but offered to cover any vet expenses if I noticed anything later. But the nervous energy that was brought out in the fight rises in me every time we walk past her house. That space in the world is different for me now too.
Such feelings are definitely not the feelings of winning. Harm was done; what is needed is a long, patient process of healing.
The intensity of this experience makes me think I will continue to learn from it. I also recognize how lucky we are in what happened and in how we could access healing. So many others in similar and worse situations cannot access healing so well and I’m learning how to be more aware of and responsive to that true injustice. But for now, I rest in the lesson that nobody ever wins a fight and I treasure the opportunity to show Max how much I value him, hoping that helps us toward healing.
So thank you Max for teaching me that nobody ever wins a fight. Thank you for your loving protection, and thank goodness for quick and ready healing.