Sometimes we get stuck in a cycle of anger that we can’t get out of on our own. A friend can help us out, even if they are very annoying.
Author’s note: This story first came out after putting my son to bed following a big show of anger at the bedtime routine. I can hardly claim expertise in child behavior, other than witnessing a bunch of it. But this story soothed him, and the lightning addition was his suggestion.
Barnabas, a big German shepherd, was often angry.
He got angry when his dinner was late. He got angry at the squirrels that sat in the tree out of his reach and chittered at him. He got angry when his people left him at home alone.
But one day something happened that made him angrier than ever before.
His people came home and said, “Barnabas, we’ve brought you a friend,” and put a box down on the floor beside him.
Out of the box hopped a tiny, fluffy, white kitten.
“This is Tiddles,” said his people.
Everything about the kitten made him angry. She was cute. She had big eyes. She had a bushy tail that stuck straight up in the air. She smelled funny.
“Mew,” said the kitten and then tried to nuzzle his leg.
“Grr,” said Barnabas.
Over the next few days, Tiddles did everything possible to make Barnabas angry. She drank from his water bowl, ate his dog food, and curled up to take a nap in his bed.
It might have been easier if Tiddles would just leave him alone, but she wouldn’t.
Tiddles got in the way when he was chasing his soccer ball. She ran after his stick when he was playing fetch. She even took over chasing squirrels.
One afternoon, Barnabas was in the backyard moping. His people had left that morning. He knew from the smell of the ice chest and charcoal that they had gone for a day at the lake, leaving him at home even though he loved the lake.
He was investigating some squirrel tracks near the big tree when Tiddles came up and rubbed herself against his legs, spoiling the tracks and muddling the scent.
“Purrrr,” said Tiddles.
“BARK!” said Barnabas, with all the frustration of the last few days coming out at once.
Tiddles was so frightened that she ran straight up the tree. She clung to a branch and looked down at him in terror.
Barnabas ignored Tiddles for a while. He figured she would come down on her own at some point.
But Tiddles didn’t move at all. She sat frozen, as if she was too afraid to let even one claw loose in case she fell down.
“Woof,” said Barnabas, in his encouraging voice. He stood up on his hind legs and stretched his nose up towards Tiddles. Then he got down again, hoping to give her the hint that it was okay to come down.
Tiddles stayed put. She was making little mewling noises, sounding very pathetic.
It started to rain. A crack of lightning lit up the yard.
Barnabas went to the fence and barked for help. Maybe someone, a neighborhood kid perhaps, would come by and help.
No one came.
Barnabas looked around the yard for ideas. He dragged a bench over from the picnic table. When he stood on it, he was not high enough.
He found a box and pulled it up onto the bench. Still not high enough.
He found a pail and nosed it into place on top of the box. Almost high enough, but not quite.
He looked around and spotted his favorite soccer ball, the one that was a little flat on one side where he always grabbed it with his teeth to carry it around. That was enough.
Barnabas balanced very carefully and reached out to very gently close his teeth on the scruff of Tiddles’ neck.
Just in time. With another crack of thunder and lightning, the ball slipped and the whole pile came tumbling down.
Barnabas curled into a ball around Tiddles and the two of them somersaulted across the muddy ground. Then he carried Tiddles into the house through his dog door and the two of them collapsed in a tired heap on his bed.
Which is how their people found them when they came home later that night.
From that day on, Barnabas and Tiddles were best friends. Barnabas still got angry sometimes, but not as often. It was a lot easier to calm down by playing together with Tiddles, chasing squirrels and pushing the soccer ball around the yard. They slept together in one curled up bundle every night.
When I first wrote this story, I thought I was writing about anger. Upon rereading, I realize that it is heavily inspired by all the cases of cross-species friendships that are out there on Youtube, Reddit, etc. A friend of mine who owns rescue horses told me that often a horse will be more relaxed if it has a companion like a goat. Probably for similar reasons the San Diego Zoo routinely raises dogs and cheetahs together and encourages bonding. Is there a parenting technique that takes advantage of this? I’m not sure.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Please comment!