Another snapshot, another memory.
During the 1990s, my parents lived in a really truly Colonial Colonial in rural Connecticut. How really truly Colonial was this Colonial? The earliest record of this house’s existence dates back to 1710, stunning old for my San Francisco friends, interestingly old for my East Coast friends, and “so what?” old for my European and Asian friends. The house had early 18th Century ceilings, which meant that you had to be very careful not to bump your head on the ceiling or in doorways as you trod upon the uneven floors, and a living room fireplace almost five feet tall, about seven feet wide, and four feet deep. In winter, the dark red wooden house with an electric candle and wreath in each window looked too perfect in the deep powder snow, like something a Hollywood film production would reject as unreally beautiful.
My parents also had two bulldogs, one of whom was an absolute beast.
Bonzer (yes, my Australian friends, his name was your word for “the absolute best”) weighed in at 80 pounds, enormous by English Bulldog standards, with an unusually large head by English Bulldog standards, and unusually muscular by English Bulldog standards. His coat was the basic white, but mottled with butterscotch-colored splotches and spots of various sizes.
Fortunately, his friendliness equalled his size. Unfortunately, he did not know his own strength. When he played, he played hard–over the past 150 breeders have bred out the viciousness of the original Bulldogge, but they have not bred out the aggressiveness. This did not prove much of a problem for the puppy growing up as he grew up among adult humans who knew how to deal with cheerful, happy and aggressively affectionate dogs.
But Bonzer had never met a human child. And my sister and her husband visited the too-perfect Colonial one Christmas week, bringing along their 18-month-old daughter.
We had to be very careful with Bonzer. Don’t get me wrong, he liked Isabel just as much as he liked us adults, but English Bulldogs are not the brightest lightbulbs on the Christmas tree, to put it mildly, and he did not seem to realize that he had to tread carefully around Her Majesty The Granddaughter. So we always kept an adult between him and her.
One night shortly before the big day, the five adults sat in the living room in front of the fireplace big enough to hold a twin-sized mattress and box spring (but we wisely piled it high with firewood and enjoyed a nice blaze), noshing away at various appetizers before dinner. Bonzer found himself a suitably close enough location to the platters and bowls of people food that we had to placate him with goodies to keep him from jumping on the cocktail table. Given his fondness for lunging at people food, we found it best to gently lob food at him. He would snatch it out of thin air at remarkable speed. Isabel watched us feeding the dog, but we thought we had kept her safely far enough away.
But toddlers are really fast.
Just like that, she stood right next to him in her pink holiday dress with people food in her tiny hand.
A Trader Joe’s Chili-Lime Tortilla Chip.
Which she offered to Bonzer, a dog almost four times heavier than herself.
We all held our breaths. We didn’t want to startle the dog into some sudden action that might hurt my niece.
Bonzer tensed himself for another lunge at his beloved people food.
But then he stopped.
Isabel held the chip vertically. Think about it; when you eat a tortilla chip, you insert it horizontally into you mouth. Not vertically.
I swear, it looked like Bonzer actually thought about the situation. Bulldogs don’t think. They are probably the dumbest breed of domestic canine out there. But Bonzer seemed to think about the situation before him; a human puppy, very small and delicate, offering people food to him, but holding it the wrong way.
Bonzer sat for a moment. Looking like he was actually thinking. Which is impossible. He was an English Bulldog.
We held our breaths. He could have easily bitten off her hand. But he didn’t.
Bonzer slowly twisted his massive skull 90 degrees. He slowly leaned forward. He slowly wrapped his huge mouth around her hand and slowly sucked the Trader Joe’s Chili-Lime Tortilla Chip away from her. Then he chewed it and swallowed. Isabel laughed because evidently his jowls tickled her hand, and offered another tortilla chip. He slowly twisted his massive skull 90 degrees. He slowly leaned forward. He slowly wrapped his huge mouth around her hand and slowly sucked the Trader Joe’s Chili-Lime Tortilla Chip away from her. Then he chewed it and swallowed.
The adults watched as she offered one tortilla chip after another, giggling, to an absolute beast of animal which twisted its head 90 degrees so he could gently suck each chip out of her hand.
Vonn Scott Bair