When I was three or four years old, my newly divorced mother took my sister and I to visit my great aunt and great uncle in Illinois. My memories of the trip are spotty. I remember overhearing the adults at Sunday school talk about how the homemade play dough shouldn’t be eaten, information that I decided for some reason needed to be taken very seriously. I remember spilling juice on the basement floor, trying to clean it up, telling my great aunt and her following me down the stairs to find the juice spot and reclean it. I remember a doll named Cherry, and lying in bed during the first thunderstorm of my experience.
Most of all, though, I remember Brownie and the most nefarious deed of the trip.
My mom, my great aunt, and I took a walk in the woods one day. It was late spring, so the birds were nesting, and at some point we came across a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest. It was little and fluffy (in my three-year-old’s-memory version of events, anyway) and it was the most exciting and important find of my life.
I loved it immediately. It was a baby bird and it was wonderful and it would be my friend.
Brownie was a dog. I believe he was a golden lab or a shepherd mix, a nice dog. I liked to pet him, because he, too, was my friend.
To a very young child who hasn’t yet been educated about things like “the food chain” it is very logical that one’s interspecies friendships will be transferable via a kind of flawed syllogism: Brownie is my friend; the birdie is my friend; therefore, Brownie and the birdie will be friends.
This is not how it worked out.
When we got closer to the house, the dog came out. I held my hands out, the tiny baby fluff ball proferred for Brownie to see.
Brownie came up.
Brownie saw the little bird.
Brownie inhaled the little bird in one bite, right out of my hands.
Brownie was not so much my friend anymore that day.
I asked the people I live with—specifically, my mother and my husband—what they thought the moral to that story is.
My husband looked thoughtfully into the distance and said, “We show things to our friends, and they appreciate it in a manner that not everyone would deem appropriate.”
My mom was more succinct. She said, “Don’t show bird to dogs.”
I think they meant about the same thing.