A Dog Story With A Moral

Let me tell you, please, about Bevan’s dog. The anecdote does service to the awkward truth that, often enough, peace has to be imposed. And maintained.

It is a brief tale. Inelegant. Some might call it indelicate. But it has bearing, in the crooked way that analogies do, on political news. And on the manner in which news sidles into ecclesial thinking, then into the pulpit. The story came back to me on a Sunday in January when the priest capped the formulaic prayer for peace by adding “especially in the Middle East.” It was the first such injection into the standard petition. Why now? Since the Middle East is a perennial tinder box among assorted others around the globe, the prayer struck ears as code for anxiety, if not regret, over the killing of Qasem Soleimani. It seemed less a prayer than a covert reflection of the spasm of hand-wringing prevailing in the media.

Four months later, with surgical masks on our faces, we recognize an enemy vastly larger than a murderous Iranian general. Enter a man and his Rottweiler.


Honoré Daumier. Satirical drawing of Richard Cobden, British politician (1856).


Bevan was a natural with dogs. He liked them, no matter the breed. More substantially, he understood them. Somewhere in his DNA was a sensitivity to the psychology of Canis familiaris. Bevan could hold his own against Cesar Millan as a nimble dog whisperer. Partial to rescue pups, he went shopping one day at animal shelters in Putnam County with an eye out for a suitable guard dog. Having grown up in a dicey section of Brooklyn, Bevan knew the value of an animal with an assertive, territorial temperament. He came home with Reilly, a young Rottweiler.

Their early weeks together brought several bouts of canine jockeying for dominance. All was to be expected. But who would emerge as leader of the pack? A pushy dog needs to know. No novice at dog training, and confident in his rapport with this new companion, Bevan was unintimidated by the occasional contest. Yet one day, without warning or provocation, Reilly upped the ante. He lunged at Bevan, grabbing hold of his calf. Only the density of Levis kept the dog from drawing blood.


Sir Edwin Landseer. Fighting Dogs Pausing for Breath (19th C).


The dog was on a tear, unimpressed by the usual protocols. (“Down, Reilly! Good dog! Off! Sit!”) This was no time for dialogue. Bevan’s survival instincts kicked in. He wrestled Reilly to the ground, pinned him down under his knee, and kept him there with one hand. With his other, he opened his fly and urinated on the animal.

Reilly was shell shocked. He shuddered, shook himself, and gave up the fight. Trembling with disgust, the dog edged away. He was humiliated. Something like this was not supposed to happen to a proud Rottweiler. The indignity of it! In that moment, Reilly learned the identity of the top dog. It was not him. With recognition came respect. A subdued Reilly watched his step with Bevan ever after.

When he reminisces about that tug-of-war, Bevan insists on calling it an instance of “peace through strength.” Sun Tzu would have no difficulty grasping the moral of this not-so-simple dog story.


James Gillray. Anticipation (on the approaching fate of a commercial treaty). Circa 1787.