I am in the kitchen when I see it watching me. It is hunched in the tree, still and dark and implacable. It is very menacing.
Come out from under the table Hergest, says the Owner. We need to go out.
I cannot, I say, a pigeon is menacing me.
The Owner says menacing is not a verb. I am guilty both of inappropriate verbification and of inappropriate assessment of a pigeon. Pigeons cannot menace, she says. They can be menacing, particularly if Alfred Hitchcock has anything to do with it, but this one is not menacing it is asleep.
How can you tell? I ask from under the table. I am impressed that the Owner is such an expert on menacing pigeons.
That is a pigeon that has had all the pie, she says. Pigeons who have eaten all the pie cannot menace, they are too busy simply trying to stay in the air, given that they are spherical.
Not an expert then, I say, just fattist about pigeons.
The Owner sighs. I am trying to offer comfort, she says. I am trying to disperse superstitious fear by the introduction of humour. I am trying to lighten the sense of impending doom created by the tendency of a sleeping pigeon to trigger the primeval survival mechanisms of the Moral Dog.
I eye the menacing pigeon. This is not primeval, I say, it is common sense. I saw what the Birds did in that film. Alfred Hitchcock was giving us a warning about the potential for Pigeon Apocalypse.
No, she says, Alfred Hitchcock simply knew how to trigger the primeval fears of the Moral Dog. Fear is a primeval survival mechanism. When we see a possible threat, such as an animal that appears to be stalking us, or a zombie, or even a killer clown, the brain activates a rush of hormones that override conscious thought.
I say I am not reassured. Am I being stalked by a fat pigeon and a zombie and a killer clown? This would be bad luck indeed.
No, she says, nothing is stalking me. All that has happened is that my rush of Primeval (but Moral) Hormones has increased my heart rate, shunted blood away from my intestines and sent it to my muscles, suppressed all pain and hunger and prepared me to defend or fly.
How does she know about the flying? I think, but I let this pass. I say I do not like the idea that a pigeon can affect my intestines. And if the pigeon is affecting my intestines, why is all my hair standing on end?
Well, says the Owner, there are three parts to the fight or flight response. Fluff, freeze and focus. The Moral Dog’s hairs stands on end to make him look harder to eat. He freezes to make predators less likely to chase him. He focusses in order to defend himself.
I cannot believe it. Aside from the fact that this suggests that Caspar is constantly terrified, is she now suggesting that the fat and menacing pigeon is planning to eat me? And what on earth will the zombie and the killer clown do? Gnaw on my meagre remains?
No, she says, but the Moral Dog responds to the pigeon and the zombie and the killer clown in the same way as he would to a real threat – say, a dinosaur. It is a one size fits all response. The Primeval Instinct of the Moral Dog treats pigeons and tyrannosaurus rexes in just the same way. And with reason, she adds thoughtfully, given that pigeons are also dinosaurs.
I am not feeling reassured. How many more predators is she going to introduce into the tree? The pigeon continues to loom, but I think it is bigger.
Look, says the owner, the apparent menacing quality of this pigeon is imagined. It is, simply by being fat and asleep and, I agree, slightly hungry-looking, reminding you of the menacing quality that a tyrannosaurus rex would have if it – and you will have to run with the metaphor here somewhat – were sitting in that tree watching you. Is that not a way of lightening the situation with humour?
I agree that the idea of the tyrannosaurus rex in the tree is faintly comical, but point out that this is somewhat ruined by the new knowledge that there could be a tyrannosaurus rex in the tree, given that I had previously been reassured that they had all been squashed by a meteorite.
You know you are imagining this, says the Owner. The Moral Dog is unique amongst Dogs in that he can differentiate between real threats and imagined ones and override the fear response with logic. This is why Moral Dogs watch horror films. They are able to override the fear and enjoy the hormone rush. More than that, by using up the fear response on zombies, killer clowns, dinosaurs and murderous birds, the little things that might once have seemed frightening no longer are.
What sort of little things? I ask.
Oh, she says nonchalantly. A really serious scare from a menacing pigeon can make the simple traumas of life like going to the vet for your next injection seem entirely manageable.
Now I am really not coming out from under the table.
Categories: dignity dog dog philosophy evolution fear
Hergest the Hound
I am a dog of many thoughts.
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