“Dirty . . . disgusting . . . filthy . . . lice-ridden boids. You used to be able to sit out on the stoop like a person. Not anymore! No, sir! Boids!”
The dialogue comes from the Mel Brooks movie The Producers. The super of a walk-up is referring to the carrier pigeons that the Nazi and aspiring playwright Franz Liebkind keeps on the roof.
I empathize. Not with having a Nazi as a tenant. But with the super’s attitude toward pigeons. Because with pigeons, you never know.
About what? you might wonder.
About anything, I might answer.
I once saw a pigeon in a park pecking at a chicken bone. I had to look away. It was just . . . wrong.
On another occasion in another park my family and I were sitting on a bench when a pigeon began hovering in front of us, at eyeball level. “Shoo!” we said, or some such admonition. It didn’t shoo. We waved our arms. It didn’t budge. Maybe the bird was guarding a nest. Maybe it was mentally unstable. Either way, it just hung there, flapping, staring us down. (It won; we moved.)
But you know who else would empathize about a hatred of pigeons? My Havenese.
Let me say that Jet is the gentlest dog in the world. He suspects no ill will. If a dog on the street barks at him, he thinks it wants to play. And sometimes it does. And . . . sometimes it doesn’t. No matter: Jet’s right there, crouching down, tail wagging, front paws splayed in play position. He can’t imagine another dog meaning him harm, presumably because he can’t imagine himself meaning another dog harm.
Same in the house. He’s a watch dog in the sense that when someone encroaches on our habitat—a delivery person, a contractor, a friend of ours he’s never met—Jet watches. Literally. No barking; never. He’ll simply watch (assuming, of course, that he’s bothered to emerge from the bedroom).
Same when he was a puppy. I’d take him to the dog run, and often someone would be standing in the center of the space, tossing a ball to a pack of other puppies. Jet would sit at the tosser’s feet, observing the ritual. “So you throw the ball there,” he seemed to be thinking, “and they bring it back here. Fascinating!”
The one exception in his dog equivalent of one-day-we’ll-all-sing-“Kumbaya”-in-Esperanto worldview is pigeons. Pigeons, he can’t stand. He lunges at them from his leash, and if they don’t scatter fast enough, he’s not above resorting to his canine wiles and barking.
Presumably pigeons excite some primordial circuitry in his brain. Having shown them who’s boss, he’ll celebrate. Prance, run, dance: Doesn’t matter. He’s back in the forest, or on the prairie, or under the big top. (Havanese are from Cuba—hence Havana-ese—where they were bred to be circus animals.)
But why pigeons, and only pigeons? Not squirrels, which are of similar size. Not sparrows, which are of similar species. Just pigeons.
“Dogs hate pigeons,” I typed into Google, in quotes. Seven hits, none scientific. “Dogs hunt pigeons,” I tried, without quotes, and auto-fill led me to several articles on raising pigeons in order to train dogs to hunt. The thinking seems to be that pigeons are plentiful, and you can get dogs to want to hunt birds in general by exposing them to pigeon scent at an early age. But Jet was born in Canada in winter—presumably not prime pigeon season in Saskatchewan.
And so the mystery will remain—and not just the mystery of why my dog imagines that pigeons are his one and only enemy. On my walks with Jet, I often contemplate a more fundamental philosophical question: Who is the predator here? From a pigeon’s point of view, it’s Jet. From Jet’s point of view, it’s the pigeon. And then I find myself considering a practical question as well: Who would be more surprised if Jet actually caught a pigeon—him or the boid?
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Photos by the author.