Johnny got Bear in 1988, when Bear was just about a year old. He had been passed among several owners, none of whom had given him a good home. The previous owner, a young man with little sense of how to raise a Rotty, attempted to dognap Bear back. Johnny argued and threatened legal action, since he'd paid him good money for Bear. His papers were all in order, and dognapping was a legal offense. In the end, however, Johnny got Bear back, and nothing came of the threats.
Eric for his part was nonplussed. He'd always been a cat person. Nothing had changed since the Knoxville days, and an animal of this size was overwhelming. The Dobermans in Knoxville at least had been kept at arm's length. This time, the dog was thrown in on top of the two in a cramped apartment. At the time, they were living in a rental unit, having recently returned from an extended tour of duty abroad, given Eric's work. The apartment unit would not allow pets, and so they had to keep him hidden while they began the work of looking for their own home. Pretending that a Rotty is invisible while doing his thing out behind the landscaped bushes is hard work, but they managed to carry it off and moved to their first home about two months later, in February, 1989.
Bear had been the runt of the litter. (In a Rotty, that's hard to tell.) He also had curly hair. His lineage was German, his siblings were prizewinners, but Bear was not going to be a show dog. He was just going to be a dog. None of this mattered to Eric, though. For months he was afraid to let Bear approach him, with his oversized teeth, massive jaws, barrel chest and boundless energy.
Johnny changed that. Under his love, care and training, Bear became a prince. He was extremely well behaved and gentle. Eric gradually learned to let Bear take his wrist in his teeth, and then to kneel down on the carpet and let Bear embrace him with his front paws, and finally just to roll around with Bear on the floor, each trying to outwrestle the other. The kids in the neighborhood loved to come by to take him for walks. Mrs. Johnson next door always had a treat for him. He made everyone feel safe. He tolerated K.T., Eric's finicky cat, with infinite grace.
Two years later, in a generous gesture, the owner of Rags to Riches gave Johnny a second Rottweiler - a young female to keep Bear company. Eric went ballistic. One dog was enough on their hands. Two meant that much more work cleaning up the yard. Besides, she was totally untrained and was chewing up every shoe in sight. He refused to speak to Johnny for days. Clearly, something had to be done. Thus began Johnny's training of Eric in the world of animals.
The first thing Johnny did was to assign Eric the job of finding the female pup a name. (Eric, of course, had relented after a few days of his normal petulance.) Johnny could name anything - animals, plants, rocks, cars, people, medicines - to make them his and thought the same technique might work with Eric. Eric took on the job but hated it. He'd never been any good at names. That was just one more thing he'd depended on Johnny for.
Bear had been registered with the AKA as "Kuma Inu" at Johnny's insistence. That was merely "Bear Dog," in Japanese, but it sounded exotic. Eric thought and thought. Here presumably was the world's prettiest little consort for a regal Japanese prince, and the name finally came to him - Murasaki Shikibu, consort to the legendary Prince Genji of Japan. So they registered her. After some experimentation and stumbling, the whole world - Johnny, Eric and the neighbors - came to know her simply as Shiki.
Eric slowly entered Johnny's world. There had always been the cat, but now there two dogs - big dogs. From the cat and dogs sprang forth Cody, a leased horse. And when Cody was put out to pasture, there was Washi-Sunny, the palomino they owned with pride. And from Sunny came Bismarck, the Appaloosa that their friend Gary had left behind when he died of AIDS. Bismarck left, and in his place came Lie Tawah, known as Lieta, a spooky mare that could turn the barrels on a dime. Then, totally unexpectedly, just after they bought Lieta from the Edelman boys, she gave birth to a little filly named Chani. No one, especially the Edelman boys, had realized she was pregnant. She was, they said later, a two fer.
There had been many dogs in Knoxville, but there had been birds and fish, too. When Johnny got Bear, he also inherited Kukla, a scarlet macaw with a foul mouth and a personality to match. Now here in Washington, there first came the peacocks and guinea hens, kept at the tack room together with the horses. There was Bud the rooster, a runty little thing with a bacterial disease that prevented it from walking upright. "Too much Budweiser in that cock," observed Johnny. Then came the quail, dozens of them hatched off at home in styrofoam incubators and released back into the park along the Anacostia. There were ducks and chicks hatched along with them and kept at the stables. Johnny had hatched each one off and imprinted himself on it. The flock would come running up to his red truck every morning when he went out to feed the horses. The ducks would gather around, noisily demanding breakfast.
Johnny loved and cared for and thought about all these animals. He had a deep bond with them. They were far more trustworthy, he thought, than most people. And through him, Eric learned to love them, too. He observed Johnny's relationships with his animals and Johnny's thoughts about people, and finally Eric came to formulate the Dgn' Theory: (Johny's last name)
Most people are feral.
If humans domesticated animals a hundred thousand years ago, animals domesticated humans, too. After all, they had to protect themselves against the danger of not being fed, and so they developed in their human "masters" a deep bond of affection for their animals. And that bond is instinctive, bred right into the genes of every human being on the planet. Every human being instinctively responds to animals with love.
The problem is that most people, escaping into the wilds of the city, have lost touch with their instincts. They are no longer capable of animal love. The truly feral person feels fear in the presence of animals. Like dogs and cats that have strayed back into the wild, many people are feral, too. His job, Johnny thought, was to bring people back to their natural instincts, and at least with Eric, he provided wonderful therapy.