As Reese grows old, I sometimes wonder if he would have been happier living a different life. I presume his romantic ideals to be sled-team captain, search-and-rescue canine, or one of those dogs in airports and hospitals that likes strangers touching them.
Then I cast those thoughts aside because he has the attention span of a… hey!look!…, he enjoys roughing it only in limited doses (he tries to sleep in the car when we go camping), and he is a remorseless leaper (though arthritis now physically prevents it you can still see the urge in his eyes). One thing I cannot imagine him being is an attack dog. As I watched the mortifying footage of the Dakota Access pipeline incident last week, I considered what a wretched life that must be.
Whether private companies should be allowed to train and employ dogs to attack people is debatable; that they are should at least be accompanied by stringent education and regulation. We’re not talking about a few Rottweilers guarding a junkyard. This is one of the highest-priced, low-rent operations conceivable: A nearly $4 billion project that already has tensions at a simmer being guarded by a motley crew desperate for the type of authority a T-shirt emblazoned with the word “security” gets you and provided what appear to be half-starved German shepherd mixes whose training consisted of watching film of the 1963 Civil Rights demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama. To borrow a Fred Willard line from Best in Show, those dogs went after the protesters (and a couple after their own handlers) like the people were made of ham.
The oil and gas industry probably welcomed the distraction from all the Oklahoma earthquakes it insists are not caused by fracking despite the evidence (the lie-and-deny approach has also proven successful for the fascist, shriveled-apple doll who is somehow a realistic candidate for president). At least in North Dakota the businesses involved—primarily Dakota Access as a stand-in for its parent Energy Transfer Partners—can scapegoat an inept security contractor and try to pin the blame for the clash on the protesters; after all, the protesters were trespassing in a construction zone.
But the land holds ancient burial and prayer sites associated with the Standing Rock Sioux, who also worry about the pipeline’s effects on the reservation’s water quality, and last Saturday’s violent protests were triggered when Dakota Access bulldozed sacred locations recently identified in court documents. Security armed with mace and guard dogs attempted to barricade construction equipment as protesters marched forward; in the video, the security personnel appear ill-equipped to control the dogs, and the dogs seem frenzied.
“I don’t think it was appropriate,” said a detection-dog trainer and former K-9 officer in a Duluth News Tribune article. “They were overwhelmed, and it just wasn’t proper use of the dogs.”
Multiple people were bitten, including at least three security staff. The conflict has also opened deeper wounds.
Amid the unrest, however, a powerful story has emerged. Since objections to the pipeline from the Standing Rock Sioux were initiated nearly three years ago, the tribe has been joined by other Sioux people and a spectrum of indigenous nations. More than 1,000 Native Americans from some 200 tribes across the United States were present at last weekend’s protests, according to estimates from several news sources.
“That has never happened with the tribes. It’s unheard of,” said Waste Win Young, a former Standing Rock Sioux tribal historian, in a City Pages article. “In my entire life we never had the unity to protect our water and our land and our sacred site.”
As more take note of the plight of the Standing Rock Sioux and their historical lands, Americans of diverse races and backgrounds have expressed support. Some entered the fray directly, traveling to North Dakota or Washington, D.C., to join demonstrations. On Friday, the federal government ordered a temporary work stoppage on a segment of the pipeline.
One of my proudest Reese moments was his lone, true fight, which arrived a couple weeks after adopting Miles. We were at an open space park, and Miles was attacked by another dog as if he was picketing a pipeline. The dog seized Miles by the neck and ragdolled him as the gathered humans, with all the competence of Dakota Access security, attempted to separate them without losing a limb, mostly by screaming obscenities. Reese was more decisive. Romping with a buddy in the distance, he noticed the commotion and charged the dog, ramming it full speed and sending the two tumbling as Miles scrambled to safety and the humans restrained the lingering combatants (the other dog bit its owner in the process). At the time, Miles was 6 months old, and Reese a year older; they were not fast friends, but they understood they were part of the same pack.
Reese was picked up as a pup by animal control in a sliver of northern Montana bordered by Flathead and Blackfeet reservations, and I was asked on more than a few occasions if he was a rez dog; he may, in fact, have been. But the life of a roguish stray was not for him any more than that of a dog-food commercial star (few brands appeal to his discerning palette, which is more attuned to fresh vegetables and gourmet cheese). Like the majority of our dogs, he is best suited for the role of being a friend and reminding us on occasion that we all, in a way, belong to one tribe.