Bear, the Silent Sentinel

BearVery often in life, we are prone to pass judgment based on hearsay and opinion. So when my daughter, Elizabeth, announced that she was about to purchase a Chow Chow puppy, my reaction was anything but positive, or encouraging. I expressed my concern to Elizabeth about purchasing a breed of dog with a less than sterling reputation, Chow’s being known biters. She told me that she had read up on the breed and had fallen in love with them. She assured me that she had discussed her decision with our veterinarian and he had given her his best advice on how to choose her puppy.

I had moved to Florida to be with my soon-to-be husband, Gray, while Elizabeth had remained in our home in Kentucky.

A couple of days later, she called to tell me that she had bought a Chow puppy. He was ginger colored and resembled a cuddly bear cub, and so she had named him Ginger Bear.

Elizabeth had been raised with animals all of her life, and knew the value of training. So, Bear was soon enrolled in obedience class. Because of the Chow reputation, she also took advantage of her job at a saddlery shop to accustom him to mixing with people and other dogs. Horse people take their dogs with them everywhere, so there was a steady stream of new canine faces for Bear to meet, while Elizabeth saw to the needs of their humans.

A few months later, we sold our Kentucky home. Elizabeth, and Bear, came to live with Gray and me.

It was clear from the beginning that whatever had been written or said about Chows did not apply to Bear. He was, as is the case with most Chows, quiet and reserved, but he did not have a mean bone in his body. You could see his kind gentleness in his eyes and read it in his demeanor. Gray and I both fell in love with him.

When Bear was about a year old, Elizabeth moved back to Kentucky. The young man she had been dating for most of her college years had finally proposed and she went back to make plans for a Kentucky wedding.

Doug had been introduced to Bear and spent time with him when he had visited our home. All seemed well between them until Bear, not knowing it was Doug coming through the door of Elizabeth’s new apartment, because he could not see him behind the large box he was carrying, growled at Doug. It was more that Bear was afraid of the weird sight of a walking box than that he was angry with Doug. However, Doug, who, as a child, had been bitten by his family’s German Shepard, instantly, became afraid of Bear.

The next thing I knew, Elizabeth was on the phone to me in tears. She told me about the incident, and said Doug had told her she would have to make a choice between him and Bear. Heartbroken, she said she would need a new home for Bear.

“He already has a home, Elizabeth,” I said. “This is his home. Bring him back to me.”

The years passed and there was nary another incident with Bear.

Our house backs up to a lake. I would let Bear out in the back yard on a long line that allowed him to roam the boundaries of our property. Strangers would walk along the edge of the lake right past Bear. Never did he even offer to bark at them. The neighborhood children all loved Bear. When they would see him out in the yard, they would come running. They loved to hug the dog that looked like a big fuzzy bear and he loved their attention. He would let them hug and pet him all they wanted.

We had guests stay with us all the time, they could come and go as they pleased never bothered or worried about Bear not letting them back in when they returned with or without us.

sitting under a treeThen, late one night, Gray and I were fast asleep. We were wakened by a noise such as nothing we had ever heard before. It was like the deep and angry roar of a lion, and was followed by sharp, angry barking and growling. It was Bear. I knew there must be trouble, serious trouble to cause him to act in this manner.

I headed down the stairs, calling to Bear. He came to me. The hair on his body was standing on end and there was a low rumbling growl still in his throat. I told him to be quiet. The growling stopped.

I could see movement and what appeared to be headlights in the back yard. Slowly, I edged my way to the sun porch. The vinyl windows, fogged with age, hindered a clear view of the yard, but also offered me cover as I made my way stealthily across the room, Bear at my heels.

Using the doorframe for cover, I slid open one of the windows. I was surprised to see that the headlights were from a sheriff’s car parked in my back yard, a deputy standing beside it. I opened the window and asked “Anything wrong, deputy?”

“No, Ma’am,” he replied, with no further explanation.

“You’re sure?” I asked, feeling some sort of explanation for him using my backyard as a parking lot, and sending my otherwise calm dog off the deep end, was in order.

“Yes, Ma’am,” was the sum total of his response.

“Right!” I replied. “Well then, good night, deputy.”

“Night, Ma’am.”

Obviously, he was a man of few words.


I patted Bear on the head and sent him back to his bed and I went back to mine. Nevertheless, something wasn’t right. My instincts made me rise again, and putting Bear on his long leash, I headed out the front door towards the corner of the street. On reaching the corner, I could see the deputy’s cruiser was now parked in the cul de sac that faced the lake. Off on the lawn, behind the corner house, was an older model Lincoln sedan.

Bear and I walked toward the cars. As we passed the rear end of the Lincoln, I could see the deputy bent over, searching the front seat of the vehicle. Not wanting to startle him, I coughed, and said, “Ah, deputy, you still sure nothing is wrong?”

He came out of that car like a shot. Then, seeing it was just Bear and me, he relaxed.

“Well, there was a bit of a problem,” he said, walking our way. Without hesitation, he reached down and patted Bear on the head. Bear licked the deputy’s hand.

“I was driving on the main road and thought the car in front of me was suspicious, so I ran the license plate,” he explained. “Turns out the owner had an outstanding arrest warrant for drug trafficking, I turned on my lights to pull him over and he took off.

“I chased him into your village and up into this cul de sac here,” he went on. “I guess he didn’t know it was a dead end, and ended up ditching the car and taking off on foot. There were three other guys in the car with him. They ran through the back yards ’till they got to your house, then they cut through your side yard and over the fence to the street.”

So that was why Bear had gone ballistic. He thought they were trying to get into our house. If they had thought to do it, the sound of Bear’s lion’s roar must have convinced them otherwise.

As the deputy and I were talking, an older model Cadillac Eldorado pulled up to the entrance of the cul de sac and stopped. A tall, heavy-set, black man got out of the car. The deputy walked to his cruiser, bent over and was reaching for his radio. The man approached him, and positioned himself so that he had the deputy pinned in the car.

I could hear they were having words and not of the friendly variety.

I looked down at Bear. He was no longer sitting beside me relaxed, but standing at full attention, his coat standing on end as it had been inside the house. He stepped forward a bit and I released my hold on the long line just slightly. As the two men’s exchanges became more heated, I could see Bear’s demeanor growing more hostile. I let out the line a bit more and Bear took another step forward.

This time the motion caught the man’s attention, though he kept up his menacing tone, he did it now with one eye on the deputy and one eye on Bear, who was edging ever closer, a low, rumbling growl coming from deep in his throat. The man moved away from the cruiser. Still with one eye on us, he said something in a harsh tone to the deputy, and then, quickly moved to his car, got in and took off.

BearBear and I went to the cruiser, where a pretty shaken deputy was now leaning against a rear door. “Thanks,” he said, more to Bear, than to me. “That was the brother of one of the guys that I was chasing. He wanted me to turn the Lincoln over to him. I told him no, but.”

He took a deep breath and steadied himself, and said, “I don”t know what he would have done, if you two hadn’t been here. Really, thanks.”

“No problem, deputy, right place, right time, I guess,” I said with a reassuring smile.

“That’ a good dog you’ve got there, Ma’am. Knows the good guys from the bad, doesn’t he?”

“That he does!” I said as I gave Bear a big hug. “He’s my silent sentinel.”

I could see things were back under control, so I said, “Well, maybe I’ll just head on home, and see if I can get back to sleep now that the excitement’s over.”

I have no idea what happened after we left. There was nothing in the newspaper or on the TV news. But, I know one thing for sure, they can say what they want, write what they want, but they can never convince me a Chow is anything but the best breed of dog on this planet. The proof is in the Ginger Bear.

© Karen Lynch 2008

I hope you enjoyed the story of my wonderful friend, Bear. I have had a lot of dogs in my life, but Bear certainly holds a special place. We lost Bear about three years ago, but not a day goes by that I am not reminded of him. Especially, when I look at the area behind the recliner in my office, which Bear had chosen to make his den. I rescue cats, so we always have a house full of feline friends. Chows are very cat-like in their behavior, so he felt right at home with his feline buddies, especially King Tut, pictured with him in our back yard. I think Bear wished to be a cat, and I often wonder when a new cat comes calling, if it’s not Bear in cat clothing. Animals leave an indelible stamp on our lives and our souls. We are so blessed to have them as our friends.


  1. May 3rd, 2008

    Karen has, as usual, put her paw right on the point!

    Us dogs, who have noses several thousand times nore sensitive than those of you humans, can sniff out all those emotional scents which together give us an instant assessment of character and intention. We know, straight away, who we can trust and who we can’t; we can distinguish those who mean to harm and hurt us or our family. In short we can sort out the good guys from the bad guys!

    That is why, when treated right, we are “Mans best Friend”

    Floyd the Dog

  2. May 15th, 2008

    This is a cute story about ‘Bear’(young ginger Chow Chow) and it says a lot about judging a book by its cover. In this case it a dog called ‘Bear’. Soon we know what and who ‘Bear’ is. For a start we know ‘Bear’ is an excellent guard-dog and has a good memory. Being in the right place at the right times is often a good thing and here in the story it happens to ‘Bear’. The police appreciated the help offered and the bad man went away empty handed. Makes us wonder what was in the car to create the interest.What might have happened if Bear hadn’t been there.
    Perhaps that’s another story we can look forward to reading. Well done Karen.

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