Champ is particularly tolerant of the lesser creatures in his realm. Chipmunks skittering by in the dust, geese honking through the skies overhead, squirrels scrambling for the nearest tree -- these things rarely disturb his princely mien. Even the arrogant red fox -- who has made a habit of casually strolling across the road 50 feet in front of Champ's otherwise attentive nose -- elicits no response at all from this most benevolent of neighborhood monarchs.
Nor can the Doberman who barks with impotent fury from the far side of a picket fence, nor the obstreperous pair of mini dogs that drag an elderly couple down the avenues every evening howling in falsetto as they go, nor even the occasional raccoons that are revealed only when some errant headlight captures them off guard in places they should not be.
The worst Champ might give these creatures is a jovial bark and a wag of the tail. He must move on. His walk is not done. There is still more neighborhood to see, more grass to sniff, more trees to water and more minions who must witness his evening's progress.
Yes, there are two beasts who give him pause. Deer simply anger him. Whenever he senses them nearby, he leaps to the end of his leash and lets them know in a clear canine voice that were he not physically restrained at that moment he would personally chase them out of his realm.
Then there is the standard poodle that lives along the way. He is large, strong, young, proud and male. Champ would banish him, too.
One October night, however, something strange happened to Champ.
We were walking our standard route through the dominion. He was his normal happy and confident self.
Then he stopped -- rigidly and instantly -- and began growling in a low, deep, ferocious tone I had never heard before. This new type of growl grew deeper and louder and more intense as I followed his gaze to find its cause.
Across the street, on a corner lot, someone had erected a Halloween display at the edge of their yard. It featured four almost-real-looking -- but more sinister than real -- human skulls shrouded in flowing black robes and illuminated in the darkness by deftly placed greenish lights.
Not only had Champ never growled at anything like he growled at these skulls, he did not want to stop growling at them -- or move on from the scene.
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