In the wind the blond wisps of hair that stick up from top of Blue’s puppy head moved like stalks of snow-covered wheat, and as the half-Bassett mutt sniffed the air I looked down at his brown, soulful eyes and asked, “Can you smell that the world is on fire, boy?”
It was 8 a.m. on Sunday, May 31, when I took our 15-week-old puppy, Blue, for his morning walk around our neighborhood in downtown Long Beach. 20 miles north of us downtown Los Angeles was burning after a night of rioting and looting became so bad that the mayor called in the National Guard and issued a citywide curfew.
Like many other metropolises across America—including Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Portland, and more—Los Angeles observed a National Day of Protest declared over the hateful execution of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers, and before long its streets were covered in shattered glass. Masked protesters threw fists against clubs, and authorities shot rubber bullets into non-violent crowds and fired tear gas at people who made the mistake of standing on their front porches, and violence was met with violence.
When Blue plopped down in the shade of a tree to chew on a stick he found, I took out my phone and thumbed through images of busted windows and burning squad cars and bloody faces, the result of a shameful divide in America, a country built by black slaves and controlled by white racists, on the verge of another civil war because of men who refuse to be held accountable, who fear the ideas of equality and acceptance, and who are empowered by the idea that there is a lesser.
Later that afternoon there was be a peaceful demonstration in downtown Long Beach, but I had seen peaceful demonstrations turn deadly, and since the minority residents of Long Beach are all too familiar with unchecked killings by police and the bureaucratic abuses of power that shield guilty officers from due process, I feared the sun would set to the sound of gunshots.
Blue stopped to sniff the hand of a man sleeping on a park bench, and with one dirty finger the man rubbed the dog’s ear, and then Blue trotted along, his black tongue hung from the side of his mouth, his huge Hobbit feet dragging along the pavement, and his long, salamander tail swinging fast and wide.
We walked block after block, and neighbors couldn’t help but ooh and coo and ask, “What kind of dog is that?” When Blue met a new friend, his squat, sausage body began to wiggle, and he flopped on his back and whined for belly scratches. It melted the hearts of everyone who met him, and it melted mine, too, because I watched as adults become children again, rolling in the grass with a fat, wrinkly puppy, jubilant and free from the horror of the day.
Later in the day Blue and I walked outside to watch the protesters march down Ocean Avenue, but the blaring police sirens and the chants of solidarity scared the puppy, who tucked his ears and hid between my legs. When I tried to turn him around and take him home, Blue wouldn’t budge because as scared as he was, he so badly wanted to play with the people carrying signs that read “Black Live Matters” and “Silence is Violence,” regardless their race or gender or political beliefs.
I realized then why I admire and emulate my rug-hugging dog, because Blue has love for everyone, and his love brings out the best of us: our humanity, our compassion, and our ability for boundless love. Blue is a puppy, and a puppy has no prejudices and knows nothing of hate. He exists only to eat and sleep, play and snuggle, and brighten the days of everyone he meets, and if we all lived as Blue does, there would be no need for the world to burn, but the world is burning, and it is up to each and every one of us to snuff out the fires started by hate, intolerance, fascism, and fear.