In the diminutive lap-dog body of Falafel, my two-year old Shih Tzu, beats the heart of a feral alpha male. His size and undeniable cuteness elicit baby talk from strangers, and his googly-eyed gaze causes giggles, but he is, in truth, a predator and a guardian -- alert, ready to spring, ever watchful, and protective of his mistress.
The 5-hour plane trip from Birmingham to Denver in a pet carrier under a seat was a stretch for him. He likes to see what's going on around him from the highest possible vantage point. On the layover in Chicago, I let him out of the carrier as we sat in the waiting area at the gate. He stood at attention on my lap with the stance of a mountain goat and the focus of a hawk. Cuteness is just a disguise for this dog.
Now far from his home on a green and lush Alabama country road, Falafel watches the city below from the 15th floor terrace of our Denver apartment. A noise in the hall rouses him from a nap with a fierce bark that surely, for a potential intruder, conjures the image of the dog he truly is: large, toothy, not to be messed with.
We took Falafel with us on a day-trip into the foothills that make Denver the dead-end of the midwest -- the last outpost of civilization before the impossibly forbidding grandeur of the Rocky Mountains. We pulled off the road to explore some woods, and Falafel was in his element at last. He followed his nose with gleeful abandon, perched on rocks, investigated holes and shelters, and marked his new-found territory.
When we called him to get back in the car, he balked. He stopped and looked at us as if to say, "Thanks, I'll just stay here if it's all the same to you. You guys have been great, but this is where I belong."
So now Falafel, the king of cuteness, has a new add-on name: Rocky. When we call him Rocky Falafel, we see him as he sees himself: a feral prince of the Rocky Mountains, a carnivore who would surely be a one-bite meal on the Rocky Mountain food chain, but a predator nonetheless.