In 1986, I attended the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. There I became acquainted with a couple of psychologists on the faculty through attendance in a class entitled Police Stress Management. These guys, typical of the vast majority of the instructors at Quantico, were very good. Among the many coping mechanisms they identified for police officers was a phenomenem they termed “image armor”, where members of our profession cloak ourselves in steely silence when confronted with the inevitable, unspeakable tragedy that is an unfortunate part of our existence. Not healthy said the docs, but very prevalent.
It is what we do. You would be of very little comfort to the survivors in death and traumatic injury situations if you arrived a weeping, out of control authority figure who turned away from what you are responsible for investigating, recording and categorizing as a representative of the city, county or state government who has commissioned you to lend dignity to an undignified situation. This tightly controlled demeanor masks the fact that we are often numbed by what we see, forced to deal with the unpleasant aspects of death privately and away from the occurrence. Sometimes our reaction later, a blend of macho acceptance and gallows humor becomes a part of the recipie for image humor. Please trust me when I suggest these experiences never leave our minds, and we do identify with the profound sorrow that people feel in these situations. I would suggest, with a high probability of accuracy, we also reach a point where we are finished with these responsibilities and are ready to turn toward the sunny side of life where sorrow is relegated to a closet that remains closed until an opening is absolutely necessary. This explains my absolute disdain for movies, presumably made to entertain us, where the dog dies. In fact, I am writing this with a presumably healthy, 3 year old Lab at my feet, daring not broach this topic with an older dog in our family, or a pup which inevitably follows the demise of a wonderful old dog before him or her.
Hollywood is fully capable of linking box office success with tragedy. We know that combat movies and crime dramas are going to exploit death. A movie that features shoplifting is going to bomb…….unless the dog dies. There are better than 30, probably closer to 50 movie successes that feature the death of a dog. I know the story lines, in many cases have read the books they are based on, and avoid them religiously. I was a hard line, old style trooper who faced the macabre with the prerequisite image armor on many occasions. I do not consider the death of a dog in a movie to be entertaining. The last such movie for me was “Marley and Me”, and near the end, when the pup was at the vets office…..I walked out and finished my popcorn in the lobby. The classics, “Old Yeller” and “Where The Red Fern Grows” are story lines that I know well, but I am not watching the movies by the same name. I was caught short in “Turner and Hooch”, not expecting Hooch to die……..the story line was not developed in the synopsis….I am more careful now when researching the facts in a movie where a dog is the star.
We love movies and go often. I enjoy a wide variety of celluloid entertainment, except the science fiction stuff that is so popular these days. Around my house, we have a simple protocol that we adhere to when considering a movie that has a dog in it. We investigate and do not go……
…….if the dog dies.