consider ILLUSTRATION: Alisa Yang

YAP Power

Paco proves it’s not the dog in the fight, but the fight in the dog that matters

By Ellen Snortland 09/01/2011

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Paco, a Chihuahua, is a hero in my neighborhood in Altadena. Before he became famous for his July 7 counterassault on would-be armed robbers at the Ace Smoke Shop, our local tobacco purveyor, Paco was a nostalgic figure for those of us who remember times when dogs were free to be, well, free.

Paco is an unfettered neighborhood dog, who goes from door to door, hanging out with whomever he feels like hanging out with. When I first saw him unleashed and ambling, I was concerned that perhaps he was lost. Nope, I was assured, that’s a neighborhood dog.

 If you haven’t seen the security tape footage of Paco chasing the masked and shotgun-toting armed robbers, please take the time to watch it. Paco has many valuable lessons for all of us:

1.     It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog — I suspect most of us have heard this old saying that Paco embodies. Another way of looking at Paco’s triumph is that while Paco is 10 pounds physically, he has at least 200 pounds of courage. When I first became involved with IMPACT Personal Safety, the full-force, full-impact self-defense education provider, they had T-shirts that said, “It’s not the size of the woman in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the woman.” Indeed. One of the persistent fallacies that IMPACT instructors address is that women often think being smaller is always a disadvantage, so they might as well not even try to resist an assault by a larger male. There are actually advantages to being smaller, but for this lesson Paco’s size didn’t even figure into his indignation at having his space violated. In a similar vein, excuse the expression, as the late great founder of The Body Shop, Anita Roddick, said, “If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.”

2.     Go with your strength(s) — Besides courage, Paco demonstrates “using what ya got.” Did Paco stop for an instant and think, “Gee, I wish I were a Rottweiler right now?” No! Does a skunk depend on its brawn to make its predators back away in horror? No! Paco used his weapon of mass YAP! YAP! YAP! to destroy and vanquish his foes! I’ve assisted in self-defense classes with older ladies who weren’t much into the large variety of hits or kicks we teach, but they sure liked the eye-strikes: a simple move anyone can do, as most predators avoid having their eyes hurt at all costs. Predators depend on sight; they get defensive when something is about to mess with their vision, whether it is fingers, dirt or the zipper edge of a hoodie.

3.     Love thy neighbor as thyself — OK, that might be a little too biblical, but the lesson is important. Paco didn’t defend his “owner”; rather, he defended what and whom he considered to be his responsibility: his neighborhood and his friends. How many of us go for years without even knowing who lives next door to us? How many of us go out of our way to buy locally so as to support our local business people?

Don’t get me wrong, I am an ardent proponent of privacy. But if I smell smoke coming from my neighbor’s yard, I’m going to do something about it, not only because fire spreads, but because my neighborhood is threatened. Similarly, if I need to buy cigars for a friend’s new baby, I will go to the Ace Smoke Shop to give Paco a kiss and pick up a cigar.

Knowing who does and doesn’t belong in a neighborhood is virtually hardwired into us as a first line of defense. Men with ski masks and shotguns do not belong anywhere in Paco’s neighborhood or mine. However, if we confine ourselves to our own homes, to the exclusion of anyone or anywhere else, we are poorer for it and ultimately, less safe. I don’t advocate that we go back to the dog-wandering days, but it was a time where social interaction, of both the two- and four-legged varieties, was the norm.

Finally, having been a big dog bigot for most of my life, I owe my little dog pals an apology. I used to ridicule the yappiness and shaking of little dogs and felt a bit superior with my bigger dog friends, mostly Dalmatians. No more. Little dogs are mighty! Now, having two little dogs myself, I have experienced the sheer force of their decibel levels when my two little ones square off into what I like to call their “Yappa-paloozas.” It’s deafening, the auditory version of a skunk spray. According to the Altadena Sheriff’s Department, burglars casing houses are more likely to say “Next!” if they hear little dogs within than if they hear a big dog! Yap Power! Yap on!!

Ellen teaches writing classes in Altadena and coaches first-time book authors. Reach her at



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