My Life as a Dog Day Afternoon.
Lost Dog. No Reward.
I lost my dog again this morning. This is the second morning in a row that I lost her. You’d think once would have been enough—“fool me once, shame on you” and all that. Apparently not. And I dare say, twice is likely not going to suffice either. But while I fear I am the most irresponsible pet handler who ever walked on two legs (I just. Don’t. Learn.), I wonder whether my invincible optimism isn’t, in fact, doomed hopefulness. I wonder, and yet I’m not convinced.
Here’s how it all went down. I’ve been in the recent habit of taking our two dogs to school with us when I drive my daughter in each morning. I find that this is the only way I can actually manage to squeeze in some morning walking/outdoor time for them before I get back home and get all overborne with work and other brain-scrambling fodder.
At first I had discovered this amazing swath of hewn down, weedy, tree-fallen area beside the school property that stretches back behind the school about the length of three football fields end to end. This seemed like the perfect place to let the dogs run off leash and chase each other and be dogs without running into the street. Which it was. Until the time when they ran past me and ran into the street.
So the next time I took them back there, I vowed not to let that happen again. This time, I walked nearly all the way back with them, deep into the deforested area, before letting them off leash. Which was great. They ran and played and explored. And then the she-demon returned to me, after much ado and my screaming her name, covered in muddy dross and smelling like animal innards, which is likely what she had just rolled in. Needless to say, it was a long drive home.
The Solution Redux.
Having suffered the disappointment of finding and then losing the perfect solution, I was not to be deterred. I realized that there was almost an acre of perfectly good, wood-chip covered playground, completely fenced in, on the other side of the school grounds. So I maximized our morning time by losing them within the confines of the gate to chase each other and romp unfettered by my quotidian human concerns about them running into the street or rolling in dead things. This was the perfect solution. I was elated. I silently high-fived myself repeatedly. It was grand.
The Rainy Parade.
She found the chink in the fence’s armor—a soft underbelly in the fence line she could shimmy through and liberate herself in the forested netherworld that leads into oblivion. And, once she sensed her freedom, “she took off like a bat outta hell” (as my dad is known to say), and all I saw was her long white tail bobbing away into the distance, mocking me as it disappeared.
I whistled. I called her name. I whistled again. And again. I called her name again. First lovingly. Then angrily. Then less angrily but sternly. Then lovingly but sternly. Nothing. And then more nothing.
From time to time I thought I heard the clinkity-clink of the tags on her collar, but when I tried to listen more carefully, it was gone. I whistled and whistled again. The birds mocked me by repeating my same whistle, and I cursed them (silently, of course, because I was still whistling). I stood there—looking and calling and whistling—for what felt like years, but must have been about 12 minutes.
And then I realized, I was completely stuck. I had no idea what to do. She was gone. Lost in the wooded no-man’s-land between the school fence and the backyards of half a dozen houses up the street. And there was no way for me to get back there to find her without a machete and a pair of hip waders.
The Pet Mom’s Angst.
Strange thoughts ran through my head. Would it be wrong to just go home? I mean, there was nothing more I could do. If I tried to go in there to find her, I’d certainly get hurt. And she clearly wasn’t coming back out. So wouldn’t somebody just find her and call me? I mean, my phone number is right there on the tag on her collar. But what if her collar came off? And what if she made her way to the street and got hit by a car?
I refused to engage in that negative, unhelpful thought form.
But what if she came back to the playground and I wasn’t there, but there were kids on the playground and the teachers found her and I had left her behind like that? Oh, the stigma of that was too much to even consider! But, it wasn’t like losing my child, for Christ’s sake. A child—of course you’d go into the woods to look for. But then again, a child better goddamn well come back when you called her or there’d be hell to pay afterward. Dogs are so not worried about hell to pay afterward.
The Introspective Metaphor.
Then I recalled the time when my entire family and extended family came to town to celebrate the birth of my child, and my house was full of relatives, and because I was at home with a newborn, hosting the entirety of my extended family, I sent my middle sister, who was also visiting, out to the airport to pick up my dad and my stepmom who were the last to fly in. So she went to the airport (and this was before everyone and her stepmother had a ubiquitous-cell-phone habit) and waited for them at the curb. When she was shooed off the curb by the curb cop, she circled around and looked for them again. Shooed away a second time, she circled a second time, and returned to not find them again. After a third circle and a third defeat, she decided to cut her losses and just come back.
When she walked back in the house alone, I asked her, “Where’s Dad and Lis?”
She replied flatly, “Well, I looked for them and circled a couple times, but I didn’t see them, so I came back.”
This seemed like a completely reasonable response to her in that moment. I was flabbergasted. I still shake my head when I think of that moment. It will forever live in Rosenberg family infamy as possibly the most completely unacceptable response to defeat ever ever ever.
So clearly, I couldn’t just leave my dog there. But what could I possibly do in the alternative?
After several deep, heaving sighs, I collected myself and returned to the car. I drove out of the school parking lot and halfway up the block. I parked my car and proceeded to walk the block, whistling and calling her name, listening for the chinkity-chink of her tags. Still nothing.
I turned the corner on the block where the woods came right up to the street. I walked and whistled and called and listened. Deafening silence. Finally, I heard the faint sound of the tags in the distance, and I stood absolutely still. Sure enough, within a few seconds, I saw the bouncy-bounce of the white head and tail combo, running toward the barbed-wire fence that separated the wooded area from the street. She stopped at the fence line, confused about how to get to me, and I, on the other side of the fence line, was equally confused about how I would get to her before she disappeared again. Thankfully (as if sent directly from the Big Dog Trainer in the Sky), I found a break in the barbed wire, and I called her over to a spot where she could jump over the fence without impaling herself. When she was safely back on my side of the fence, I clipped her leash back on and scolded her under my breath while at once thanking Übertrainer that she was returned safely to me.
Famous Last Words.
And I vowed never to let that happen again.
Which, of course, it did.
Because I can’t keep a promise, apparently. Only this time, I decided I would take better precautions. I walked into the enclosure with both dogs on leads and didn’t release the naughty one until I had walked with her waaay up near the soft underbelly area so I could keep a better eye on her. And as I better-eyed her shimmying under the fence again, I kicked my own self in the ass for being such an idiot. I watched her little white tail bob out of sight again, cursing her and myself. And then I called her name, and I whistled, and I grunted her name, and I whistled. And I stomped my feet, and I started walking back to the car, and wouldn’t you believe that she came running back to the car on the far side of the fence and met me there, all happy as you please?
And I shook my head at her and at myself and at my good fortune and at my stupidity and at my faith that only good things ever will happen. But I didn’t leave my dad at the airport, and I didn’t leave my dog wandering in the woods behind the school.
Now. You’re wondering what I’m gonna do tomorrow, aren’t you?
Sarah Rosenberg runs with scissors, eats with her fingers, and lets her dogs kiss her on the mouth. A devoted mother, she gratefully shepherds her nearly-nine-year-old daughter whose wisdom belies her young bodily incarnation. Sarah’s writing creates fissures in her seemingly hard surface, allowing slivers of escaping brilliant light to radiate from within. She is dedicated to her daily yoga practice, her family and friends of all species and breeds, her community of neighbors and supporters and the village it takes to be a successful human in this day and age.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel