It’s after midnight and I’m pulling into my garage. It’s been a long day with lots of driving. My sleeping daughter groggily stirs to wakefulness in the back seat. She’s been at music camp for most of the week and this was the day that my wife and I drove there, attended a concert put on by the camp kids, then loaded our daughter and all of her stuff into the car and headed home. My wife, daughter, and I all get out of the car and stretch. While my wife helps my daughter unload her cello from the car, I fumble with my keys as I walk to the front door. The house is dark—my son is apparently out for the evening since there’s no way a nineteen-year-old college student would be in bed at midnight. I unlock the door and swing it open. The two dogs run out of the dark house and cavort happily on the lawn. There is something so wrong with this scene that my wife, my daughter and I stand and stare in gape-jawed disbelief. We don’t own any dogs. “Are we at the right house?” I query in disbelief. “Um…do we have dogs now?” “Are those dogs?” my daughter asks in confusion.
Yes, they are definitely dogs—two big dogs snuffling around our yard. They look like labs—one is black and one is yellow. They are both wearing collars with weird little boxes on top. I go into the house and find a note from my son. “Well, there’s not much we can do about this right now.” I tell my wife and daughter. “These dogs are going to have to spend the night with us. In the morning we’ll call Animal Control.”
|Who is this mysterious dog?|
Who are these mysterious dogs? Where did they come from? It is, I think, time to borrow a technique from the movies and do a flashback.
Mike is out for a run on a warm and clear summer morning. He’s enjoying the bird songs and the dappled shadow patterns on the blacktop where the sun filters through the tree canopy and is thinking happy thoughts about having a day off from his summer job and the prospect of spending some time with old high school friends after having been away for his first year of college. His parents and sister are out of town for the day, so he’s got the whole house all to himself. He’ll finish the run, shower, have some lunch, then climb into his timeworn Toyota and head out to see his friends.
He notices two dogs—labs, probably—loping along the road ditch toward him—a black one and a yellow one. The dogs pass him then loop around and start to follow him. Mike stops and gives each one a pat. Both of the dogs are panting hard and their open mouths and lolling tongues make them look like they’re laughing. The dogs’ attitude of satisfaction with the whole world causes Mike to smile. He gives each dog’s head another pat and then recommences his run. He looks back and notes that the dogs are now traveling in his direction. Are they following him or just heading the same general way? After making a couple of corners, he observes that the dogs are still with him—a strong case for following. And the fact that the dogs are still with him when he arrives home proves it. Mike pointedly ignores the dogs—his mistake, he decides, was petting them—so hopefully once he’s out of sight they’ll leave. He goes into his house, showers, has some lunch, grabs his jacket, and heads out the door toward his car. The two labs get up from the lawn and wag their tails.
Mike retraces his running route in his car while the two dogs sit and grin in his back seat. The dogs love the car ride quite a bit and also enjoy the attention they get from every neighbor at every stop. But nobody recognizes or claims the dogs. One neighbor suggests that the dogs look hungry and gives them some dog food, which they both enjoy immensely. For the dogs everything about this day is fantastic. Mike’s day is quickly becoming something less than fantastic. The afternoon is waning, he has social plans, and the dog problem is not getting solved. He’s feeling frustrated at being saddled with this problem and needs to find a solution.
Who are these mysterious dogs? Where did they come from? Hang with me now—I’m going to do another flashback and I don’t want you to get lost.
Another day. Just like all the others. Blackie paces the perimeter of the kennel. Rusty, meanwhile, paces the other way. Blackie’s life consists of sitting, sleeping and pacing in this kennel and not much else. Of course the people in the house regularly bring food. Food is great. The attention that comes with the bringing of the food is even better. But the food is only good while it lasts and the attention is in short supply. Sometimes the people in the house actually open the kennel gate and the dogs run free. That is wonderful. Blackie is so filled with happiness when that happens that she jumps and dances and runs circles around the yard with Rusty jumping and racing right with her. But of course the free time is always too brief and the sterile kennel always reclaims them. Blackie remembers how she and Rusty used to bark. When they barked long enough, the people from the house would come outside and yell. Blackie didn’t exactly like it when the people yelled, but yelling people were better than no people and endless boredom. So Blackie and Rusty got very good at barking and could summon the people a lot every day! Blackie remembers how one day the house people gave Blackie and Rusty new collars. And Blackie remembers when the shocks started. And she remembers the day she realized that the shocks came from the collars and that they happened when she barked. Blackie and Rusty stopped barking after that.
Another day. Blackie paces the perimeter of the kennel. Rusty paces the other way. Then Rusty bumps against the gate. And the gate swings open! This has never happened before! Rusty and Blackie go into the yard. There are no house people. The dogs jump and dance and race around the yard. Then, they run into another yard! Then they run beyond that yard to a road! And then they run down the road. It seems to go on forever! It seems they can go as far as they can run. They had never thought about that idea before—and being Labrador Retrievers, they’re not really thinking that hard about it now. Not thinking—just running.
“Mike, I can’t believe that you would shut two strange dogs in our house and just go off and leave them!” I tell my son. He shakes his head at my usual adult incomprehension of the soundness of his logic. “But I told you! I had plans!”
Are you still with me? We have now time traveled with the help of Dr. Who’s TARDIS and a tricky literary technique, to the morning after I found the dogs in our house. There had been further adventures during the night. In the early hours of the morning there was a crash followed by a yelp and some soft whimpering. We had laid kitchen chairs on the couch to keep the dogs off and the black dog had obviously tried to worm her way onto the couch anyway. We found the dog and kitchen chair on the living room floor—dog and chair tangled together like a Chinese puzzle. The dog was not struggling at all and while I could see panic in her eyes, she stayed perfectly still while I untangled her from the chair. Amazingly, no part of the dog or the chair was broken and after that episode we went back to bed and slept until morning.
After breakfast I call Animal Control to report that we’ve found two dogs and then spend the day working in the yard. I’m seeding some grass and putting in plantings. The dogs mostly lounge in the shade of the garage but also enthusiastically help dig holes for the plantings. They’re very good hole diggers and some of the holes are actually where I want the plantings to go. I expect that at any moment the phone will ring and that I’ll be talking to the dogs’ owner. But evening comes and nobody’s called. “Looks like these two mutts will be spending another night with us,” I say. “Maybe nobody will claim them and we’ll have to keep them,” my daughter suggests. Everybody looks a little hopeful. I have to reluctantly admit to myself that I’d enjoyed spending my day with the dogs. Our dog, a lab mix named Kalli, had passed away several years before. The sadness of her death combined with the reality that our family of two working adults and two busy teenagers didn’t always have time to give Kalli the attention she deserved had resulted in my edict that we would not be getting another dog.
We finally get the call the next morning. My wife answers the phone and has a short conversation. “It was a woman who says that the dogs belong to her neighbors,” she tells me. “She was going to take care of the dogs when the neighbors went to Europe. The day before they left, the dogs somehow got out of their kennel and disappeared. The neighbors told her to leave the kennel door open and the dogs would eventually come back. After they didn’t come back for a couple days, she called Animal Control and found out that we had them.”
Later that day the woman arrives and we load the dogs into her station wagon. “I think these dogs get neglected,” she says. “I can’t believe you kept them in your house! My neighbors never let them in the house because they’re so wild!”
I shoot my son a glance. “Well, they’ve been great,” I say. “They’ve really been a lot of fun!” Then I find myself saying, “If they ever decide they don’t want them, I’d take one of them.” The woman drives away with the dogs pressing their noses against the car window. I watch the car disappear down the road and then become aware of my family watching me out of the corners of their eyes.
A few weeks later, I answer the phone and a man says, “I’m calling to thank you for taking care of my dogs. Also, I’ve decided we’re going to get rid of them. I got Blackie for my daughter and she’s just too busy to take care of a dog—and actually these dogs are more than she can handle. I travel for work so I’m just never around. We got Rusty to keep Blackie company, but now I see that was a mistake and it would be for the best if we just got rid of both of them. I heard you might be interested in one. They’re purebred labs and they’ve had all their shots—I think we can work a deal that you’d be willing to accept.”
And then Bailey came to live with us. We decided that we needed to change her name. But that wasn’t the only change. Bailey’s life changed and so did ours. But I think Bailey knew that would happen. We didn’t find her, after all—she found us. She knew we were the family she wanted. We didn’t even know that we needed a dog, but she did.
And now she's been with us fourteen years - she just had her sixteenth birthday. We've watched her muzzle turn from black to gray, and her hearing fade. She can't do the long walks anymore and she's started having trouble with stairs, but she still oversees house activities from her dog bed in the living room, she makes sure that the cats and chickens stay in line, and she continues to ride shotgun in the truck when I run errands. Sweet sixteen is old for a lab and as difficult as it is to think about, she may not be with us much longer. But she's had some great years. And so have we all.
|Decked out for the 4th of July - 2011|
|Riding shotgun - 2016|