Rain Rebels

You hate rain Dwight. It’s really hard to get you to go out when its raining. You hold your bladder better than a college freshman in the bathroom line at a keg party. You stand and stare forlornly out the back door, but when it’s opened you turn and go back to bed. I drink another cup of coffee as we watch for a break in the showers and the clouds.  The rain stops before I finish my drink. The sky is still dark, but we are risk takers, Dwight. I hook up your harness, grab my walking stick, and we go.

We don’t encounter too many walkers on the path today. A woman passes by  wearing black fashion rain boots, patterned with pink and yellow flowers, that stretch up to her knees. She is carrying a huge red dome umbrella that looks like a lady bug. She holds it over herself and her designer dog, who has on a yellow slicker. Her little dog’s legs move fast, resembling  a sandpiper running from waves. Perhaps they are hurrying home to build an ark.

You and I are wide open to the elements, enjoying the mild, misty day.  We have a good pace going.  The light  rain tickles my face and frizzes my hair. I hope it teases your nose with the aromas of sky and clouds. What do they smell like Dwight? You love to drink rain water, licking it off  blades of grass and lapping it from the boards of the bridges we cross. I wonder if rain tastes of all the places it’s been. Evaporation from some exotic rain forest, or a swift moving stream through a desert canyon.

We are free of umbrellas, jackets ,and rain boots. No encumbrances on our morning walk. Mist, like dew fall settles on your coat, my hair. We relish the cool freedom of light rain. Savoring the moment, we extend our walk to the woods, enjoying the stillness after the rain. There are no squirrels scurrying. No birds flying or singing. The moss is greener. The smooth stones on the path glisten. The spider webs catch the mist, becoming more visible in the grass. The foliage on the  trees protects us as we forge ahead. The air is fresh and clean after the rain. What does  your nose notice Dwight?

Protected by the trees, we fail to detect the increase in precipitation. We are more than a mile from home as we exit the woods to a steady rain. We get soaked. You shake from head to tail every 10 feet. My hair is plastered flat to my head, as water streams off my nose. Your short fur and my light jacket, with no hood don’t provide much protection. When we finally arrive home, my slick, wet hand can’t grip the doorknob. You wait patiently, as I struggle to let us in. You shake water all over the kitchen floor. I towel you off, which you seem to enjoy. I shower and change. Will we walk between showers again? Risk the rain without an umbrella? I hope so Dwight. Thank you for showing me the woods after the rain.

Gone Again

This is the fourth time Dwight. It was my fault you got out. I heard the trash truck coming and ran out the front door to deposit one more bag in the can before pick up. The door must not have latched. I heard the hinges creak as a wind gust blew it open. I turned to the noise only to see you loping across the yard. The rich  mixed scents of the trash truck didn’t cause you pause. Head down, you took off with a sense of purpose. Freedom. You crossed the pedestrian bridge cut through to an adjoining neighborhood.  You are too quick for me to catch on foot. I called your name. You didn’t look back. Not even for the hot dog  treat command,  “Dwight come.”

I grabbed my cell phone, car keys, your leash and harness. I said a prayer for you as I began my driving search. It’s hard to find a hound from a car. Hounds don’t follow road maps. Their nose is their GPS as they chase scents through backyards, side yards and creeks. I searched between houses. I followed the paths we take when we walk. It was mid morning so there wasn’t much traffic in the suburbs. I drove slowly, trying to swallow a speed bump sized lump in my throat.  Why won’t you stay home?  What if you really are lost this time? I called John at work. I cried as I explained how you got out. He reminds me that you are microchipped and you have your id tag on your collar. “Someone will call,” he says. I did one more loop of the neighborhood, then headed back home, deciding to wait there, hopeful for your return. I was ruminating on the creak of the front door, the visual of you running, when my cell phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number. I blew out a held breath before answering. A man’s voice said, “I have your dog.”

My shoulders relaxed. I slowed the car and pulled to the side of the road. The caller told me his location. I knew exactly where it was. You were about 3 miles from home Dwight. The man says he is a volunteer at an animal shelter and keeps ropes, leashes and collars in his car. He says he found you zigzagging from one side of the street to the other before catching you. I pictured him lassoing you like a wayward calf. Roping those long legs to stop the run. He claims you came right to him.

My grip on the steering wheel softened as I pulled back onto the road. I turned into the neighborhood and saw you with him standing on the side of the street.  Handsome, free Dwight. Long legs, floppy ears, beautiful eyes staring into the distance. My boy. Relieved, I hopped out of the car. I called your name. You didn’t move. There was no tail wag. I explained your tracheal injury to your rescuer as I donned your harness. You stood aloof as I hugged your chest to snap the harness in place. I clipped on the leash and led you the back of the car. You made no effort to get in.

This stranger must have thought you have a miserable life with us Dwight, since you showed no eagerness to see me or get in the car. I wanted to tell him you have a fenced in yard, two dog beds, a deer antler and bully sticks. You get nitrate free, all beef hotdogs for treats, you go on 3-5 mile walks every day, and you are brushed and petted as much as you allow. Instead, I tried to coax you into the car. He watched, as we did our car loading dance.  You stood, aloof, having none of it. I got beside you, bent down and picked up your front legs, placing your paws on the back bumper. Then I put one arm under your belly, and one on your backside. I lifted and pushed, causing you to move your front paws over the threshold. I call it the accordion dance. Once in, you stood, matter-of-fact, gazing out the window. I thanked the gentleman again, promising to make a donation to the animal shelter where he volunteers.

D Dog. D Man. Dwight. I wish you could tell me what you want. What you need from us. This running away and aloofness is discouraging. But I will persevere. I will walk you more. Train with you more. Talk to you more. Your job is to allow me the opportunity to spoil you. Together, we can make a success story. Thanks for allowing me in your life, Dwight.

Houndini

To encourage bonding, I have started feeding you dinner by hand. You seem to enjoy our routine. I scoop the brown crunchy nuggets with the black bits into the bowl as you watch attentively. I place the bowl on the kitchen table before giving you the hand command, with a verbal reinforcement, to sit. You oblige dutifully, eyes ever on the dog dish. You wait patiently as I grab the first handful from the bowl. Then you stand, focused on my fist.  Your soft mouth scarfs the food before I can fully extend my fingers, leaving a slick slime across my palm. Tail and butt wagging, you eagerly wait. The dry food sticks to my hand as I grab more. This time I pause my food fisted hand in front of my nose. I am rewarded by brief eye contact with your beautiful brown eyes, lined in black. Well worth the 10 minutes it takes for me to hand feed.  I hope you are beginning to trust me.

You haven’t run away for almost a week. You enjoy our feeding times and we are making small strides with our training. I’m thinking this adoption is going well. You follow the Canine Good Citizen Commands about 60% of the time. You seem eager for the practice. Is it the one on one with me? The hotdogs? The praise? Pretty sure its the hotdogs. I buy you nitrate free beef hotdogs. I have to hide in the bathroom to break them into tiny leathery pieces, because you get so excited when you smell them. You sit as soon as I come out of the bathroom. If I ignore, by not giving you some hotdog, you slide your front legs out, ever so slowly, until they are perpendicular to your chest. The down position. Watching this graceful display of canine antics without a verbal command or hand signal makes me smile. And you do it every single time I come out of the bathroom now. My goofy, gentle boy. You are a comedian.

Despite all this progress, we still have some issues Dwight. The crate being the biggest one. You were fine sleeping in there the first week. You were even fine going in there some during the day, even napping there, with open door, on occasion. So what happened? You started howling at night. A sorrowful noise. Not quite a howl or a whine, but a combo. We call it whoughling. Not a pleasant sound to fall asleep to. Hoarse, high-pitched, sometimes frantic and piercing.  You were fed, exercised, toileted. You went into the crate without a bother. It was after we got into bed that your night noises would begin.

The vet advised that it would stop if we ignored you for a few nights. Katie suggested moving the crate from the office to the den, or even upstairs. After asking for help, we chose to ignore both sets of advice, sure that you were just adapting and would settle soon.  John and I took turns getting up and down with you in the night. Hand feeding, sleep disruptions. Reminiscent of the baby days for sure. You were ruling the house Dwight.

One evening we crated you when we went out to dinner. There are 2 parallel latches on the crate. One at the top of the door and one at the bottom. In his haste to exit the room before you started whoughling, John failed to lock the bottom latch. Imagine our surprise  when we found you asleep by the coffee table in the den when we returned from dinner. We were only  gone 2 hours. In that time you managed to bend the bars at the bottom of the crate door and squeeze through a tiny opening. What contortions did it take for you to push yourself out of that space? How long did it take you?  Dwight you truly are the great Houndini. The hound escape artist. I respect your need for freedom. The crate is going to the garage, bent bars and all, where it will gather dust.

Mindful Hound

You ran away again. John left the side door open enough to let the scent of freedom into the house. You smelled it. As he was retrieving a bag from the car, you loped by.  Running with intent, head high, you ignored his whistles, callings and hand claps. Third escape in less than two weeks. John chased after you. A young boy heard him calling  and nabbed you before you got too far. You showed no remorse for leaving, being caught, or returning home. You truly live in the moment Dwight. The mindful hound  lesson I learned today: If you see an opportunity, don’t hesitate, take it before it disappears. I will try to adopt this philosophy. I tend to let the past haunt me and  the future scare me, which crowds the present, distorting opportunities.  Watching you, allows me to see that right here, right now is what matters. You are glad to see me when I come in from collecting the newspaper or the mail. Gone less than 30 seconds, but it’s a whole new moment for you.

I wonder if you remember your past. How did you acquire a tracheal injury and end up at the SPCA? Does the uncertainty and unpleasantness of those events effect you currently? I know a little about tracheal injuries. I had a tracheotomy once. I don’t remember the procedure. I was put in a coma, so that I wouldn’t pull out the plastic tube that was inserted into my airway. I couldn’t move my arms or use my hands, so I’m not sure why I was put under. I awoke to the sound of a machine that made noises like a dime store tambourine breathing for me. I was scared. Confused. Pissed. I didn’t know what had happened to me, but I couldn’t talk to ask questions. My husband was there for me, as he always is. I find it hard to forget that piece of my past.

Who was there for you Dwight? Who comforted you at the SPCA? You were at the shelter before going to the prison. I was in ICU before going to Rehab. I was still trapped and longed to walk in nature. I dreamed of walking barefoot over stones. What did you dream of? Maybe following the scent of a deer, through muddy fields, where tall weeds tickled your ears. Freedom. We both have tasted it. Lost it. Found it again. I vow  to give you as much freedom as I can. We will never take our walks for granted. Rain, snow, sun, ice, fog. It’s all beautiful and there for us to enjoy. Be patient with me Dwight. I may not walk as fast, but I promise you will never have a more grateful walking partner. Together we will notice buds on tress,  variegated greens on mosses, bumpy bark on trees, feathers on the path, sweet bird songs, fog kissing the creek. We will feel the warmth of the sun on our backs, the chill of the wind on our faces, and catch snowflakes on our noses. We will smell the richness of fall, the sweetness of spring, the heaviness of summer, and the fresh of winter.

We will enjoy our walks Dwight. We won’t hide our scars, just leave them be. That’s the past. Don’t look back. We aren’t going that way. I need you to keep me mindful of the moments. We need each other for love and kindness. Shared. A dog and his lady. Let’s begin our story together Dwight. Thanks for keeping me mindful.

Containment Issues

The Pen Pal program checks  up on  the dogs and their adoptive families at the end of the first week. I was grateful when Katie, the Pen Pal trainer called to check on us. I confessed that you had escaped the back yard twice in less than a week. I told her that between John and I, you are walking 6-9 miles per day, that you are eating well and sleeping in your crate. I shared this with Katie in an attempt to defend my dog owner skills. I’ve had dogs all my life. I know dogs. But maybe not hounds.

Katie listens kindly to my litany on dog care before saying, “sounds like you have containment issues.” We have raised two kids and a dog in this house without a problem. I suggest that maybe we need an electric fence. She advises that Pen Pals does not endorse invisible fencing.  This is embarrassing Dwight. Katie schedules a home visit to discuss our adoption struggles.

You are delighted to see Katie and Rob. You pounce on your front paws and circle excitedly around their legs. This makes me a little sad. I have never seen you this excited. You sit by Katie’s side. I watch her twirl your ears as we discuss your wandering ways.

She gives me encouragement and direction on how to best  “contain” you. I am to use the same door consistently to let you out to the back yard. You will not use, nor see the gates along the fence line used. She suggests gating the deck as needed for smaller containment. I will practice training commands with you on a 20 foot rope lead in the backyard to get you used to its parameters. Katie recommends that I hand feed you to encourage bonding. I am hoping this will allow you to trust me more. I might even get some eye contact.

We have a lot of homework Dwight. I also ask Katie if she could assist us in earning Canine Good Citizen together. You achieved this with your inmate, but you don’t seem ready to follow commands consistently with me. To pass the test, we must trust and respect each other. I will ask you to sit, go down, wait, and come when called. I might need a whole lot of hotdogs for this. You will also have to accept a friendly stranger, allow grooming, demonstrate good leash manners, and separate easily from me for 3 minutes. The leash manners could give us trouble, as we have no rhythm when we walk. We trip over each other with lots of stops and starts and leash tangling.

We just need to be sure of each other Dwight.  I respect your houndness; a little aloof, easily distracted and heavy on the singular mindedness. No multitasking for you buddy. When you smell or see something that intrigues, you go into a Zen-like trance. Truly in the moment. Maybe you can teach me how to be more mindful, while I teach you Canine Good Citizen skills for suburban living.

Thank you Katie and Pen pals for providing us guidance and support on this journey.

Don’t Fence Me In

There are all kinds of fences in this neighborhood. Some are decorative, while others serve a purpose. Fences enclosing gardens to keep critters out. Fences around yards to keep kids and pets in. Some homes here have a low white picket fence facing  the street side. A real Norman Rockwell look. Many have continued that small fence to include the whole back yard. The height is perfect for small dogs and toddlers. Some folks have invisible fences for their dogs. This seems effective. I’ve seen large dogs that won’t cross that line. Invisible to us, but well-known by the dog.

Our backyard is surrounded by a tall wooden picket fence, the color of driftwood, weathered  and stained green with algae. It could easily contain miniature donkeys, pigs, goats, a cow or two, and even non-jumping horses. A gentleman’s livestock yard, if our neighborhood allowed it. This old fence worked well for our dog Trudy. We could leave the gate open and she would not wander. But, not you Dwight. You are  a “runner.”

You were excited on your first back yard experience, leaping  like a gazelle as you discovered every square inch of our quarter acre. You gazed through the fence into the wetlands. Bare winter trees allowed a deep view into the woods and the creek. Your nose allowed you to go even deeper. You quietly  watched while other dogs walked by on the community walking trail . But you were still confined Dwight.  I watched you. The artist tracing the fence line with your nose. Testing the boundaries.

John and I went inside, giving  you a little privacy with your explorations. Your first escape was easy. We were in the house less than 5 minutes when the doorbell rang. Our neighbors were walking with  3 kids and a small dog down the walking path. You, being so charming, jumped up and draped those big paws over the fence. Your paws, ears, and beautiful brown eyes lured them over. They spoke, they petted, stroking your head and ego. Tail wagging. Everyone happy. They continued their walk and suddenly discovered you on the path beside them. When they tried to grab you, you took off. They rang our bell, advising us that you had jumped the fence. You were gone. Not even in our lives long enough to cover the den rug with dog hair, or muddy the kitchen floor. Worst of all, you had no collar. No name tag. Dwight, the delinquent dog with no identity. What had I done? I am responsible for you. I let you down.

You escaped with no means to tell anyone where you belong. I’m so sorry Dwight. I said a prayer for you. John got in the car. I walked the path. Several neighbors joined the search. In less than 5 minutes, John came home with you in the car. A family up the street saw you trolling their fence line. They welcomed you to their backyard to play with their dog. Your first friend in suburbia, Dwight. Belle, a Silver Lab. I was grateful for your capture. I went and got you a collar and id tag immediately.

I placed the red collar loosely around your neck. I know you have tracheal issues, but you didn’t seem to mind. The red leather and the silver bone shaped tag looked smart, giving you an air of belonging. I hope to make you feel that way too. Collar donned, we headed to the backyard. This time I watched your every move. Once again, you sniffed out the fence line, pacing the rectangle it forms. I was anticipating a leap over the fence. Suddenly you dropped to your belly and commando crawled under the fence at a place where three pickets did not touch the ground. There was barely a three-inch opening that you managed to slither through. Way too fast and easy. This was not your first fence rodeo. This must be how you escaped before. You didn’t jump. Not you Dwight. You won’t even jump into my car. You were gone again.

This time you made it to my friend Marchia’s house. She lives about a mile from here. She was walking her hound when she heard the jingle of your tag and then saw you galloping through the yard. She called her son to assist with your capture. They were able to coral you. Marchia was unaware that we had adopted you, until she read your tag. She called and  John went and collected you from her garage. He brought you in the house and promptly walked the fence line, fixing lose pickets and suring up any gaps.

Two escapes in 2 days. Two new friends. Belle and Boomer. Dwight, I promise to exercise you more. I will do my best to make you feel at home here. All I ask is that you stay in the yard. Give us a chance Dwight.

 

Homecoming

No more prison for you. Today you come home to me. Your new home. I hope you like it. Katie, the Pen Pal Trainer, volunteered to bring you to her kennel, so John and I don’t have to drive all the way to the prison to retrieve you.

John put the crate together and  lined it with a clean, fresh towel. I washed the cover from Trudy’s old bed before placing it next to the couch in the den. I bought you a new toy. A black and yellow, striped tiger. He’s flat and stretches and squeaks. Perfect for tug of war. We kept a few of Trudy’s toys for you too. A flat, grey elephant with a squeaker in each leg, and a brown, stuffed hedgehog. Her favorites.I retrieved the pet mat shaped like a bone, and washed and filled the water bowl. John and I set off for Katie’s house, confident that we were ready for your arrival.

Lucky Dog Kennels is the name of Katie’s boarding business. I hope you feel lucky Dwight. I do. I’m getting a new dog friend today.  Katie has several dogs. She takes one of them,  Django, a Dachshund/Jack Russel mix, with her to work at the prison. She told me that Django is your best friend, saying that the two of you had great runs during free time at the prison gym. It’s comical to think of the two of you running around. I visualize an Antelope and a Pigmy Hippo. Not a likely combo. I hope you wont miss Django and your inmate too much.

On the drive to the kennel, I notice the open fields and patches of woods in this rural area. You’ve probably always lived in the country. I’m sure the smells are richer here, deeper than what you will find in the suburbs. Freshly mowed hay, newly turned dirt in plowed fields, cows, cowpiles. It must be hound snout paradise. How will life in the suburbs be for you? Remember, I promised you. No prison, no hunts. You get to be a spoiled, family dog. We have woods and wetlands behind our house. Herons, raccoons, foxes, and even deer are spotted there frequently. Maybe a new palate of scents for you.

We pull into Katie’s. Rob, her friend,  brings you out to us, a short lead attached to your harness. You show no emotion. Not excited to see us. Not particularly nervous about leaving the kennel. I twirl your ears, and pat your head as Rob discusses the paperwork from the prison. The inmate has written a letter of introduction for you. We open the back of the car. You stand, stoic, staring into the SUV.  No amount of coaxing will get you in. You aren’t trying to run away either. You just are. Rob puts his arms around your belly and lifts you into the car. We shut the hatch. You stand, facing forward. John and I get in the front. You continue to stand in the back, “surfing” as we wind our way home. I wish you’d sit down. We all seem a little uncomfortable.

We pull into the driveway. You jump from the car. I am grateful we don’t have to lift you out. You run circles in the driveway and pee in the front yard before coming in the house. You pace from room to room, door to door. No noise, just pacing. You find the water. Take a drink.

We take you outside to the fenced backyard. Now you look excited. Your long legs leap from corner to corner of the yard. Head jerks, ears flap. We assume this is freedom for you. No more jail cell. No more tall chain link fences. We all have adjustments to make. Welcome to your new home Dwight. We’re glad you’re here.