Saturday, September 17, 2011

You Can't Take the Country Out of the Dog

          You Can’t Take the Country Out of the Dog

             Change is sometimes hard.  Making a move to town after almost 30 years of country life would be an adjustment.  I was more worried about my husband adjusting to town life than myself; after all, I grew up in this community, and it wasn’t until we married that I lived in the country.   He, on the other hand, had never lived in town.  Little did I know, the biggest adjustment would be for my two dogs, Jackson and Mo.

            Mo was a black lab that we had taken in as a stray three years prior to the move.  Jackson, a boxer mix, was actually my daughter’s dog which we were keeping until she could find a place which would allow her to take him.  Both dogs had been freely roaming the countryside but now would have to be contained in a fenced-in yard.

            Jackson had other ideas.  We soon realized our six-foot privacy fence was no challenge to him.  He could scale it in a heartbeat, and Mo could dig a hole and crawl under almost as fast.  By the time Jackson rounded the corner to the front of the house and we marched him back into the yard, Mo would be out front wondering where he went.

            Our new neighbor, a sweet elderly lady, was very understanding and kind as she described Mo digging a hole, wriggling her way into her back yard.  As she told us how funny it was to watch Mo squirm this way and that, working her way to the other side of the fence, she was politely informing us that her rose bush had been damaged in the process.

            Worried that they might escape while I was at work some day, I had them micro-chipped.  On more than one occasion, the dog catcher would receive a call regarding a black lab and a brindle dog running the streets, and he would know exactly where to take them.  And they very willingly followed him back into the yard.  He was on a first name basis with them.  My dogs made the police notes in the local newspaper more than the town drunk.

            One day the dog catcher pulled into the drive to put Jackson back in, but when he did, Mo managed to get out past him.  He went back into the front yard to catch Mo, securing the gate behind him, and turned to find Jackson sitting in the front seat of his pickup.  Jackson had jumped the gate on the other side of the house and was ready for a ride.  I may own the only two dogs that look forward to a ride with the dog catcher!

            My husband replaced multiple fence boards, as Mo learned a faster way than digging a hole big enough to pass through was pulling at the base of the board until it snapped off.  She lost two teeth doing that.  One day, several family members came to our house where we all hung out in the garage, reminiscing and catching up with one another.  The dogs had gotten out by way of a busted fence board, so my son and nephew nailed a brand new one up in its place.  (We had begun keeping extra on hand.) About thirty minutes later, here came Mo, walking into the garage carrying a piece of the very board they had just nailed in place.

            My husband’s solution was nailing some of the broken off pieces of fence boards  crosswise at the base of the fence, not only providing additional reinforcement, but also fodder for redneck jokes.  It did partially curb the delinquent dog capers, but the only way to keep Jackson from jumping was to tether him to a long tie-out chain, something I had been determined not to do prior to the move to town. 

              Sometimes, if I was to be gone only a short time, I left them loose, taking a risk that they might escape.  Most of the time, they stayed put.  One afternoon Jackson jumped over to go visit my neighbor as she worked in her flower bed.  She stopped and petted him and went back to her task, figuring he’d go home after awhile.  But he followed her around to the backyard flower beds.  When she needed a restroom break, she went into her house and came back out, but Jackson wasn’t there.  She assumed he had gone back home.  Thirty minutes later, when she went inside, there lay Jackson, stretched out comfortably on her couch, wagging his little stump of a tail, but otherwise unmoving.  He had followed her into the house unnoticed earlier, and now seemed quite content in his new surroundings.  Eventually she coaxed him out the door.  When I pulled into my drive and saw him sitting in her front yard, I had no idea that he had paid her a house call.

            One night I heard Mo’s tell-tale sign that Jackson was out: a high-pitched, frantic whine, her way of tattling on him for leaving her behind, since she was now too fat and arthritic to dig a hole large enough to wriggle through.  Well past my bedtime, I grudgingly crawled out of bed, threw my robe on, and opened the sliding glass door.  I let Mo in the house while I went after Jackson, who had misjudged his leap over the gate and landed in the neighbor lady’s back yard and had now set up a mournful howl right under her bedroom window.

            Her fence had no gate on this side of her house, and I didn’t want to set off her security light by sneaking around in my bathrobe to the other side.  Surely if he jumped over there, he could jump back.  I shushed him and tried luring him back over the fence.  I dragged one of the lawn chairs to the fence, lifted it over as quietly as I could, and tried cajoling him into the chair with the idea that I could grasp his collar and help lift him over.  Silly me.  After nearly an hour, trying first one tactic and then another, I finally left him to sleep in the chair, on her side of the fence.  At least he quit barking and howling.  But now I lay wide awake, unable to sleep after my outdoor bathrobe excursion.

            Very early the next morning, before anyone else awoke, I dressed and quietly went to the far side of her house where I immediately found the latch, opened the gate, and snapped my fingers.  Jackson walked around the corner of her house, straight past me and into my yard.  Now why hadn’t I just done that last night?  I reached across the fence and pulled the lawn chair back over, and no one was the wiser.  At least, my neighbor never mentioned it if she knew.

            After six years, my town dogs now are adapting to change again.  Jackson has moved into my daughter’s new house in a larger city and is rapidly adjusting to the role of protector for their one-year-old.  Mo is adjusting to senior life as an only pet.  Change is hard, but if we stop adapting to it, we stop learning. 


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