Rewriting the canine code

Maybe it’s the pack mentality. But more than a few times on our evening walks, a dog, out for a little self-guided tour, has latched onto my dog and I (and by “latching” I mean in a figurative sense, as in “to follow,” so get your mind out of the gutter). Most eventually trail off in search of a better scent, but on a recent warm night, we couldn’t seem to shake an extra curious heeler. Before hooking up with us, he was darting aimlessly in and out of the street. And given my own canine’s insatiable taste for the street and previous nighttime run-in with a four-wheeled foe, I coaxed the heeler into my yard. “Cliff,” as is turns out, was not far from home, but somehow had managed to make it across College on a busy Friday night. So after a failed attempt at reaching his owner, I leashed him up and escorted him to the address on the tag.

Although it was late, and I would rather have been slumping off to bed than hoofing it across the neighborhood, I knew it was my duty to ensure Cliff’s safe passage. It’s a sort of canine karma thing. You know, where you feel obligated to stop your car in the middle of traffic to corral a bewildered dog and drag him to your car by his collar, mouthing to disgruntled motorists “he’s not my dog” and shrugging your shoulders innocently – all in the hopes that someone would do the same thing for your dog, god forbid.

In the case of Cliff, I was to get my karmic pay back sooner than I expected. Living on the south side, pre-Fourth of July celebrations usually start sometime in February, reaching a feverish crescendo of cherry bombs, bottle rockets, Roman candles, M-80s and whip-its the first week in July. For jubilant pre-pubescent teen boys, it’s the next best thing to Mountain Dew and Carmen Electra in a wet T-shirt contest. But for innocent creatures with extremely acute hearing, it’s the equivalent of being down in the fox hole with your back to the wall. After a while, there’s nothing to do but bolt. As a result, my dog frequently goes on the lam this time of year, geriatric joints and 3-foot fence be damned. And the older he gets, the more crazed he becomes. So after several unchaperoned and hasty exits this year, we decided to keep him under house arrest. Nevertheless, dogs have to do their business, and therefore, there’s always that risk of going AWOL.

Such was the case on a recent night, when under the watch of a gullible friend, Bilbo was allowed out in the yard, unsupervised. Out for a night on the town, we later returned to what seemed a fairly copasetic scene. However, upon checking our phone messages we learned Bilbo had been out for his own night on the town. Fortunately, a kind person had recognized those tell tale, sketchy, dog-at-large symptoms and brought him back home and put him inside before anyone was the wiser.

I breathed a sigh of relief that he once again had dodged the bullet, so to speak, and called the person to thank her. I also called partly to ease my own conscience and let her know that, although my dog was found frolicking freely in traffic, I do try my best to keep him within eyesight and earshot.

See, while dogs may be man’s best friend, they aren’t exactly his smartest one. Sure they can smell a steak encased in Kryptonite and buried at the bottom of the sea in a cement vault, but ask them to look both ways before crossing the street, and you can forget about it. Thus, it helps to have some neighborly assistance.

Which is not to say I shirk all my parental duties. In fact, I am prepared to, and have in the past, accepted all responsibility when the gold or white pickup makes it to him before I do.

Unfortunately, outside the city limits, the stakes are a bit higher. Not only do dog owners have to face the long arm of the law, but the business end of angry landowners’ firearms. I’ve heard more than one friend’s tale of woe when a journey beyond the fenceline ends in gunsmoke and heartbreak. See, not everyone takes too kindly to canines in general, let alone ones lurking even remotely close to their animals. It’s a shoot-now-ask-questions-later mentality.

And for those new to the area or accustomed to city life, this philosophy may seem foreign if not downright absurd. After all, what if they shot Lassie when she was running to tell everyone that Timmy was in the well? It would have made for one unhappy ending – and forget about those “Nick at Night” reruns.

Yet, as the wide, open expanses of the Old West continue to give way to the subdivisions and mini ranchettes of the New West, such unhappy endings will likely become even more commonplace. And as we see some of the ways of the Old West fade into the sunset, for better or worse, maybe there’s one tradition worth preserving: that of good, old-fashioned, Western neighborliness. OK, so it sounds cheesy – but that “Howdy, pardner” saying we’re all so familiar with had to come from somewhere. In other words, if the neighborhood pooch is using your land as his personal hunting ground, try a warning shot, corral him by the collar and give his owner a ring, or better yet, let the professionals handle it. And if your canine companion has a severe case of wanderlust, perhaps it’s time to reel him in and teach him some manners.

Because, like it or not, the West is growing, and our living quarters are only going to get tighter. And while building bigger fences may seem like a good fix in the short term, perhaps we should work, instead, on mending existing ones.

– Missy Votel



In this week's issue...

July 18, 2024
Rebuilding Craig

Agreement helps carve a path forward for town long dependent on coal

July 11, 2024
Reining it in

Amid rise in complaints, City embarks on renewed campaign to educate dog owners

July 11, 2024
Rolling retro

Vintage bikes get their day to shine with upcoming swap and sale