In some ways, my neighborhood is reminiscent of 1950s suburbia. The houses are old, the neighbors are nosy and the kids abound. There is no breed bias. We have Piston the Pitbull, Doji the Corso, Ben and Maggie the hunting Labs, Prince the little Bichon, Sky the Corgi, and Reggie and Fluff the happy mutts. The dogs in my neighborhood come from all walks of life. They come from “Mennonite farms” (yikes), high priced breeders, friends’ “oops” litters, breed specific rescues and pulled right off of death row at the local pound. They are all varieties of trained and not trained and the methods are all across the board.
Temple Grandin, in one of her books, describes her neighborhood growing up. She sets the scene as if it was a peaceful existence for people and dogs alike, and maybe it was. She says that her parents would go to work, and the dog would go out to play all day with its neighborhood doggy buddies. When the family got home at dinner, they whistled, and the dogs came inside for the night. My neighborhood (with the exception of our two for obvious reasons) is something like that. There are no fences, no leashes, no boundaries and for the most part, every dog makes it home every night.
For an aspiring dog trainer and also someone who volunteers with rescue, it’s a fascinating neighborhood to live in. Some nights, I will just sit out on the porch and crack a beer and watch the dogs in motion. I watch them interact with kids and cats and each other. I sit there as the sun sets and chat with the neighborhood kids while they zoom by on bikes and dogs chase them and bark, and I’ll throw treats to Maggie and Ben and even Reggie if he’ll come close enough. Many nights, Ben’s human dad will come over looking for him only to find him snoozing on the porch next to me, and he’ll joke about “whose dog this really is,” but Ben is an old boy, and he just wants to get a belly rub and a cookie. He’s past the excitement of the young dogs. I enjoy his company; he reminds me of Smokey and makes my heart ache in a way that makes me feel more alive. He is getting on in years, he’ll be gone too soon, so every little moment I can snatch with him means all the more.
Some nights, I’ll invite Shelby onto the porch with me (on a leash), so she can watch the activity. I’ll sit with her and feed her treats every couple seconds to remind her that all these things out in the world are wonderful. In some ways what we’re doing is training, but in a lot of ways it’s bonding. It reminds me of the days when she was just a pup, and we were able to keep her on the porch using only a fireplace cover and the old iron rails, and she’d lay there for hours with her bully stick while Joe and I weeded and mowed. She’s different now, but she’s still a good dog all the same.
For all this idyllic wonderment though, my neighborhood is not Temple Grandin’s neighborhood. These dogs are not the dogs that I’ve heard spoken of. They don’t run around in “packs” and come back when their owners call. They tend to stick to what I’d call their “family” units. Ben and Maggie run together, Sky and Reggie run together, Fluff is mostly a loner, never straying too far from his porch. Prince (who is normally tethered), barks his little head off and scares all the other dogs away. This is my yard! He seems to be declaring, but really, he’s terrified and neurotic, shaking and growling when people or dogs approach and straining at the end of his tether, trying to get away. Not even Shelby, famous for engaging the most aggressive dogs in play, can make him play and so she won’t go near him, choosing to walk on the other side of the street instead.
Ben has bitten Piston a couple times, and Piston hides behind his owners whenever the black dog approaches. Piston, like our two, is normally on a leash and subject to much unwanted harassment by the off leash dogs. Reggie is skittish around people, slinking in and then dodging back again in sharp, crisp, nearly robotic movements.
Dogs’ names seem to be like echoes, bouncing off the sky and coming back as they’re shouted over and over and over again. When the dogs don’t come home, the owners curse and kick at the ground and go looking for them or push a button on a shock collar until the dog runs back, wetting itself as it does. And sometimes, like last night, they don’t come home at all.
We got home late, probably close to 11:00 p.m. We were at Joe’s dad’s house visiting with his dad, stepmom and stepsister. When we pulled into our neighborhood, one of the neighbors had a flashlight in his hand and looked slightly panicked.
Trying to mind our own business, we pulled into the driveway and went in the house. I retrieved Shelby from her crate to take her outside. Once outside, Shelby wasn’t settled, she kept running circles and leaping in the air which she only does when she’s supremely anxious. I wasn’t quite sure what she was anxious about, the yard didn’t look any different, and she’d been quietly laying in her crate when we got home. I turned around when she started barking and piloerecting and noticed our neighbor standing on our porch, running his hands through his hair and frantically demanding to know if Joe was inside.
I was able to get him calmed down enough (no luck for the same with Shelby) for him to tell me that Reggie was stuck in another neighbor’s pool and as we’re the “dog rescue” people we were the obvious choice to help him retrieve his poor frightened dog.
Before I even got Shelby inside, Joe was out the door. I put Shelby and Panzer in their crates, grabbed a bag of treats, and took off across the street. I hopped the neighbor’s fence and there was Reggie, standing in half a foot of muck at the bottom of the very deep, very slippery, but thankfully very empty, in ground pool. When the neighbor called the dog, he tried to climb up but couldn’t get traction, and whined while falling back into the muck.
Joe sent me back across the street to grab our long lines, which I did. When I got back, he attached one end of the line to his belt, and the neighbor lowered him down into the muck. Joe took the other long leash and snapped it onto Reggie’s loose choke chain. I winced and threw a treat down to Reggie, which he tried to grab but thanks to my poor aim, simply fell in the muck.
Carefully, the neighbor began to pull Joe up. When Joe was up, he started to gently pull on the long line attached to Reggie’s collar. I winced again as I heard the metal clicking and watched the chain tightening around the dog’s thin neck. Reggie thrashed his head and screamed, his claws extended, and I could see the muscles in his feet while he hurled himself over more than up. But he did make it up, with much urging and as little tugging as possible. When he got to the top, he threw himself into Joe’s arms, and Joe put his fingers in between the chain and Reggie’s neck to loosen it. Reason 9,876,552 why a choke chain should not be used as a regular collar (better not to use it at all, but I digress).
When we got back to the street, the neighbor unhooked Reggie, and he took off down the road (not toward his house), while the neighbor thanked us. We laughed and said no problem, and I called after Reggie that he better not get hit by a car after we’d just saved him. In the dark, no one could see my brows furrowed, but Joe could probably hear my teeth grinding.
No, I thought to myself as we walked back into our house, this is not Temple Grandin’s neighborhood at all.