Sunday, October 30, 2016

I fell in love with our neighbor's dog through the fence. And when they abandoned her, we adopted her.

We brought our first dog home on Halloween.

That was cool. In fact, one of coolest things ever for both humans and dog.

But that first day wasn’t cool, because she wasn’t a dog yet. She was a 60-pound chimpanzee on a pogo stick who launched herself in spasms of glee at everything that moved, especially the cats, turning them into hissing blurs of fur.

Afraid one ring of the doorbell from a trick-or-treater would make the cats disappear forever, we turned off the porch light and prayed for no visitors. When we finally crawled into bed hours later with the dog secured in the garage because we didn’t think to get a crate, my husband and I looked at each other and said, “What the f--k did we do?”

What we did was adopt a 13-month-old dog who had never been taken for a walk or taught any manners. I know that because I watched her all those months in my neighbor’s yard, where nearly all of the time she had nothing to do but watch me. 

So she dug a hole under the fence to stick her head through and see me better. Soon I was talking to her all the time, greeting her by sticking my hand through a knot hole in the fence so she could lick it, and playing chase with her by running from one end of the fence to the other. 

At night I’d sit at the fence and call to her. She would come and lie on her side, stick her leg through the hole she made and I’d hold her paw, telling her some day I’d take her for a walk.

But the week my husband came home with a leash we noticed she was no longer in the yard. I looked for her in the animal shelter and there she was, in the very last cage, after being found wandering in the hills several miles away. I wasn’t sure it was her at first because I had never seen her ears or even her whole head before. But she knew it was me immediately, jumping up and pawing through her cage to reach me.

After giving her owners 10 days to claim her, we legally adopted her and finally on Halloween night, we brought her home. The next day I borrowed a crate so she could sleep in the house, and after seeking help from a dog trainer, I quickly got her to stop jumping on me. 

It took much longer, however, before the dog and the cats could be left alone together, even longer before I could walk her without her pulling on the leash, and even longer before anything left in the back yard would not be chewed to bits.

I don’t think she will ever learn to avoid skunks or to not run up to new dogs, despite one taking a chunk out of her side for being rude, but she knows the driving routes to and from our favorite parks so well that she will tap my shoulder with her nose if I make what she decides is a wrong turn. I spent more than 40 years being a devoted cat person, but few things now give me more joy than watching my dog running free, then sprinting back to me, her tongue flapping.

That first night, we were scared we had brought home an uncontrollable beast. Now the only thing that scares me is imagining life without her.