Stray Dog

I believe it was James Joyce who once said that he could detect his wife's fart in a room full of farts. To know someone intimately is inevitable when you live with them. So too is the case with dogs.

In the kitchen, coffee poured, dog barks. I heed. It's the urgent, guttural growl to warn off potential invaders, which usually amounts to no more than the delivery man or the occasional skunk. Oh good, my pitching wedge has arrived, I think. (Cut to the image of my former pitching wedge entangled in weeds below the murky water hazard of the golf course where I last played.)

I rush to the front door and see a car and a man who looks vaguely familiar walking up my driveway looking in my and my neighbor's yard. I retreat to the kitchen to cut off his angle when he sees me through the window and rather than explain, he retreats to his vehicle. No sooner my wife shouts, "There it is! There's the dog!"

I race outside with bare feet and pierce through the brambles dividing my driveway from my neighbor's lawn and I see a beautiful yellow lab pup looking a bit confused. It warily approaches as I gesture come here, already imagining the glory I will receive for reuniting it with its owner. It draws within a few feet and then darts through an opening in the bramble and down the road.

I give chase, bare feet on roughly paved street, ooh, ouch, ooh ouch! The dog looks like it's on ice skates compared to me as I struggle to keep it within my sight line. It crosses the street and heads to its home, I am too far behind to take credit, so I turn back. As I do, I see the car that was in my driveway only moments ago and I flag it down as if there's been an accident.

"Looking for your dog?" I said, "I just saw him go back to your house."

My neighbor looks at me, he's younger than I initially give him credit for and he shakes his head the way men do when they're at a loss for words, "What a pain in the ass. Thank you!" I raise my hand to signal all is well and then gingerly walk home as if across a bed of hot coals.

I remember when I was on a business trip in Cleveland and my phone rang during a meeting. I ignored it and then it rang again from the same line, so instinctively I got up and took the call thinking it was an urgent matter.

"Hi. I have your dog, Riley," the man said. I frantically ran through the likely scenarios before deciding that a request for ransom was to follow. "I'm at Grand Army Plaza," and then I hear other concerned voices in the background. The caller breaks away, "I don't know whose dog it is, I just called the number on his collar." I patiently await his return and then I hear a woman say, "There's a woman looking for her dog, she's on her way."

The caller returns to our conversation and says I think someone is coming to get him. I conclude that it's my wife and thank him for his help. He says he has to go as he borrowed the cell phone from a passerby.

My wife describes the scene later and I know it all too well. As was often the case in Prospect Park, dog owners would let their cooped up animals off leash to frolic and play and sometimes tussle with other dogs in the neighborhood before 9 a.m. each morning. Our dog would usually stay within a reasonable distance, but every so often he'd look to the horizon and then put his paw on the gas. The morning he ended up in Grand Army Plaza was the farthest he'd ever roamed. 

There was another time when my wife was unloading him from the car when he leaped over her arms and on to the busy Brooklyn street. She ran out of her sandals leaving the car open with her purse inside. She gave chase, but didn't have to go too far as the dog ran into the local pet food store where the owner subdued him with a treat. Once my wife had him on the leash, she walked back to find one person holding her shoes and another standing watch by our car. 

I wondered then as I wonder now what makes dogs want to stray from the perfectly comfortable and safe environments that we do our best to provide for them.  

As I walked my dog past my neighbor's house later that day, I saw the yellow lab pup pawing at the window of his beautiful home, gazing through it with wonder in its eyes.

My dog, Riley.