Runaways

We’ve had our share of late. One runaway is one too many. Let’s see…we’ve had four (if you count Gabriel thrice).

Let’s begin with Lucy Liu (officially, Lucy Wordsworth). As John likes to say, she’s a complicated dog (we have more than a few of those around here). Nobody can pinpoint exactly what Lucy is. I’d almost spring for one of those doggie DNA tests, but you know, she’s a mutt. Which is really the only breed I go for, so what’s the point?

We decided to adopt Lucy after our move to graduate school in Miss-our-i. Sophie the black—officially, Sophia Simone—was turning a little neurotic and needed a doggy friend. We had just moved and she was used to accompanying me to work at the bookstore in Kansas. Lucy had been adopted and returned three times and was losing her wits at a foster home with seven other dogs, all dachshunds. They warned us that she didn’t really like other dogs (uh, seven dachshunds), but she seemed to like Sophie, so we brought her home. We decided she was just picky, like the rest of us. A perfect match.

Lucy is one of those more human than dog dogs. It’s in her eyes; they’re liquid and soul searching. She can stand entirely vertical on her hind legs and makes a decent dance partner. She’s got springs in her haunches and is light on her feet. I’ve seen her bound over our back wall from a standstill. So no, it wasn’t a surprise to lose her. The surprise was her not coming back.

One of the boys must have let her out, and we didn’t notice for more than an hour. We spent the next 16 hours or so combing the neighborhood by foot and car and voice. Nothing. We started calling shelters the next morning and had an encouraging response from the pound. They had picked up a dog a block from our house that matched her description within an hour of when we think she escaped. When we got there to take a look we found her alone, caged off from all the other animals. I have a notion someone had already picked her out for their own.

One of the wardens, who proudly displayed his euthanasia proficiency certificate at the window where we had to do the paperwork to bail her out, gave us a good talking to and pointed out that we could potentially pay nearly $500 in ticket fees and court costs (she wasn’t wearing her collar with the appropriate tags), but that since it was our first offense, he’d talk to the head warden and we’d probably get a free pass. This time.

Since that day, Lucy’s jumped the wall (with us in plain sight) at least three more times. That taste of freedom seems to have only whetted her appetite for more. Not unlike our other truant.

G first slipped out unseen in the midst of a lively game of hide-and-seek with one of our favorite sitters. He may or may not have known how to work the screen door deadbolt that day (he certainly does know how now), but his primary motivation seemed to be telling our neighbors across the street that their tree had been knocked down in the wind. Nevermind that after crossing the street (!) he started banging on the wrong neighbor’s door shouting “Tree broke! Tree broke!” He was very shortly found and kept under close watch.

Occasion number two. Jonah and I had returned from an early morning walk to find G on the couch with iPad in hand. J joined him and I went upstairs to chat with John. I forgot to deadbolt the back door: mistake number one. Mistake number two: assuming that G and J would continue to share the iPad (J usually takes over after a minute or two). Mistake number three: I didn’t tie the backyard gate up high—an extra precaution we take to avoid (what I recognize now to be) an almost entirely unavoidable eventuality.

When John came down to check on the boys and found Jonah alone with the iPad, he apprehensively inquired, “Where’s your brother?” “In the backyard,” says J. To which he adds, “The gate is open.” Mad dash for the driveway ensues. There is shouting. I thought Lucy had escaped again and wasn’t very quick about joining the hunt. Tiresome dog. I had very little time to actually freak out when I realized it was my son that was missing because a barrel-chested man was at that moment walking up our driveway with the little runaway. He had seen G cross the street unattended a block or two from our house and thankfully intervened.

After babbling on to the man about orshes (G’s word for backhoes, diggers, and the like), he had led him back to our house. The man said he knocked several times at our door and then called the police. The police! Both John and I wondered: if they can charge us $500 for a missing dog, what happens when you lose your kid?!

There’s really nothing worse than knowing you’ve lost your child. It’s a kind of fear akin to sickness and maybe the ultimate failure. After all, our main job as parents is to keep the kid alive so that he can see adulthood. With both boys, this has proved more difficult than we were able to imagine in the time before they were.

G’s final escape (up to this very point in time) happened in Indiana, amidst a house full of relatively attentive family. Grandma Lita had fixed her famous biscuits and gravy, and I was acting as blueberry dispenser for Gabriel while he moved from trucks to toys to Winnie-the-Pooh to the fat cat Sparky and back to blueberries again. The back door was deadbolted. The front storm door was deadbolted, not that that proved to be an obstacle. When the G-train didn’t return for blueberries after (I swear it was only) a couple of minutes, the alert was sounded. I headed out the garage and John raced out the front door (followed by various family members). G was found a half block away at the duck pond at the bottom of a very steep and muddy embankment. He shared our distress but for reasons entirely his own: “Gaba’s feet muddy!”

So there we stand, and there we stay. John has since installed a new back entry door (with deadbolt) and screen door (with deadbolt). The back gate is never not tied shut. So far so good. But this quote from G.K. Chesterton strikes a chord deeper than it did before: “The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.”

Strapped down: the only time we know exactly where he is.

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