Yesterday the dogs ran away.
Now, don’t get all panicky. This is not a new thing. Those damn dogs run away at least three times a week, or, if I rephrase it to sound more like the truth, every damn chance they get.
I ask this every day.
I mean, they have everything a pooch could need within paw’s reach in our yard –all the sticks to chew on, all the mud and poop they could possibly need to roll in, a stock dam for swimming and drinking and splashing, plenty of squirrels and turkeys for chasing, a big moon to howl at and a nice warm basement for sleeping if they just scratch at the door.
But, apparently that’s not enough.
Since we’ve moved back to the ranch, that’s never been enough.
The snacks taste better at Mom and Pops’.
Or on the highway where construction workers are dropping sandwich crumbs.
Or at the neighboring oil site where they might land a steak, a night on the soft cushions of a camper or a shot at getting into the building where the lunches are stored.
You’ve heard this before. Since we’ve moved back to the ranch, all we ever do with these damn dogs is look for them. Go and get them. Cuss them and then load them in the back of the pickup and bring them home.
Someday we will build a fence around the yard so they can’t get out, but first, well, we need to finish building our own house, dammit.
But this is all besides the point. Because I’m having a moment here. A confusing moment where my annoyance at my wandering four-legged friends is mixed and muddled in with something else.
See, when I brought these dogs to the ranch three summers ago, all of us, humans included, didn’t quite know where we might fit in. The pug was pleasantly blindsided by the transfer from sidewalks to dirt trails, having only been alive and under our care and management for a little over a year, but Big Brown Dog, the lab I bought for my husband a month after we were married, had been with his crazy couple for a long series of misadventures and these days, I can’t help but wonder what the hell he’s thinking.
I mean, when I brought him to Husband, the poor guy’s little paws barely hit the ground before I disappeared for a two-week tour and he was alone with a tired man who smelled like oil and ate an unhealthy amount of Dinty Moore portable meals. He must have been terrified. I look in his droopy brown eyes and wonder what a dog like him has thought of our decisions through the years. I mean, we have never been a married couple without that brown dog at our feet, so if I could ask him, I wonder what he’d say?
Would he thank us for adjusting our lives around him? Would he appreciate that we searched longer and paid more for the only decent duplex with a yard in town that would allow dogs?
What would he say about our long jogs along city sidewalks and the only time he ever showed his teeth at a stranger? How would he explain that? Would he say he was protecting me?
What about our fights in the kitchen, the ones where I said he was wrong and Husband said I was too emotional and I threw my hands in the air and slammed the door, leaving the brown dog laying on the linoleum and my husband shaking his head. Would he say we were crazy? Was he wishing to be let out and away from the tension an animal like him can sense for miles?
What’s it like when it’s so close to him?
And what about the night we left him alone and he destroyed one of our good pillows, leaving a sprawling feather explosion covering every inch of the apartment and every inch of that brown dog. How would he explain that? What possibly overcame him? Was it for fun? Was that pillow threatening him somehow?
Oh, and our movie choices. Yes, I’d love to hear his opinion on sitting through an argument between vampires and Ryan Gosling. Somehow I think that brown dog would pick neither and then ask if maybe there’s room for him on the couch between us…all 105 pounds of him.
And all the times I cried so hard, out of frustration or sadness with only him to know what it’s like to see me so vulnerable. I don’t have to ask. Even if he could, I know he wouldn’t tell.
Then I would want him to tell me about the time he heard my song come on Husband’s iPod when I was away and he spent the entire duration searching the house, searching for where my voice was coming from, whining and wondering where I was.
Hondo the Big Brown Dog has a gray beard now. This is what I’m saying. He’s seven years old and these days the years are showing themselves a bit louder in the creaks in his joints and the slow way he rises from his spot at the foot of the steps in the morning.
Last week, after a particularly long journey away from home, Hondo’s attempt to jump in the back of the pickup left him tipped over backwards on the scoria driveway with a shaken confidence and no desire to attempt the feat again.
So I had to lift him. The day came when I had to lift him.
I tried to tell him that he’s getting too old for traveling so far from home. I tried to ask him why he wanders.
But to our dogs our voices are muffled, words cloaked in nothing but the emotion they can feel radiating from our bodies. I knew he couldn’t answer. I knew he didn’t understand, the same way I cannot understand what it is that he’s looking for when he roams.
I suppose it doesn’t matter anyway and I suppose I know what he would say.
He would say he’s a dog. My dog. And sometimes a dog just follows his nose, the same way, sometimes, his human gets in that car and drives away.
We all need to see what’s over that hill, he’d say…
And then he’d thank me for the lift.