Love Me, Love my Dog

March 27 2011

One day a few years ago, a new sign appeared along our road.  Apparently aimed at interlopers, it announces: “Clean up after your dog.”

The sign reminded me of Mycroft and Kirk, two of the most wonderful Golden Retrievers that ever deposited a pile in a neighbor’s driveway, on the path to the school bus or under the kids’ swing set. 

When our children were growing up, nearly every house along our winding, narrow lane had a dog. Most of us took care of their needs the same way: we opened the door and let them out--by themselves with no pooper scooper, no leash and no fence, invisible or otherwise. After all, we lived in the country where animals ran free.

The neighborhood dog population was as mixed as the owners. Tiger, the huge Golden who lived two blocks from us, guarded our main intersection by waggling up to lick kids on their way to the bus stop.  Digby, a Wheaten Terrier, was a car-chaser who enjoyed biting tires, which proved to be his doom one slippery winter day.  At two in the morning, a mixed lab named Star loved to stand in our yard and howl at the moon, or what she thought was the moon, but may have been our landscape lights.  During my carpool duty, a collie-style mutt named Molly, often threw herself into my car and refused to leave. 

One summer evening I drove down the street to pick up a baby sitter just as Peter, aged twelve or so, stood in a neighbor’s driveway and threw a ball for Jamie, his fuzzy Scottish terrier.  The ball whizzed in front of my car.  I braked, but Jamie didn’t.  The image of Peter carrying off his beloved pet will always be with me.

     When we took Mycroft on long hikes, Digby trotted along as if we’d invited him.  One neighbor told me she enjoyed walking her dog past our house, because Kirk, the sweet Golden who replaced Mycroft, always bounded over and induced her to throw his gooey ball.

We were oblivious of nearby Bayside’s leash law until the Bayside police literally collared Mycroft at the home of one of his spring flings.  However, even that didn’t change our habits for long.  To us, Bayside, Wisconsin, was a citified suburb, while Mequon, Wisconsin, was country. 

A few years later my doorbell rang on a Saturday morning, and there was a Mequon policeman standing on the stoop. 

     “Sorry to bother you, ma’am,” he said, “but I want to warn you to keep your dog on a leash or on your property.”

     “My dog?” I said as I leaned out the door and spotted Kirk curled up on the grass in the sun.  “He’s right there in the yard, sir.”

     “Yes, Ma’am,” he said.  “I just followed him down the street and into your driveway.”

After that we lived pretty much as scofflaws, until the final incident.  It was February, and we’d had a lot of snow followed by a sudden thaw.  I got a call from Sarah next door.  With little introductory chatter, she announced she and her husband John were having guests for lunch, and he was out cleaning up the patio. 

I had a bad feeling about the direction of the conversation when Sarah went on to say how much they enjoyed seeing Kirk during his daily morning visits.  He was so friendly, she said, and they missed their old dog. 

Kirk liked to eat the bread they put out for the birds, she added, and then finished with a flourish.  After he ate the bread, he always left a pile right there on the patio. 

“A pile?” I asked.  How could my sweet Kirk do such a thing?  “Every day?”

“This morning John counted seventeen piles,” she said.

Seventeen piles convinced us to invest in an invisible fence, and Kirk’s roaming days were over. 

     It’s no surprise times have changed in the neighborhood.  Today Mycroft and Kirk, as well as Ashley the cat, are settled more or less permanently beneath our birch tree along the ravine.  Now when we go for a walk the only dogs we see are out of our reach on someone’s leash or barking at us from within their invisible barrier.  Not one of the dogs has a ball for us to throw.  Not one waggles up to flop over, charm us with a sweet face or beg to be petted. 

P.S. I fondly remember Digby’s replacement, Sheena, the Golden Retriever who lived across the street.  She died soon after Kirk did, but her presence that year eased our loss.  We were putting on an addition to our house, and every morning at seven a.m. the workmen showed up.  Every morning at 7:05 a.m. Sheena trotted up our driveway to join them.  She spent most of her day in our yard, but especially savored the ten-thirty sandwich break, when the workmen sat in a row along the garage wall.  She wagged and wiggled from one to the other, cadging food scraps and love, as if she had entered a heavenly cafeteria line.  She gained a bit of weight in her 13th year before she died, but what a way to go!