The other day I was driving to work when a little puff of a Chow dog bounded across the street in front of my car. I slowed to watch him head toward a house, in front of which stood a chubby man in a dirty old t-shirt and boxer shorts, bending down and shouting something to the dog with a panicked and consternated look on his face. I was cracking up at this sight, realizing the man was too beside himself with worry over the dog’s return to care about going outside in his underwear, to be seen by me and any other neighbors up at that hour.
I had this thought: Nobody ever looks as ridiculous as they do when trying to recapture escaped pets. Especially small pets. Especially big men trying to recapture small pets.
There is a video from when I was in high school wherein my Dad is seen across the street from our house in Phoenix, in the middle of the neighbor’s rock front yard, trying to nab our tiny little Shih Tzu dog, Scootchie. She is fast and reluctant—a mere puppy full of energy and curiosity. And she gives him quite a run around the neighborhood in the 100+ heat of Phoenix. When he finally has her in his arms, the sight is hilarious, because he’s this 6’4,” 220-pound man with a 6-pound dog in his arms and an angry look on his face as he’s headed back. It’s almost a wonder that such a tiny creature could get to him like that.
And it wasn’t so much about the Scootchie’s (insert any dog’s name here) bad behavior in experimenting with freedom. It was the feeling that this dog had made him look like a FOOL! Because there is a sense of panic that grows increasing strong the longer the pet is out of one’s possession, the farther away from the house an owner gets during the quest to reclaim it, and the more witnesses there are to this mini-drama. The panic turns to relief once the animal is safe in one’s arms.
Yesterday one of my coworkers called to say he wouldn’t be in that day because he was pet sitting his parents’ cat while they were on vacation and the cat got out. He’d be spending the day looking for it. Everybody at work called bullshit, but I (while admitting the timing was choice—his last day at work before a 2-week vacation) declared the scenario entirely plausible. This has happened to me twice!
The first time I accidentally let Fattie, my roommate’s unfriendly, gluttonous, peeing-in-my-room-all-the-time Siamese escape while the roommate was out of town (whoops?). I was worried when I realized she was gone, but not enough to stay home from the first day of my second to last semester of college classes. I came home from school that afternoon to find her sitting like a superior little Sphinx on the roof of the house, just daring me to come up after her. I left that to our neighbor, a mutual friend of my roommate and me, who was much better in the feline department than I am.
A number of months ago, my parents left town for a few days. They asked if I would come over and take care of Juju, their tiny Yorkie. This would be an exceptionally easy task to complete in exchange for spending a few days in my parents’ roomy home, where the fridge and snack cupboards are always stocked and there was carpet for my little baby to roll around on. Deal.
I was sitting outside on the back deck one morning, drinking coffee and enjoying the view with the baby on my lap and Juju frolicking on the grass nearby. Well, that was the case anyway until suddenly it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard a peep out of Juju for some time and she wasn’t, in fact, anywhere nearby. Whoops for real this time. On investigation I noticed that the side gate did not reach all the way to the cement of the pathway on the side of the house, and Juju had taken advantage of this design flaw in a moment of spontaneous and wild abandon.
I wasn’t sure how long she’d been gone, but it could not have been longer than 5 minutes. Still, 5 minutes for a dog who’s experiencing her first taste of freedom is likely to be more than enough to cause the launch of a long and highly unpleasant search. I headed out first on foot, going about 5 houses down the hill, peering into the neighbors’ yards for a glimpse of the tiny puff of brown fur that is Juju. No luck. I then got into the car, driving oh so slowly down the hill a good mile, then oh so slowly back up, straining my neck in both directions as I went. She could be anywhere by now! And all the yards had so much vegetation I had no idea how I’d be able to spot her. What if the neighbors’ own side fences were similarly shy on length and Juju was currently lounging it up in someone else’s backyard? How much of my time and energy was I about to devote to this tiny creature?
I was imagining wolves, or just bigger dogs tearing Juju’s tiny body to shreds for the hawks who circle above the canyon behind my parents’ house to finish off. I was imagining spending the day at Kinko’s making one of those pathetic flyers you see taped to telephone poles, screaming desperate separation anxiety and promising rewards. And I was imagining the inevitable conversation I’d have to have with the folks, wherein I’d tell them that everything had gone well during my dog-sitting stint, except (oh!) the dog-sitting part.
And that’s when Juju appeared, trotting quickly down the sidewalk with an air of actual purpose, as if someone or something, somewhere, was expecting her arrival. Panic turned to annoyance as I wondered how much of a run for my money Juju was likely to give me. Thankfully, she is far, far more complacent (or is it lazy?) than Scootchie ever was, and what I feared would be a wild goose chase past the picture windows the length of my parents’ quiet, suburban avenue turned out to be a swift, dignity-sparing scoop-up.
I’m sorry the man I saw the other morning was not similarly spared by his fast-moving Chow puff, but then again if he had been I wouldn’t have experienced the joy of laughing at another’s expense as a powerful antidote to the thought of impending work and being away from my son for the day.
I realize fully, however, that as the mother of a quick-reflexed boy about 1 month shy of walking, my days of dignity-sparing chases involving tiny creatures are likely numbered. In the course of the past year, I’ve watched with an anthropologist’s curiosity as my two best friends transitioned from normal, calm women who make eye contact during conversations as their babies sit mellow on their laps, to shifty eyed wardens, never quite able to relax and always seated precariously on the edges of seats, ready to finger-sweep small change out of a mouth or dive in front of stove burner-bound toddlers with one split second’s notice. Just yesterday my friend Kelsi’s husband Jeff sat down on a chair across from me only to bound up a moment later with the words “oh my god, lookatim’ go” as he dashed out the door after his 20-month-old son, already two doors down the street and movin’.
My relief comes in knowing that anybody with kids has been there and knows the perils of the toddler chase, and anybody without kids is ignoring me anyway (because, Moms out there, doesn’t motherhood sort of feel that way? Invisible to the outside world and strangely okay with that for the time being?). I am trying to relax and enjoy the final days of the only semi-mobile child, but it’s tough, knowing what awaits. I can say, though, that whatever avenues and side yards the boy leads me down, they are sure to be at times messy and overgrown, at times all new and fascinating, and will, at times, make a fool of me, of both of us perhaps. But how much fun, that we’ll be traveling those roads together.