For all we go on about rules and the proper way to do things, it’s reckless freedom that people really like.
At least that’s how it looked when a big brown dog — a chocolate lab, maybe — broke out of her yard last week and got me talking to neighbors I’d known only from silent nods and tight smiles exchanged on my own pup’s morning walk.
I was fully on the side of rules and the proper way to do things in that first instant the stray charged into my day, running at me and Jack full bore from behind. She outweighed Jack, had bigger teeth than me and, with no collar I could grab on to, looked to be more slippery than either of us.
I shouted at her to get away and Jack and I broke into a run, but by the time we hit the next block it was clear that the interloper couldn’t have been happier with the turn her morning had taken.
A dog trainer told me not long ago that the worst thing you can do when you want to hush a barking puppy is yell at it, because as far as the dog is concerned, shouting just adds to the excitement of the racket it’s making. Likewise, I learned that morning that yelling and running only puts an extra thrill into the joy a friendly dog gets out of meeting a stranger.
This dog was much more interested in playing with me and Jack than trying to menace us off her territory, and with the threat of attack gone, it was easy — fun, even — to see where the recklessness of a stray dog loping beside me would lead.
Anyway, we couldn’t outrun her.
As good a time as we were having, though, someone was going to have to keep her from bolting into the streets that were starting to fill up with morning commuters. But not knowing how far she had ventured on her own before our paths crossed, I had no idea where she belonged. Reluctantly, I called animal control so she’d be safe until her family tracked her down in the pound.
Luckily for me and a few other dog lovers in the neighborhood, the dispatcher couldn’t say how long it would take an officer to show up, and anytime I stopped moving the dog got bored and wandered away. That meant the only hope of making sure she’d still be around when help arrived lay in keeping up our walk to the park.
As soon as we got there, the other folks on the path around the lake started talking to me. Well, started yelling at me, to be precise: “Hey, you need to have both of your dogs on a leash!”
But when the woman who offered up that rule understood that this was a case of the dog’s recklessness, not mine, she, too, got caught up in the exuberance of an uncollared dog running free. Keeping moving so the stray would stick with us, we shared a few words about what a good-looking girl she was and how much she was enjoying her escape.
Further on, I shouted a warning to a younger woman who was heading to the trail with a much smaller dog that the pup bounding all around me wasn’t under anyone’s control. She backed off to put in her own call to animal control, but caught up a couple laps later to make it a three-dog parade for a little bit and share some of the stray’s fun.
An elderly man with a giant smile fell into step with me while the dog broke off for a short swim, and we speculated together about where she came from and how she’d ended up on her own that morning.
The joy the dog took in her illicit romp was contagious, and didn’t even wane when the animal control officer eventually led her, tail wagging, to a crate.
Later, a friend told me where she thought the dog lived and I stopped by that evening to make sure the family had her back.
There she was in the entry when I knocked. By then she was wearing a collar noisy with dog tags just like the rules say, but she was still trying to jostle past her owners for the reckless freedom of the open door.
I hope Jack and I are passing by the next time she makes it.
Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.