In time my dogs figured out three ways to thwart the backyard fence: go over it; go under it; or go through it. They have pulled down the wire mesh and clambered over and out. They have dug like badgers in the dirt, wriggled under and run free. And they have pulled at it with their paws until the grid of wire has parted like the Red Sea and they were able to shimmy through. Apparently the grass is greener on the other side. Or something.
We tried the invisible fence, the tower-of-power that emits an invisible but powerful beam that, when the dogs go too far out, will beep annoyingly and then, should they go farther, smite them with a shock. That worked well for the most part, the exception being when a rabbit or squirrel lollygagged on the other side of the boundary, at which time they said, in their doggy heads, “The heck with it,” and ran like bolts of electricity arcing in the neighborhood air.
There was a time when, to bolster the invisible fence, I tied them to lengths of rope and looped the rope to the clothesline that ran across the yard. That worked well until they took a running start and hit the end of the rope at full bore, at which time the entire assembly of clothesline was torn from its mooring and they took off for a jaunt. It was a dark winter morning, and the twosome ran frolicking all over the neighborhood, trailing 15 feet or so of rope in their wake. Occaisionally they’d bark lustily as they caught scent of rabbit.
I chased them through backyards and front, across quiet backstreets, through bare lilac bushes. They never slowed down, and at times would pass tantalizingly close to me, the line snaking behind them as I dove in vain trying to get a handle on it.
Eventually they tired and came home for breakfast, panting like steam engines in the cold air.
In time I forgave. But I never forgot.
I built solid wood fences along two sides of the backyard. I sunk a steel pole next to the garage, ran chain link fence and put a gate along the driveway. On the far back property line I pulled lengths of wire grid between green metal sign poles hammered in the ground. They pulled down the 4 foot high fencing; I replaced it with 6 foot high. And all was well.
We retired the invisible fence, and the dogs aged and grew less frisky.
But the fence sagged over the seasons, and this past summer Thor managed to get out in spite of repeated repairs on my part. So in late summer I put a serious fence in place, a no-nonsense model of stout chain link mesh. I sunk corner posts in thick concrete, set the middle poles in holes filled with more ‘crete, topped it with a metal length of pipe and fastened it all snug with wire ties beyond the recommended number.
Thor and Riika, upon first seeing the fence, gave it a good once over. I watched them from my Adirondack chair, sipping a tall cool drink on a hot summer evening. They walked the length of the new fence like inmates at the wire, up and down, checking it, assessing it, wondering at its strength. And after a while, they gave it up. All was well. All was as it should be.
Until a chilly December morning when the dark of night had not yet given up the ghost to the gloom of a cloudy morning. I let the dogs out, made coffee and then idly wandered over to the window. Both dogs were agitated, pacing the fenceline. A week earlier they’d killed a rabbit that had managed to get into the yard, but had no easy way out. Now the dogs were out looking for more action. I sipped my coffee and watched with the confidence that comes with the dogs in a secure yard.
Thor walked the fence as if seeing it for the first time. He walked, paused, walked again, then stood. I could barely see him across the yard, lit as he was by the meager light of the outside overhead light on the porch. He was a dark smudge in the shadow at the edge of the yard.
Still, I could see clearly enough as he looked at the fence, and then in what seemed an effortless move, leapt as high as he could. His front paws reached the top rail of the fence; his rear legs scrambled for traction, gained a grip and then he was over.
I yelled for Sally and was outside in an instant. I could see him on the far side of the chain link, seemingly quite content as he ambled about. I walked to the fence and called his name. And what did he do? What response from my well-trained, obedient pup? What reaction to my command to “come”? He looked at me, met my eye and seemed to consider my request. Then he turned and ran into the darkness.
Well, what to do? It was, after all, 5:45 a.m., and the neighbors were slumbering. It was not the time to reach for the whistle that I use in the woods, the model that might as well be named “The Shrieker”. To yell mightily, however satisfying, seemed unneighborly. I was stymied.
I loped down the driveway to the front as I heard Thor raise his voice in joyful howls as he apparently scared up a rabbit. I could follow his progress by the shrill yelps as he gave chase through backyards. But wait! He was coming closer! His frantic barking was drawing near, and I looked north, to the corner. And here he came, rounding the corner, snow flying behind, running home to papa!
“Come Thor,” I called, sotto voce as they say so as not to further disrupt the calm of morning. Onward he came, in full stride, as I called his name; “Atta boy. Good dog.” He was a blur of dark shadow in the darkness, but coming closer with every bound. Ah yes, my well-mannered dog was coming as commanded!
He passed me running full out, never slowing. I had a fleeting memory of a song lyric that described a car that “…was hummin’ like a turbojet…” That was Thor: a turbojet, hummin’. He ran into the neighbor’s yard, where he tangled briefly with the guy wires holding up their large, inflatable Santa; the Santa bobbled drunkenly as Thor gunned it. Then he was gone into shadow.
Did I mention all I was wearing for footwear was a pair of flip-flops? Or that the temperature was in the teens? And that there was a skiff of snow that day? My feet were chilled; let’s leave it at that. I was warmed only by the rising tide of anger at my wayward pup.
Sally now joined the roundup, backing the truck wildly down the driveway and then heading off to circle ’round the block looking for Thor. The red lights of the pickup added a nice touch to the gloom, seeming to represent the elements of my frustrations combined with the festive lights of the holiday season near at hand.
We cornered him two blocks from home. He’d stopped to stand off with another dog that was inside a house and barking at our boy. One wonders what the owners thought on that dark morning as they bolted upright from a sound slumber to the sound of dogs barking loudly. Sally pulled up in the truck at the same time as I came paddling up in my stupid little flip-flops, my toes numb from the cold, feeling like the biggest dork on the planet.
Thor looked at the open door of the truck as if it was a fissure in the earth through which he had best not pass. He was looking thusly when I collared him and wrestled him inside, slammed the door behind us and we drove home.
It was 6 a.m.; my coffee was cold; my feet were achy with chill. Sally looked half asleep and unhappy with life. When we got inside Riika was on the table eating the cat’s food. I made more coffee; Sally started breakfast, Riika at her feet. And Thor, our peerless and fearless dog, worn out from his little romp, jumped up on the couch, curled up and took a nap.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander; call (715) 362-5800.