Saturday, November 29, 2008

"Need another 100lb tensile strength dog leash on aisle four!"

Our house in Borderland sits atop a steep hill in a neighborhood of other houses atop steep hills. The area was planned in the late 1980s to be nice and woodsy, with houses constructed of natural materials and not all on top of one another, like a typical suburb. Being a nice and woodsy area, though, we also live side by side with other things that live in nice woodsy areas, such as the family of five deer who frequent our yard. We like having them around, too, cause they're cute and have not yet started to eat our perennials. They also give the dog something to do because Sadie considers them her arch-enemies and barks at them whenever they stray too close.

A couple of Saturdays ago, Sadie was doing precisely this as the deer milled around the back yard, snuffling beneath the snow and leaves and eating the acorns they find there. The wife and I also watched, amused at Sadie's rage. For their part, though, the deer didn't seem to care one whit that the dog was barking furiously at them from behind the glass of the back door. Some even seemed to stare back in contempt while chewing up mouthfuls of acorns. That is, until the wife decided to open the back door and let Sadie out. I almost stopped her from doing it, cause I knew we'd NEHEHEHEver get the dog back in the house if she was out sans leash--at least, not for a long time. However, the notion of how satisfying it would be for Sadie to get to chase them was way too delicious to kibosh. It would be like Christmas morning for her--just pure joy. So I stepped back.

The deer all looked pretty shocked as Sadie came flying out the door toward them in a blaze of snarls. Sure, she nearly broke her neck slipping on the icy deck before she could get into the grass, but they all five vanished in a flash of bobbing tails from our unfenced back yard and were quickly out of sight down the steep backside of the hill. I knew there was no way Sadie would ever catch them, but in the five seconds I could see her before she too vanished down the hill, she looked like she was having a blast

Half an hour later, Sadie was still outside. This wouldn't have been so bad, except she knew we wanted her back in and took to taunting us, playing keepaway with herself. The wife apologized to me profusely, but I wasn't mad since I knew this was precisely what would happen. Eventually, we coaxed Sadie back in through the combination of hunger and a Pupperoni.

Cut to this past Wednesday.

A few hours before Thanksgiving relatives were to arrive, I decided to run a few errands and was going to take the dog with me. I was on the way to the garage with her when through the back window we spied the deer family nosing around in the snowy grass again. Sadie lit up with barking, running back and forth from the back door to the kitchen windows just making as much noise as possible. Again, the deer gave her the ungulate-equivalent of the finger and continued to chew, staring unafraid in Sadie's direction. Sadie dialed up her barking a few more notches, but this seemed to have little effect. The deer slowly and casually began moving toward the steep back part of the hill. Only one of them hung back, turned to face us and then squatted down and started to take itself a deer dump. And it took its time taking its dump, seemingly as if to say: "Hey assholes, look at me! I'm shitting in your yard! Whatareyagonna do about it? Huh? NOTHIN', that's what!"

"Do you see that deer shitting in your yard?" I asked Sadie. She indicated she did by barking even louder.

What I did next seemed like a good idea at the time, though I don't know why. Maybe I was just pissed off at my perception of the deer's bad attitude. Whatever the case, I had an instant vision of Sadie and me chasing after this deer and it running from us in terror. This seemed like a nice vision which could, easily enough, be made a reality. Before I could think it through any further, I grabbed Sadie's retractable leash, clipped it to her collar and opened the door.

Sadie blazed across the still snowy deck, hung a quick left through the walkway between sections of deck railing and was in the yard before I could step out the back door. About that time, she reached the end of the retractable leash's range and I suddenly felt myself jerked onto the snowy deck. It then occurred to me that I would never be able to maneuver my way through the walkway and into the yard without slipping on the ice and busting my ass on the deck, so I made a command decision to let go of the leash and save myself some pain. It banged against the railing once and was whipped into the yard, trailing along behind the dog as she bounded for the backside of the hill, just a-barkin'.

"Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit," I said as Sadie vanished down the hill. It occurred to me at that point that I might have just killed the dog. It was very possible that the handle of the leash would become entangled around a tree and the dog would break her neck, or even slide down the hillside and hang herself. Even then I could hear the leash handle cracking against trees as the dog continued her chase. Then all went silent.

As quickly as I could, I dashed into the yard and then onto my trail leading down the hill. It was slow going, what with the snow and the slippery leaf cover beneath it. I saw no sign of the dog, nor could I hear any indication of where she was at. There were no barks, and no more cracks of the leash handle.

"Sadie?" I called.


"Saaaadie!" I called again.

In the distance, to my left, I heard the sound of crunching in the snow and within a few seconds could see Sadie on her way back, traveling along the deer trail that intertwines with my walking trail. Dragging along behind her was the black plastic leash handle. I called to her some more and she seemed to be trying to get to me, but then the handle wrapped around something and she came to a stop.

I moved along the deer trail, being careful to hold on to whatever little trees I could reach. This was the steeper side of the hill, where going is usually pretty tough without snow and leaves underfoot. A misstep here could potentially mean a slide down the hill toward the rocks and then a considerably steeper slide down to the lower road beyond that. After a minute or so I reached where Sadie was hung and unwrapped the leash handle. It seemed broken, as the leash wasn't retracting into the handle. Then I saw that the reason for this was because it had been pulled through the two halves of the plastic housing and was pinched between them. Once I'd freed it with my now icy numb hands, it retracted a little, but not as enthusiastically as usual.

At this point, we were closer to the bottom of the hill than the top. From where we were, I reasoned it would probably be easier to move along the side of the hill and then down to the road at the bottom, where we could walk back on the road, which would lead a bit more gradually back up the hill (where we recently were attacked by yellow-jackets) and to the street in front of our house. Before I could put this plan into action, though, Sadie tried to climb up the hillside, wrapped the leash around another small tree and then slipped in the snow and slid past me and back down the hill, coming to the end of her rope, so to speak. That's when I realized that even if we were to try and make it to the bottom of the hill, doing so with a leashed dog was unlikely to work out well because of all the little trees she could get tangled around. That said, I sat down in the snow and slid on my butt down to her level, at which point I unclipped the leash from her collar and set her free. She vanished back up the hillside, no doubt in search of deer.

Once I'd freed the leash from the tree again, I too began the long trek back up the hill. By then I'd retrieved my gloves from my coat pockets, which helped quite a bit with the numb fingers, but going was still very slow. After a few minutes, I made it to the lower section of my trail and followed it up to the back yard, where Sadie was nowhere to be found.

Eventually she did turn up, but refused to get near enough for me to grab her. I tried my usual tactic of offering her a ride in the car, which is often enticement enough to come in, but not this time. She just moved further into the neighborhood and then down the hill toward the lower road, me following along. After 20 minutes of coaxing, she came within ten feet of the open car door, where I stood offering her safe passage and no repercussions for her disobedience (being as how it was my fault for letting her out in the first place). You could see decisions being weighed in her little doggy mind. Finally, though, she looked at me plaintively, as if to say, "I know I'm in such huge trouble, Pa, but I gotta run free while I have the chance." And off she dashed.

I gave a defeated cry of "NOOOOO!" but knew there was no use in standing in the street screaming at her. The neighbors probably think I'm nutty as it is. Instead, I climbed into the car and drove on to my errands. And when I returned, an hour or so later, Sadie was waiting at the back door to come in.

No comments: