Seven and a half hours. That's how long my dog, Zak, was missing last night. He slipped away from me when I was trying to latch the flex lead onto his collar. With freedom in sight, he ran from me, away from me, down the driveway, out to the road, in and out of neighbor's yards, to destinations unknown.
During the 7 1/2-hour vigil, I experienced a wide range of emotions: worry, sadness, anger, selfishness, relief, and elation. Mostly, I worried that Zak would be hit by a car. He's not street-smart, and I've already had three dogs killed in this manner. Jack, a Border Collie, was the first dog that was my very own. He was hit by a car in front of our house. I had to watch him die at the veterinary clinic where I worked. Cage #23. I'll never forget. Jack was not even two years old when he was snatched from my childhood.
After I bought my first house in 1989, the first thing I did was get a dog. Sam was a pound puppy, a German Shepherd/Terrier mix, with buff, wiry fur and erect ears. A good watch dog and a great companion. One night, I let Sam out to do her business. I fell asleep and didn't awake until after midnight. I got concerned when Sam didn't come when I called her; she always did. She was very obedient. I saw the answering machine blinking and my heart sank. There was a message about Sam. She had been hit by a car and was dead. My sweet Sam, the dog who'd accompanied me the previous year on my 7,000 mile cross-country odyessy.
It's been almost three years since Sly was killed on the road in front of the neighbor's house. Sly was a rebound dog, a German Shepherd/Black Lab mix that a friend found in a newspaper ad. I got her a few weeks after I lost Sam. Sly sometimes "escaped" before I brought her in for the evening. Usually when this happened, she'd run around the yard for five or ten minutes, looking for bunnies or anything else that moved under the fir trees. Like always, after a few minutes of freedom, I figured she'd be at the front door, begging to come inside for the night. So, I went in.
After about five minutes, I started calling her again. No response. Not that unusual for Sly. After she'd been gone for about ten minutes, I started calling again. I was getting a bit worried. I noticed a commotion down by the road. I knew instantly. A young man started walking up the driveway. He had hit Sly. He was very apologetic. A black dog, loose on the road, at night. It wasn't his fault. But, Sly was gone. She was a good dog. Eighty-five pounds of boundless energy, with a heart of gold.
Even if Zak wasn't hit by a car, I worried that he couldn't find his way home in the dark. If he ventured too far, I worried that he wouldn't be able to find his way home when daylight broke. What if he got into some kind of trouble? If somebody hurt him? Stole him? I worried that Zak didn't "love" or need me enough to come home. Maybe he would run away, run away from me forever. Then, I was mad that Zak ran from me, that he didn't come when I called him. I do everything for him. How could he betray me? Sly was the same way.
I experienced sadness. I couldn't image life without Zak, that goofy, sad-eyed mutt that was given to me by a friend, shortly after Sly was killed. It was an accidental litter. Zak's dad was a Tibetan Mastiff named Mongus, a working livestock guardian. Mongus inpregnanted my friend's Border Collie. Zak was the result. I was concerned about getting a rambunctious Border Collie pup, but my friend assured me that Zak was a calm, docile puppy, the runt of the litter.
When I got Zak, he weighed a mere 2 1/2 pounds and was full of worms. I called him a "puppling." He wasn't big enough to be a puppy. He looked like a skunk. Now, Zak is almost three years old. He weighs about 65 lbs., halfway between his Mastiff dad and his Border Collie mom. He's a beautiful dog with a beautiful personality. While his personality is probably more like an affable guardian dog, Zak's not lazy, he just conserves his energy. He loves to run and play, but isn't non-stop like many dogs or breeds. Like Sly. In fact, he's the perfect dog for me. Like Sam.
Everything in my house reminds me of Zak. I remember the first night I had him. He fell off the couch and cried. Now, the couch is one of his favorite spots. He's usually up on the couch when I'm watching TV or working on my laptop computer in the evening. He also likes curling up on the chair beside the front door, sometimes forgetting that Max is already there. When I go to work in the computer room, Zak usually follows me. Zak used to be afraid of steps and doors, but not anymore. Unlike Sam and Sly, Zak doesn't enjoy riding in the car. If the roads are too bumpy, he tosses his cookies. He drools a lot and gets the seat soaked. He tries to get into the front seat with me.
Zak's toys and bones are everywhere unless I put them away. He loves to drop his bones on the laminated floors, making a big sound. After which, he looks at me innocently for a reaction: who me? Zak's bed lays beside mine. Sometimes, he sleeps on my bed with me and Max. This past Christmas, my dad made a stand (out of oak) that holds Zak's water and food bowls. Zak loves to lay in between the vertical blinds in the dining room. When he was a pup, he chewed on the legs of the dining room table chairs. He ate the remote control for the DVD and ripped the whiskers from the teddy bear that sits on the bench in the living room. He and Max love to play. He and McComb are best buddies.
After Zak ran away, I searched for him for several hours, both on foot and in my car. My dad helped, so did a few neighbors. It's not very easy to find a mostly black dog in the dark. Eventually, we had to give up and hope that he'd come home on his own, or we'd resume searching in the morning. I slept on the living room couch so I'd know when he came home. I kept all the outside lights on, so Zak could find his way home and know that I was waiting for him. When McComb barked, I assumed he was calling Zak home. I woke every hour and checked to see if Zak had come home. In my dreams, Zak came home. But, he hadn't yet. What if he didn't? I thought about the people who put signs up for their lost dogs. I thought about the lost dog ads in the newspaper. How much reward would I offer?
As Zak was running around the neighborhood, I felt a little bit selfish, too. Zak is never free. He's either on the leash, in the house, in his kennel, or in a fenced pasture with McComb. Don't get me wrong. I don't think dogs should be allowed to run free. Today's world doesn't permit it. But that doesn't mean dogs don't yearn to run free and explore everything that they see, hear, or smell. Dogs gave up a lot when they "agreed" to domestication.
I don't let Zak do many of the things he likes to do or would like to do. He likes to get specimens from the compost pile. Can't let him do that. He likes to go in the basement and clean out Max's litter box or see what he can find in the trash. Can't let him do that. He wants to chase bunnies, but he can't catch one or even give it a good chase at the end of a flex lead. At least, I still let him drink water from the toilet.
One of my best memories of Sly is when I would take her to my parents' place, to the pond at the back of their property. Part Lab, Sly adored the water. It was so much fun to watch her swim around the pond and retrieve whatever I threw. She'd shake the water off her fur and eagerly plunge back into the water for another swim. She never seemed happier. Nothing was more natural for her. I need to find a similar activity for Zak, something that will allow him to express his natural doggy behavior more. I scoff at people who think they are giving their dogs a better life when they treat them more like people. Yes, Zak likes sleeping on the couch, but I bet he'd rather chase bunnies or play tug-of-war with afterbirth -- at least before bedtime. He ran from me because he wanted to be a dog for awhile. If only it wasn't so dangerous for him and hard on me.
At 3:30 a.m., I awoke to a clunking sound on the deck. I immediately got up and went to the side door. There was Zak. I knelt down and Zak came to me. I wasn't mad at him. I was relieved that he had come home. The clunk was a dead cat. Zak had brought home a dead cat. It was frozen, partially eviserated, and appeared to have been dead for awhile. I couldn't imagine that Zak would kill a cat. I doubt he did. He's never shown any aggression to another animal. And, he loves Max. No, this was a gift for me, as if Zak was asking for my forgiveness. I immediately thought of the book, "1001 Uses for a Dead Cat." A gift, when you don't know what else to give.
Once in the house, Zak ate heartily. He ate so fast, I figured it wouldn't stay down for very long, but it did. I examined my dog. My usually clean, nice-smelling pooch had an odor about him. He was a little dirty from his escapades. He was still pretty wired, still interested in what was going on outside, not sure he wouldn't still rather be roaming freely. I think he enjoyed his romp, but eventually got tired or hungry -- or maybe he realized that running is fun, but he belongs home with me, Max, and McComb. Eventually, he curled up on the chair in the living room and fell asleep, as did I.
Several hours later, daylight came. My heart was filed with elation as I looked over and saw Zak asleep on the chair, remembering what had happened. Max was asleep on the couch with me, and all was well in the world again. The three of us slept for awhile more, putting off the start of a new day. Once awake, Zak didn't seem his perky self, as if he was experiencing remorse, not sure if I had forgiven him yet. If he could talk, perhaps he would say "Okay, so I was bad. But I got you a cat. I know you like cats. It took me awhile to find one. Is all forgiven?"
All is forgiven, but I didn't enjoy those seven and a half hours. And I prefer orange cats that are alive, not frozen.