Wednesday, June 20th, 2007
Scout, the sweetest, cutest dog in the whole wide world™, and among the most industrious, has been crafting his own dog doors from which to exit our yard.
First, a dog-size hole appeared in the side gate. It wasn’t a dog-shaped hole as seen in cartoons—that would have been really cool—just a ragged security breach. We thought it was a fluke at the time. After all, that gate had consisted basically of long-since-rotten particleboard an ambitious kitten could have destroyed. Still, it came as a surprise: We’ve had at least one dog for all but about six dark days since we bought our house, and none before had expressed the slightest interest in escaping the confines of our admittedly dystopic yard.
The day of hole #1, le domestique called me at work to tell me the dogs had gleefully met her in the front yard when she arrived home. My heart jumped half a rib in my chest, because I immediately went to what-if land: What if they’d run away? What if I had forgotten to put Scout’s collar back on that morning—the collar I’ve been removing at night because I’m a sucker for a dog with mournful eyes that plead It burns! as he paws pitifully at the silky fabric draped about his neck? What if they’d run out into the street, each of them having the car sense of newborn bunnies, to become two more casualties of the NASCAR drivers-in-training who live in our neighborhood?
But such worry was entirely retrospective because, as le domestique told me, there they were in our only partially fenced front yard, happy as clams at high tide to be able to greet her TWO WHOLE SECONDS sooner than they might any other day, when they have to wait forever for her to get out of her car and cover the five long strides from the driveway to our backyard gate.
The next escape incident occurred several days later, when the dogs were separated for a full half day while Biscuit visited the groomer for her summer cut. A bereft Scout, who has surpassed mere cordial cohabitation with Biscuit to form a near-pathological attachment to his MENTOR, put a neglectfully convenient ladder to use and jumped the fence into the front yard. When le domestique returned home with Biscuit, Scout was lying on the front porch, no doubt exhausted from all that fretting. He seemed to harbor no inclination to go beyond the front yard; he was just bored in Biscuit’s absence and, in all likelihood, wanted to change up his scenery.
I can relate.
You may remember my mentioning back in February a brief stint in the mental hospital. It was, readers, an experience so lacking in stimuli I was inclined to attend everything on the daily grid, even nonmandatory groups addressing avenues far outside my personal experience. One can never really know too much about probationary meds-compliance issues for drug offenders. Then, in addition to the mandatory group therapy sessions and psychiatric consults, there were the optional occupational therapy classes: crafts (I finished only half my basket, leaving me nothing to show for the effort; completed crafts are kept in the contraband cabinet—yarn hangings, though undoubtedly rare, remain a concern—and the half-baked works of discharged patients are unraveled and recycled); sing-alongs (what happens in the psych hospital stays in the psych hospital, or so I warned my discordant fellow inmates); and “exercise.” The physical activities on offer were pitiful: either supervised time in the gym (a couple of stationary bikes and some free weights, the latter’s presence striking me as queer in a population denied shoelaces) or a supervised outside walk—neither of which option exceeded 30 minutes per day.
I don’t think one need be a mathematician to calculate that a population of folks fed six times daily (three “square meals” of fatty institutional food, plus three snacks), the vast majority of whom are on one or more prescription meds with weight-gain and/or metabolism-slowing side effects, really need at least the option of more than 30 minutes of exercise daily. Still, that was what was offered, and I jumped at every opportunity. During my scant four days inpatient, the gym was opened an even scanter once; on the other three days, we went for a walk.
The walk occurred on hospital grounds in the staff parking lot, but still, it was outside! We got to leave the sameness of the hospital halls and dayrooms and nurses’ stations to pass through the doors alluringly marked with cautionary “Elopement Risk” signs (which never failed to provoke an image in my head of patients running off to Las Vegas for a quickie wedding, taking their vows in pajama pants and unlaced shoes). I remember thinking how strange it was to so enjoy a walk through a parking lot—just to smell new smells, however tinged by the whiff of asphalt tar, and see the world immediately outside those elopement doors—and at the same time not want to go any farther. After all, I hadn’t committed myself on a lark, and the world beyond the parking lot was uncertain.
When le domestique called the dogs in from the backyard on a recent Saturday morning, only Biscuit responded. She called several more times before she ran to tell me that Scout seemed to have gone missing. She went out front and called his name loud and long, while I went to investigate hidden places in our backyard that might yield a somnolent dog. Scouring the nooks and overgrown hedges, I missed the obvious: a slat in our six-foot wood fence whose middle had gone missing. Before I even noticed the broken fence, Scout wormed back through the hole from the outside in and came bounding through the backyard, wagging his tail as if to say, “Look, I made the fence better!”
Le domestique generously offered to go to Home Depot while I kept the dogs in the house. She returned with four new planks, three of which we put to immediate use: We replaced the plank Scout broke, another that was on its last wooden leg, and the one next to the latter because it was so warped we couldn’t fit the new plank in without removing it. Scout looked on with a wounded expression, as if he had presented us with a craft he made—like, say, a half-finished basket woven from dark brown yarn—and there we were, blithely unraveling his effort.
I felt for the little guy. After all, the yard may be big and full of diversions, but how many holes can you dig, how many relics can you excavate, how many times can you bark at the same dumb neighbors doing the same dumb things before you need a change of scenery? I was in country for just four days, and the sameness of them seriously threatened whatever sanity I had brought to the party. Still, I have to be the mom here, not to mention the dad, nailing up the holes and keeping him safe, and that’s no fun at all.
Le domestique and I have been planning to landscape the backyard for some time, and this year we’re committed to actually doing it, especially given that Scout has an unfortunate tendency to bite the heads off weeds—cute with dandelions, not so much with foxtails. He’s aggressive toward other plants as well, as evidenced by our diminished birds of paradise, our no-longer-viable Brazil plant, several upended and de-potted aloes, and the climbing mandevilla that one day permanently ascended. Any colorful border flowerbeds or precious little vegetable gardens would quickly lose a war of attrition with the little yellow dog. And who are we to stop him? We may pay the mortgage, but the dogs put in the most yard time and squatters’ rights do apply. That’s why I’m thinking we may want to go in a different direction and make the backyard so enticing only a fool would want to escape it.
While I’m at it, may I propose that bounce houses would make a mighty fine (and inexpensive!) addition to psychiatric hospitals.
Ho yeah! The only problem with this padded room may lie in getting patients to leave it! Until such time, consider me an elopement risk, but don’t worry—I’m like as not to confine my meanderings to the front yard.