Doggone Escape Artist

Published 3:37 pm Thursday, January 12, 2012

“Here, Gates. Come here, boy.”

These are not the words I would prefer to be reciting in the middle of the night from the edge of the property. Frankly, I would have much rather been in bed at that moment under some warm covers settled in with eyes closed and no worries.

But there I was walking up and down the edge of the yard with a flashlight calling with a mustered friendly tone for a dog that had just performed the disappearing act.

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Gates, who's getting up there in age (we don't exactly know how old he is because he was grown when he was gifted to my daughter) is normally a rather sedate beagle-sized dog. You could not find a more gentle canine. And he longs for attention, craves it-flops on his back at the drop of a hat with a rather begging look wanting someone to pet him.

We had begun to bring Gates into the house on occasion so he could have some level of comfort in his advancing age. I suppose he appreciates it, though he mostly just finds some spot on the floor and flops and seems happy enough.

On this particular night, I was going to play nice guy in the family, so I volunteered to take him outside for his constitutional.

OK, so far.

But, whether it was so late or my needle just skipped a groove at that particular moment, I extended the dog a measure of trust to which he has proven unworthy. Namely, I didn't bother with a leash and, as soon as we were outside, he was gone like the fog into the night.

No leash. That was the first mistake.

It wouldn't have been so bad grasping for a dog in the darkness if I had worn shoes. There was no need, I had reasoned that night. It wasn't that cold and we have a concrete area that extends out into the front yard. I'll just take a few steps, he'll take care of business, and we'll be back inside. Shoes? Who needs them?

Judgment error number two.

Number three was figuring that the slow-moving dog couldn't get away so easily, but some internal radar of his zeroed in on what I can still only reason was an invisible target and Gates-with me fumbling along behind-was plowing beyond the yard into the edge of the briar patch.

He knew that Rob doesn't handle briars in the dark without shoes too well.

Mistake four was forgetting the flashlight.

It would be understandable to have left an inoperable light on the counter, but I really have no excuse. I have two really bright lights that had sufficient charge. Only, well, my bulb was the dim one that night. And, as the Gates' dark coat disappeared into the night, I could only hope the creature I thought I was hearing and desperately grasping for was Gates and not something else if I were fortunate enough to even lay a hand on it.

I'd sure hate to grab the tail of a bobcat or tackle a black bear.

To my credit, I did have the good sense to get the wife and the light and the other things I had forgotten after the great escape. But, there really wasn't much either of us could do other than call in decibels just above a whisper while walking the boundary line. It's just not a good idea to go prowling around in the thicket at night or trekking across the yard of your neighbor at such a late hour.

Particularly if you live in the country.

This story has a good ending, of course. Gates-also an accomplished actor-put on his best I-know-I've-done-wrong-will-you-forgive-me sheepish head-hanging look-and came home some 20-30 minutes later.

It seemed longer as we kept calling.

A lot longer.

Still, I couldn't get too bent-out-of-shape at that point. Forgetting the puppy dog charm Gates was trying to work with those big, brown eyes, at least he came back and that-lost sleep, briars and all-was worth something.

Enough, at least, to keep him out of the doghouse.