I pulled a t-shirt on and went down stairs to find the three of my temporary babies wagging their tails and barking their “we’re so happy you’re up now” greetings looking at me through the gate that keeps them from the run of the house. I reached down, giving each of them a quick love and opened the door so they could go out and do their morning “ritual” in the fenced back yard. As they took off romping and barking across the backyard, I walked to the laundry room for the watering can and went outside to take care of the watering needs of some of the plants I had been left to care for during the week.
As I emptied the last of water into the hanging tomato planters, I noticed that the back yard had grown quiet of both sound and movement. Perhaps the pups had finished their business and gone back inside. After all, it was kind of cool and damp with a light fog still hanging in the early summer morning air. I took a quick look inside and saw that their beds were still empty. I took a quick walk around the side of the house where I knew they liked to occasionally explore and found it empty. As I walked back around the corner of the house, I looked to the back of the yard…and suddenly it felt as if my heart stopped beating!
It wasn’t possible! I had been out here last evening watering plants and letting the dogs out and it wasn’t like this. But there it was…the back gate was open. While the gap between fence and gate was only about 8 inches, it may as well have been the entire fence knocked down. I jogged across the yard in my bare feet, successfully avoiding the “deposits” left by the dogs over the past week. I stepped through the gate entrance and looked both directions. To my dismay, the small park area behind the house was empty.
I made a quick decision and headed to the west…following along the fence line. My head turned to the right and the left as I scanned the park area for signs of the dogs. Suddenly my heart started racing as I saw an opening in the fence along the southern border of the park. I walked over and looked through. I was greeted with the sight of an overgrown field with dried grass and weeds at least waist high. Along the edge of the fence a trail was visible that had been used by some kind of animal. Was it possible that Babe, Buddy and Missy had taken this route only moments before?
Looking down at my bare feet…growing cold and wet in the morning dew-stained grass, I realized that I was not prepared to venture down that path. I turned away from the fence with its missing boards and continued to the far end of the park. Suddenly, I heard the sound of barking dogs! It was the familiar sound of the “yap” that small dogs make. As I turned the corner, across the yard I could barely make out a small black dog and a second small dog with light brown fur.
“Come on Buddy!” I called out.
I was greeted with even louder barking as I started to step into the yard. Without my glasses on it was difficult to see much more than the dark blur of the barking dog. Then I realized that the dog was on a chain…and my heart fell. These weren’t the canine charges left in my care for a week. I turned and started to walk in the opposite direction, calling out for the dogs. As I approached the still open gate, I walked back through the house and out the front door. I walked to the street and scanned in both directions. Still nothing. I hardly noticed the cold and rough pavement on my bare feet as I started walking up the street to the nearest intersection. Once again I called out for Buddy. Then Missy. No barking...and no dogs.
I walked back to the house to put on my shoes and grab my glasses thinking about what was happening. What was I going to tell Paul and Mary? How long should I wait? Was I going to miss church this morning in order to scour every street in this secluded development…knowing that the dogs could be just one street over constantly moving away from me? Or even worse, somewhere in the vacant, overgrown field that I had discovered on the south side of the park.
Grabbing my phone and glasses from the bedside table, I turned and started back down the stairs. As I turned to open the gate back into the kitchen, Babe and Buddy trotted into the kitchen through the sliding glass door that I had left open into the back yard. As each one looked at me, for a moment I could see in their eyes a slight “oops, sorry Mark” look as they walked around the kitchen. Buddy went directly to his bed and laid down. In her normal hyperactive prancing, Babe jumped up against my leg seeking some form of attention.
“Where have you guys been?” I asked, trying to keep any hint of anger out of my voice. “And where is your sister?”
I don’t know if was expecting a “Lassie” moment with one of them running out the door to lead me to Missy or not. If I was, I was gravely disappointed. Instead, the only response I got was Babe running to the far end of the kitchen and Buddy sniffing at his favorite stuffed rabbit toy.
I walked into the backyard looking for signs of the last of the missing dogs. Nothing. I went back out through the still open gate and walked to the fence with the missing boards. It didn’t appear as if anything had been disturbed since I was here a few minutes earlier, so I turned and decided to look up on the east end of the park in the area that was open to the street.
Suddenly, the familiar sight of the gray terrier turned the corner. Her head down following the familiar scent of her siblings, she moved slowly along the edge of the fence.
“Missy!” I called out. As she lifted her head, the small stub of her docked tail began to move back and forth as she began to run toward me. I walked toward the open gate and as she approached she looked up at me as she ran into the backyard. Content that all were accounted for, I reached up and secured the latch on the top of the gate…double checking to be sure it was completely locked.
I opened the door into the house and after a quick stop at the water dish, Missy went in and joined the other two pups. The three looked at me as if it had just been a "normal" morning. I looked at the clock and realized that I still had plenty of time to get ready for church. Looking back at the three little dogs that have found a place in my heart as I care for them every few months, I went to the laundry room and broke off a piece of their favorite treats and brought them back out. Leaning down to give each of the tail-wagging dogs their treat, all I could say was “I’m glad you’re home.”