The Author

Escape Artist

Our old dog is a late-blooming escape artist. He’s been hanging around us for over ten years, and we don’t know how old he was when we rescued him from the pound. Until recently, he had never shown any inclination to run off, preferring instead a quick dash into the backyard and an even quicker return to the comforts of the indoors. I suppose those years that he lived on the streets more than cured his curiosity of what lay beyond the fence.

A few weeks ago, though, he disappeared. We had let him out for his daily routine and waited for the scratch at the back door. When it didn’t come, we called, wandered around the yard, even got in the car to drive around the neighborhood. After a good while, we gave up, wondering if his old ways had come back to haunt us. Then, a couple of hours later, we heard the scratch at the door.

These escapades went on daily for a few weeks. It became somewhat embarrassing when the neighbors began to call to say that they had him and would we come pick him up. The fellow who was carrying him in his arms like a baby handed him back to Ellen one day with that look people give you when your kid won’t stop acting up in church.

Something had to be done, and the solution started with figuring out his exit. Somehow, this worn out old dog, after years of zipping from the backyard into the house, had figured out how to squeeze himself between the fence and the gate to freedom. Since the gate slides rather than swings, I had to come up with some kind of fence that allowed it to slide and yet cut off his access. A trip to Home Depot and forty dollars later, I had a fence in place.

As soon as it was up, I went in the house to let him out. He’s a sneak, so knowing he wouldn’t do anything as long as I watched, I went into the house and stood by a window. He streaked for the exit, then slammed on the brakes. He sniffed the length of the fence. He explored every post. He challenged every connection. Then, he trotted back toward the house and scratched at the door. When I let him in, he flopped on the floor and looked up at me as if to say, “Ya got me.”

I experienced an initial flush of victory, but it passed. I had won, but at a cost. In those weeks when he would escape, he had the best of both worlds: the freedom to explore, to discover, to do what dogs are created to do, and the security of knowing that he could come home to safety. I hadn’t built the fence from some concern for safety; I had built the fence out of embarrassment, because of the protests of others, due to someone else’s opinions about what to do with him. I looked at him the other day, sprawled out on the floor, looking out the window into the world. I said, “I know what you’re thinking, buddy. Cheer up. This won’t last forever. Before long, the only one who’s opinion is going to count is the One who created us to be free.”