I glimpsed the two dogs through the dining room window as they dashed across our back yard and headed toward the compost heap. When I ran outside, they were snuffling amidst clam shells, coffee filters and vegetable scraps. “Good dogs, come!” I said. And they did.
One was a handsome, mid-sized akita-type animal with fawn-colored fur and a white mantle across his shoulders and chest. The smaller of the two was a creamy lab-mix. Both were friendly and excited about their free-wheeling adventure.
The lab had a tag with a phone number and his name - Jesse. My husband phoned and learned that the larger dog’s name was Champ. The owner said he’d come pick them up; he was on his way. Unfortunately, so were the two wanderers. In the time it took to make the call and grab our old dog’s leash, they were on their way down the road.
With a herky-jerky stop-and-start, I went after them, halting to call, clap and whistle, then running to try and keep up.
While my husband, Dave, waited for the dogs’ owners to arrive, I threw caution and respect for private property aside and followed Champ and Jesse up a neighbor’s driveway. I zipped through back yards, past swimming pools and porches, scanning the March woods, the uniform gray-brown of trees, leaf litter, and rock fall for a flash of creamy-white or the wag of a freedom-thrilled tail.
In the snow’s aftermath, sticks, leaves and brambles were pressed flat so the going was easy. Easier still were the well-worn deer trails that the dogs had chosen. My feet, that four days ago had been snowboot-encased, were gloriously bare but for flip-flops. My toenails, freshly painted in red “Cherry Crush,” flashed brilliant against the drab brown of the trail. As euphoric and free as the dogs, I ran.
Champ and Jesse slowed ahead. I could see them racing back and forth. “The stream,” I thought. And sure enough… they’d been stymied by the bank of Cricker Brook, but only briefly. Champ found a way across and took flight.
When I caught up to Jesse, he was still seeking a path, but he came when I called and I snapped on the leash. “Good dog!” I said and gave him pats and a hug. “Let’s find Champ!” And we were off.
Together, we followed the deer trail, Jesse pulling and panting as he strained to catch up with his friend.
Champ bounded ahead, in sight, but out of reach. Part of me thought, “He’s loving this! Let him go!” But I knew if he were my dog, I’d be bereft to lose him, plus I worried about hunters and the inevitable road crossings. I had a brief tug of worry, about the home they were running from – was I returning them to an unkind master? No, I dismissed the thought; Jesse and Champ had come cheerfully when first I called them. They were happy and friendly; someone loved these dogs. Still, what a joy to be a dog racing through the woods… and what a joy to be a woman close behind!
I am fifty-five and far from athletic; this was the farthest I’d run in thirty-some years. But I felt great. I wasn’t tired. I loved the slap of my feet on the deer-trodden trail. I loved the ease of movement, the surprising energy of my body. I loved the tentative March birdsong and the chatter of stream-water over rocks. I loved the glimpse of deep green moss on stone and the trembling parchment-like beech leaves. I loved the sense of purpose and the company of dogs.
Champ was widening the distance between us; his ears no longer flickered at the sound of my voice. Something else was calling him and he gleefully complied. Jesse was tired, at least that’s what I told myself, so I jerked at the leash and said, “C’mon, Sweetie. Your owners will have to find your pal.” Jesse was reluctant. He whimpered and balked and searched the woods behind us, but he was used to following a human’s lead and trotted along.
I’d trespassed in those woods often enough to know where I was and I took pleasure in that too. Unerringly, I clambered over stone walls and fallen trees. Together, Jesse and I headed home.
We met Dave and the dogs’ owners once we came to the road. Jesse scrambled readily into the back seat of the car. Good; final proof he was content to be found. I was disappointed that I couldn’t deliver both dogs, but I described Champ’s general direction, and his people drove off to keep up the search.
Dave and I went to sit on the porch, basking in the sun on this seventy-degree March day. An hour later, the click of claws on wood planking, heavy breathing and the rasp of a warm tongue nudged me from my doze. It was Champ! Wander-lust satisfied, he pranced around us a bit, then settled in next to me to rest.