Last Halloween, my dog and I were greeting little goblins at the door as they trick-or-treated and I got a surprising little trick. A gaggle of young girls, bedecked in wings, glitter and ghostly apparel, pushed towards the door, reaching for treats while asking me, “Can we say hi to Rex?” Rex (I am using an alias to protect his privacy) is my 80-pound Doberman pinscher, a visually intimidating specimen, but as anyone who knows him, a complete mush of a dog. He loves people, especially kids. Not recognizing these little girls as being from my block, I replied, “Oh, sure! How do you know Rex?” I thought they must be new kids at my corner bus stop and visited him as they walked by. But no. They replied, giggling, rubbing the dog’s nose, “Oh, he comes over our house all the time to visit and we feed him!”
Excuse me? My 80-pound Doberman is, without my knowledge and in spite of our Invisible Fence, roaming our suburban neighborhood freely and has apparently taken up with another family? “We love Rex!” they exclaimed.
As they drifted away into the darkness, I turned to my guilt-ridden dog. “You …” a hissed at him. He skulked away silently like Scar from The Lion King, as if to say, “I don’t know what they’re talking about, Mom. I’ve never seen those bitches before in my life.”
Hmmm. It got me thinking. I’m pretty sure our bifurcated farm/suburban lifestyle is creating a schizophrenic dog.
Rex came into our lives as a precious little 8-week-old pup in the fall of 2012. Shortly thereafter, The Farm of Our Dreams came into our lives and ever since, Rex has had to continually switch on and off between the rules of Suburban Dog vs. Country Dog. In the suburbs, (when he’s not stealing away to his Other Family around the corner) Rex lives a pretty typical life; he chases invading deer out of our back yard, intimidates political canvassers (a huge plus), gets many ear rubs and generally lays around a lot. Out in the country, however, Rex lives a dog’s life to be envied. As I throw a few things into the car, about to head out to the country, he eagerly jumps into the back seat, and assumes a kind of meditative sphinx pose for the hour-and-a-half drive. It’s like he’s getting into character for his country self. As soon as we arrive on the farm, he’s out the door like a shot, peeing on everything he sees. (“That’s mine. That’s mine. All this is mine.”) Then he’s off to explore The Great Outdoors, like a kid from the 70’s. “Come back when the streetlights go on!” I yell after him. Only there are no streetlights out there. He disappears over a hill, galloping like a little rocking horse.
Eventually Rex returns, all sweaty and dirty, smiling from ear to ear and slumps into a contented heap, plum tuckered out. Who knows what he has seen, chased, peed on or, frankly, eaten? There are wild turkeys, moles, voles, snakes, toads, huge Pileated Woodpeckers, ground hogs, fox and coyote, out there, not to mention horses that board at our farm. It’s a dog’s delight. I do know that he makes daily rounds through the barns, tormenting the cats there, scarfing down their cat food like it’s manna from heaven. He used to chase the chickens we had, too, until we learned – farm lesson #149 – chicken poop is toxic to horses, so they had to go. Before they were evicted, those chickens were an endless source of amusement for Rex. They’d be out minding their own business, pecking in the grass, when along comes this exuberant dog, darting through them and sending them squawking, flying in all directions like confetti.
Rex has learned the hard way that the fences penning in the horses are electric. The poor bugger got a rude awakening as a pup when he nosed up to a colt through the fence and got zapped by enough electricity to keep a 1,000-pound animal off the fence. He took off into the woods in a confused panic for about an hour. Maybe that’s why he’s unphased by a measly Invisible Fence zap … I mean, he’s been to the zapping mountaintop. It hasn’t dampened his interest in those horses though. I think he think they’re the biggest darned dogs he’s ever seen.
Back in the suburbs, we have rules: no going into the carpeting living room; no sleeping on the couch; no digging the rugs; no wandering the neighborhood (tsk, tsk). I’m sure it feels like a gulag to poor Rex. The constant switching of rules and locations has made him a nervous wreck – he’s become afraid of some of the floorboards, the icemaker, the broom, the rugs, and his dog bowl, for chrissake. And, I think he’s a bit indignant at having to hang like any other domesticated dog, when he knows he was “born free.” Seeing neighborhood dogs with cute little jackets or kerchiefs around their necks, I can almost hear him mutter to them under his breath, “You have no idea what you’re missing out there, you silly fool.”
For all I know, Rex has a secret farm family, too, that he visits when he disappears over the hills. Are they Amish? Do they call him Yoder? Do they feed him farm fresh eggs and churned butter? There’s no way he’s doing chores. I can’t even get him to retrieve a ball. I’m certain that when they start doling out jobs, he’s off like a salty teen. “Y’all, it’s been real, but I gotta bounce and get back to the 21st century,” he would say to them, galloping away.
Either way, Mr. Rex has it pretty good, living his best life in the country or the ‘burbs. Honestly, me too.