December 19, 2014
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When all other calls fail

Carol’s voice was filled with anxiety. She was breathless.

“He’s gone.”

She didn’t need to say anything more. Ollie was on the loose in the neighborhood.

She gave me the details. Ollie spent the morning patrolling the yard, staying within the fence and the boundaries set by the invisible fence across the driveway and access to the seawall. Then, when she ceased hearing the tinkling of the cowbell affixed to his collar, she went looking. She found an excavation under the chain link fence.

He was on to something…probably a cat or a coon. Now he was out and there was no knowing where he would go.

There was not much I could do other than to join the hunt, but that was difficult, as it was a deadline day.

She called back a couple of minutes later. She heard the bell and thought he was on the beach – it was low tide – and heading north. She sounded optimistic, although highly concerned.

“I’ll call,” she promised.

I could imagine the scene because I’ve been through it myself.

Leash in hand and calling his name, Carol would pursue Ollie down the beach. He, being a spotted coonhound rescued from a kill shelter in North Carolina, would be having a joyous time. Hot on the trail of a fox or coon, both of which we’ve seen walking the flats at low tide, he would be trotting ahead with his nose to the ground and his white-tipped tail swinging like a metronome. He wouldn’t turn to see whether he was being followed or in response to his name. He would be in a world of his own.

Catching him would only result if he paused long enough or, in some quirk of fate, the critter he was tracking had made an abrupt about face. In that case, glued to the scent, he would return.

I made a silent prayer that would happen but, more than anything, it was a plea that he would come when called.

Ollie has learned a lot in the 11 months he’s been a member of our household. There’s no question he’s smart. No longer is he a drooling sentinel at the dinner table, his eyes following every fork lifted from our plates. Now he lies, seemingly in deep sleep, until he hears the sound of our forks on our plates. His eyes pop open and he waits for the moment that we carry our plates to the kitchen. He’s up in a flash and on his job of pre-dishwasher. And when it comes time to call it a night, he willingly follows me downstairs to his crate. He first objected to being deprived of a night on a couch or guestroom bed, but once this routine was set he follows it faithfully.

But coming when called is not in his repertoire. Sure, he knows when it’s breakfast or dinner and will race to the kitchen when he hears his name, along with the spill of kibble into his bowl. But try a call or a whistle while he’s in pursuit and it’s pointless. He doesn’t even cock his head or glance in your direction.

Carol thinks that’s probably why he ended up in a shelter – a hunting dog that doesn’t know when to quit. But hunting for a dog on the hunt is not something you want to do.

Carol got me back on the phone.

“I can’t disconnect the invisible fence,” she said frantically.

Her plan made perfect sense. If he returned, she didn’t want him jolted for coming home. That would send the wrong message. I told her I was on my way.

Five minutes later she rang again. Instantly, I sensed relief. A couple out for a walk had Ollie by the collar a short way from our gate. It looked like he was on his way home, which Carol took to be a very positive step. It was a big development from her point of view. I’m not so sure.

I’m ready to make recordings of forks scrapping on china and the rattle of kibble and hook up the amplifiers. At this point, that’s the only call he responds to.


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