This Side Up

We can all use a spot in the sun


I know Carol’s worried look all too well. It crossed her face the moment I asked, “Have you seen Ollie?”

We have been through this too many times, and while I had turned him loose only 15 minutes earlier to patrol the yard, as we have done countless times without incident, we know from experience that if he’s locked onto a scent, he’ll dig under the fence to pursue it.

Carol stood on the back porch and clapped her hands, her way of telling him it’s time for chow. It usually works, but not this time. I whistled. It’s another dinner call. Nothing.

We stood absolutely silent. A plane was landing at Green. I could hear traffic on West Shore Road; the rest of the world was coming to life after an extra hour of sleep. The sun was shining, drying out everything from Saturday’s wind and rain.

We both strained to hear Ollie’s bell.

Following his first great escape when he burrowed under the chain link fence, disappearing until we caught up with him in the marshes of Conimicut Point three hours later, we affixed a cowbell to his “Invisible Fence” collar. Ollie knows the Invisible Fence – the underground wires stretch across the driveway and the back of the yard by the seawall. Ollie stays clear of the hot zone where a tingling of the collar warns him he could get shocked if he goes any further. He faithfully respects that boundary. But then there’s the chain link fence separating us from neighbors on either side. That’s not part of the Invisible Fence and critters from raccoons to cats and fox have found ways under or over it. We’ve lined the fence with bricks and cement blocks, but still Ollie – and some of those critters – get around them.

Since he doesn’t seem to hear our calls unless it’s dinner time or he thinks we’re going out in the car, the bell gives us an idea of where he is and what he might be up to. A lot of rattling, a sure sign that he’s digging, is cause to get to him before he’s gone on a neighborhood hunt. An occasional jingle jangle is reassuring as that’s the sound of a perimeter patrol, a sniffing detail that like a programmed robot starts with the southern property line and moves east before rotating around the yard.

Carol clapped and I whistled for a second time.

We expected at least a tinkle. Nothing.

Had he made his escape? Would we need to head toward the point or, perhaps, in the other direction before picking up the cowbell?

That’s not the way to spend a Sunday morning, or for that matter any time of day. Tracking down Ollie, as loving and affectionate as he can be, is stressful. He may be “hunter smart,” but he’s not street smart when it comes to automobiles. He’ll stand in our driveway, tail wagging a greeting when I pull in – not giving a care for the ton of steel headed in his direction. The thought of him on West Shore Road is a nightmare, although he’s navigated it more than once.

We know the routine when the ringing stops.

I grabbed a leash and started walking the fence line that is obscured by bushes. Carol looked out back and by the beach rose where he likes to chew grass. There were no signs of excavation, no undermined concrete blocks or mounds of digging spoils.

He had disappeared.

And then we both turned our gaze to the middle of the yard and the cherry tree. The wind and rain had stripped it of its leaves, which were now a yellow and red blanket radiant in the heat of the morning sun. There was Ollie in the middle of it, stretched out and looking at us as if to say, “How come you guys aren’t out here.”

He had his place in the sun.

“Let’s have breakfast,” I said to Carol.

We turned to go in and in no time Ollie was jingling to join us. He has his priorities.


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