While in the bedroom dressing one day a couple weeks ago, I happened to look out the window and spotted a dog run past, into the back yard. This would not be abnormal, as we do have three dogs. However, it was not one of ours. The dog I saw was very hound-dogish, probably around 50 pounds, black, white, and brown. It sniffed around, had a squat, and trotted off into the brush at the edge of the yard.
“Huh,” I said, figuring it was a dog from the neighborhood–one I’d not seen before.
Our actual dogs, who had been lazing on their dog pillows the whole time, suddenly came alive at my “huh,” somehow sensing the intruder or that I’d seen something of interest, and began barking the sort of vicious, ferocious barks that only come from the throats of dogs separated from their enemies by a pane or two of glass. The other dog suitably cowed (or at least now absent from sight), they settled down again, secure in the knowledge that they’d demonstrated enough ferocity that their jobs as defenders of the realm were safe.
The next day, I saw the dog again, this time lurking in the front yard. Our dogs didn’t notice and soon it wandered off and down the trail at the edge of our yard. I didn’t think too much about it. I wondered briefly if it was an escapee from the humane society, which is down the hill and across a couple of fields from us. But I didn’t wonder this too long.
Over the next couple of days, I saw the dog a few more times. Sometimes our dogs saw it as well. Sometimes not. My general policy, on the rare occasions we have such visitors, is not to feed them lest they stay and become dog #4. Soon, though, the wife began to notice it too and she has no such policy. It was getting cold out, she said, and it would need food to keep warm in the night. Fine. We put out a bowl and it was empty within an hour or two.
Last Sunday, the wife called me over to look at something on her phone. It was a picture of the dog we’d been seeing, as posted on one of the local Facebook yard sale sites. The author of the post was a lady named Amy who works for the nearby humane society. We contacted her and it turns out the dog was indeed, as I’d wondered, an escapee from the HS. This dog, whose name is Prue, was a young female pup that had been adopted by a family elsewhere and had been scheduled for delivery before her untimely escape from one of the volunteers who help walk the dogs. They’d apparently chased her all around the woods near our house until they’d reached the trail behind our house, which led them to our house where they found themselves staring down the barrel of our dogs. Our dogs have shock collars and stay in the yard, but the pursuers of Prue did not know that, so they said, “Today, my jurisdiction ends here,” and went back to the barn. (I learned this from them a couple days later.) Amy said that Prue was part of a litter of puppies of the treeing walker breed of coon hounds. The other pups had acclimated to humans. Prue ran from them on sight. She apparently did pretty well with other dogs, but was super timid when it came to people.
We let Amy know that Prue was a regular around our house. The following day, she had a great big live trap delivered and set up just off of the trail. They put some breakfast biscuits and canned food in it and we hoped for the best.
In late afternoon, we saw Prue creeping through the brush behind the house. I decided I was going to try and make friends with her, and went down to sit on the back steps of the house, armed with an open can of stinky wet food and a spoon. She saw me and fled like the devil was chasing her. What I later learned was that the wife could see Prue’s escape from inside the house. The dog ran around to the front yard and made for the trail. But she paused, near the fence behind which was the live trap, and sniffed at the air before trying to find a way through the fence to get at what she was smelling. Then, naturally, our dogs got wind that something was up and began barking their fool heads off, startling Prue and sending her skittering into the trees, not to be seen again.
It got cold that night. We hated the thought of the poor dog outside, let alone possibly stuck in the live trap where the winds could just whip through her. We checked the trap at bedtime and then the wife set an alarm for 2 am to go check again. The only thing in the trap at that hour, though, was a cat. It wasn’t one of our cats, but it was apparently just as pissy as the wife let it out. She then had difficulty setting the trap again in only the light from her phone, so she propped the door open with a stick and hoped the dog would somehow trip it going in. It did not.
The next morning, I reset the trap and put some new canned food within it to replace what the cat had eaten. In the afternoon, Amy texted to suggest we move the trap closer to the house. I was all for this, and suggested the boardwalk on the far side of the garage, out of eyesight of the dogs, but not from the laundry room window. We could check the trap without leaving the house.
There was a minor blizzard Tuesday night. We had a few inches of snow and lots of wind. Temps were in the teens. There was no sign of Prue. The wife made a concoction of ham and microwaved wet dog food and put it on top of the cage, hoping the smell would bring Prue in. We saw no sign of her, though, and soon the bowl was frozen solid.
“She’s found herself a place to hole up,” I suggested. There are, after all, any number of places to do that in this neighborhood–the crawlspace beneath one of our outbuildings the most logical to us. We still hated the thought of the dog shivering outside in the weather.
I was relieved the next morning to spot Prue in the yard–nowhere near the trap. And she stayed away from it, even after I’d rewarmed the dogfood/ham concoction and even climbed inside the cage to put it at the back, behind the trip mechanism. It occurred to me while I was in there that if I tripped it I’d be trapped in the cage, in the cold and might not be able to get turned around to let myself out. This did not happen.
Days passed and different treats were left in the cage to entice the stubbornly absent, though still living dog. We’d see her around, but if she saw one of us she was gone in a flash. The only dog to be caught in the cage was our dog, Sadie, who couldn’t resist going in for a weenie.
“Well, at least we know the trap works,” I texted to Amy the next day.
On Thursday, at Amy’s suggestion, I moved the cage down to the far back corner of our yard. Clearly, we reasoned, it wasn’t doing any good near the house, and we couldn’t let our dogs free in the yard without watching them every minute to keep them from getting trapped and eating all the bait. We had to put it somewhere outside of their collar range. (Or at least the collar range of Maya and Moose, as Sadie doesn’t usually wear her collar, since she knows her boundaries and stays within them. Usually.) I thought that maybe if I put the trap just out of the yard, in the brush I’d seen Prue lurking in a few times, she might care to investigate it.
Prue did not care to. A possum, however, did. He did not think the trap was awesome, and hissed at us, refusing to stop climbing the bars and escape when the door was left open for him. He also ate all the wieners.
On Saturday, Amy came by herself, armed with a bag of WalMart chicken tenders. She said she thought that this was the day we’d finally catch Prue. And, late in the afternoon, it seemed we were about to.
I’d let our dogs out to potty in the front yard and had strolled around to see if Prue might be in the trap. She was not, but Maya picked up the scent of the chicken and went over to sniff the air at the border of her collar. Then, her face darted to the side and she bolted around the back of the house. The other two dogs were still around front, so I knew she must have seen Prue. I dashed back around front and herded Sadiemoose into the house. Sure enough, I could see Prue in the back yard through the windows. And Maya was there too. And they appeared to be… playing. Prue was still skittish, but she actually seemed to be having fun. She would creep up to Maya (who, being a St. Bernard, was twice her size) and lean close to sniff at her. Then Maya would lunge playfully and Prue would bolt a few feet away before starting it all again. I ran to get the wife and we came and watched them–trying to find new vantage points along the back side of the house as the dogs romped and played closer and closer to the location of the trap.
Then we saw Prue stop and sniff the air, then move away, following the scent, moving down to the trap itself, leaving Maya to jump around at the edge of her boundary. Prue sniffed at the chicken through the back side of the cage. Then moved along its length and closer to the open door. Then, just when we thought she was going to step inside… she bolted away and back toward the front yard and was gone again.
“Noooooo!” I screamed as quietly as I could.
We moved all around the inside of the house, trying to get a view on where Prue had fled, knowing she wouldn’t be able to resist going back. We had to lock Sadie and Moose in the bedroom and close the curtains on them, because they woudln’t shut up.
Soon enough, Prue did return to the hill above the trap and then was back at the trap itself, and to its door. As we watched, we saw her step into the trap itself and take another couple of tentative creeps forward. And then she bolted and was gone again, this time running fully across the front yard and disappearing down the trail on the complete opposite side of the house from the cage.
The wife began smiling.
“What?” I said.
“Well, you know… if she likes Maya so much, and is already hanging around the house… maybe it’s a sign that she’s really our 4th dog?”
“Uh uhhh!” I said. “This dog is strictly visiting. And as soon as she’s caught she’s getting shipped out to her new home, very far away.”
I wrote Amy a text, telling her that we almost had Prue, but that the dog was too smart for us. We did note that she at least had fun playing with Maya. Amy said it sounded cute and that she was still optimistic.
Eight minutes later, Amy texted me a picture of Prue with the note: “Look who came home!!!!” I don’t know if it was playing with Maya or what, but Prue apparently decided that being on her own was for the birds and it was time to go back to her pack. She had turned up outside of the humane society and followed one of the dogs there right into the building.
I told Maya what a good dog she was. Maybe she had nothing to do with Prue’s return to home base, but I like to think that playing with Maya made Prue miss her buddies back at the Humane Society and that she decided being out on her own was for the birds. The fact that she ran immediately back would seem to maybe support this.
We never went down to spring the trap. It was still baited, so we half expected to find another possum in there. I joked that if we caught a skunk then I was leaving that to the humane society to release.
Instead, we caught Sadie again.
Yep, the siren call of day old chicken tenders was too much for her, and she was found trapped in the cage Sunday morning, after we let her out to potty. We left her in there for 20 minutes or so, since the weather was nice. She lay down and chilled out, but was super happy when her “pa” came to rescue her.