Freedom Dog

As I drove around the corner today, our nice neighbor lady was walking her little dog.  As she saw my car approach, she waived her hands furiously to warn me about another little dog wandering in the street. I’m well familiar with this little guy, who I will herein refer to as “Foxy” – because he resembles a little red fox. That is not his real name, but Foxy is entitled to his privacy.  I stopped the car and we commiserated with each other over the fate of this sweet dog. He is frequently seen roaming our streets, often without his collar or tags. “I know” I say, “we’ve brought him back home several times already, we’ve talked to the owner, he doesn’t seem to care.”  

She is only one of many neighbors who have complained about the negligence of Foxy’s owner, who I will herein refer to as “Burning Man” or “BM” for short. I chose this moniker because his disposition reflects the type I imagine frequents the Burning Man festival: middle-aged surfer/techie dude taking pride in his laissez-faire attitude towards life, smugly above the societal expectations plaguing mankind. If you google Burning Man, among the values its participants promote are “radical self-reliance” and “communal effort”. So, Foxy’s free-riding lifestyle makes sense in this regard.  

Aside from the safety issues, Foxy will naturally relieve himself wherever he sees fit while on his daily strolls. He is especially keen on leaving his excrement in his immediate neighbor’s driveway. When said neighbor brought this to BM’s attention, he usefully suggested that she leave a receptacle of some sort in her driveway, so Foxy would know better where to focus. Evidently, BM is big on the “communal effort” value.  

Nice neighbor lady was surprised that BM was so careless about Foxy, because apparently this breed of dog is rather expensive. She went on to tell me that Foxy is a Pharaoh Hound. I don’t know my dog breeds that well, and besides, where I live, I’m mainly surrounded by designer doodle mixes (including my own), so this information intrigued me. The Pharaoh hound is a Maltese hunting dog, traditionally adept at hunting rabbits in the rocky terrain of Malta. It had been thought that the breed descended from the dogs shown in ancient Egyptian tomb paintings. This would have been a cool heritage for little Foxy, but the theory was debunked by some pesky DNA studies. The first litter to be born outside of Malta was in the United Kingdom in 1963. It all makes little Foxy even more interesting.

As my husband and I take our daily walks around the ‘hood with our dog Charlie, Foxy will frequently pop out and join us. The first few times, I dutifully brought him back, ensuring he was safely behind closed doors (BM helpfully leaves his doors unlocked). Lately, we just let him follow us until we reach our house, after which Foxy makes his way back home. We made the effort to bring him back to his house a few times because it felt wrong to let him wander. However, after watching him trot back home one day, we realized that like any 1980s latch-key kid worth his salt, Foxy could manage. 

This past weekend, Foxy departed from our usual route. He was beckoned by the sound of dogs barking in another house on our street. There is a fine line between being a good neighbor and enabling a neighbor’s bad behavior by letting them shirk their responsibilities. I wrestle with this because I don’t want Foxy to be in harm’s way. However, I resent that I’m left to be indirectly responsible for his welfare because his owner can’t be bothered. As we watch Foxy depart from us, and I’m saying a silent prayer that he makes it home safely, BM comes speeding by in his minivan. He is driving erratically, apparently searching for Foxy. This is a new development. We flag him down and direct him to the neighbor’s house. 

So far, our interactions with BM have been pleasant. When we have returned Foxy to him, he is jocular, “oh, he joined you on your walk again!” As if this is a fortunate and rare happenstance, versus the reality that BM never seems to notice or even care that Foxy has escaped.  I’m so exasperated by this man-child that I lose my temper and tell him that we’ve prevented Foxy from being hit by cars, that he might want to take better care of Foxy, that I’m worried Foxy will get hurt. BM smiles and shrugs. It baffles me. I also realized that my words had zero effect on him, and the only outcome of this encounter was that I walked away angry. 

Foxy is a beautiful and good-natured dog and deserves a better owner. Not a perfect owner, but one that cares enough to keep him safe. I say this as an admittedly non-perfect dog owner. My dog sleeps in our bed, has grilled burgers added to her kibble, and is a frequent table surfer. Some might be as critical of my dog care skills as I am about BM. It’s all about context I suppose. BM possibly grew up in one of those neighborhoods where a wandering dog was part of the scenery and communal caretaking was the norm. Or he’s just irresponsible and expects the rest of the world to bear the brunt of his inactions. It does seem a bit like a metaphor for a few other current affairs going on in the world. But that’s a topic for a separate essay.

Back to today’s episode. I tell nice neighbor lady to place Foxy in my car and I’ll deliver him home. Instead of dropping Foxy in the unlocked side door, I decide to ring BM’s front doorbell.  When he answers he is his usual cheery self, greeting me with a hearty “hi!”. I simply say, “delivery for you, he was wandering the streets again” (I add an eyeroll just for effect, which was probably lost on BM). He smiles widely and says “thanks!”. 

There is a part of me that, particularly when I see Foxy without his collar, wants to rush him to the humane society or call animal welfare. A little vigilante justice I can enact on BM. It pains me to think that there is someone out there who would cherish this little guy when clearly his owner does not. Or he does and I’m just an uptight rule follower with a different approach. Years ago, when I used to do traffic duty at my kids’ school, some dad had the audacity to park where he shouldn’t have. I lambasted him for not following the rules. He told me to chill. He was in the wrong, but I also did need to chill. So, I will continue to be on the lookout for Foxy. But only if it doesn’t interfere with my own dog’s spa appointment.

This is not the real Foxy.