The only feeling possibly worse than having one’s own dog run off is having a dog one is fostering get loose. This past month, that happened to us: the beagle we’ve fostered zipped out the door before I’d attached her leash. I’d been organizing her 3 puppies for an outing and hadn’t realized Pearl wanted to go out, let alone that she would bolt.
In fact, we’d fostered two adult dogs (Samoyed and Rott-mix) and two hound-mix puppies already—and we have a shiba inu in our family. We know how to deal with flight-risk dogs—but we hadn’t identified Pearl as a flight risk. While she’d been nursing her three pups, we’d sometimes had a hard time getting her to leave her family long enough to attend to basic daily toileting needs. For most of the first month, we had to have her water dish within reach of the puppy box or she wouldn’t get enough to drink.
What we’d overlooked was that, in the days before she ran, Pearl had effectively weaned her puppies. They not only didn’t need her anymore but they had started annoying her by playfully chewing on her legs and ears. So she saw a chance to escape them and took it.
And here’s where a dark part of Pearl’s history made itself known. Amber, the dog we raised from a pup when our boys were young, came when called even if she’d run out the door. Crystal, the spaniel-mix we got as an adult dog, might cruise the neighborhood once before showing up at the door, but within about 10-15 minutes, she’d be back at the door. Even Seiki our shiba, independent as she is, will come back to the door within about 20 minutes. Well, unless it’s snowing. She loves snow and will run around our Warrenville neighborhood in fresh snow for up to an hour, just to be out in the cold whiteness. But she never leaves our block and stays in sight most of the time—she just wants to play.
Pearl reacted differently, which could have worked out tragically. I can only assume her previous owner had punished her for running away. I certainly understand feeling frustration when a dog runs off—even anger. But the only time you can punish a dog who runs off is when the dog returns—and that’s the one time you absolutely should not get angry at your dog if you ever want that dog to come back to you again. The fact that Pearl never went further than about 8 houses away from us showed that she clearly wanted to come back to the house where her puppies still lived, but every time she saw a person, she ran off.
So how did we get her back? Guile and stealth—and some good advice from the Warrenville Police Deparment’s animal control officer. Over the week Pearl was gone, we gradually moved from leaving food on our front porch to leaving it in a dog crate in the front of the garage, then moved the crate, well insulated, to the back of the garage. We fenced the front of the garage with dog fencing, leaving a single panel open for her to enter or exit. The first night the door was fenced, I heard her leave the garage about 6:45 a.m.
The second night, I went outside quietly at 6:30 a.m. and closed the last panel on the fence. Sure enough, when I checked the garage from the house door, Pearl was inside. And, once she realized the door outside was shut, she did come to me when I called her. Tail tucked, fearing my wrath, but she came to me.
Now we know that sweet, gentle Pearl may be a flight risk and we make sure she’s shut in another room or has her leash attached before any door to the outside gets opened. That’s the easy part. The hard part is getting past the fear in this dog that people will be mean to her. Breaks my heart.
Know anyone who wants a completely gentle, loving dog as a constant companion? Pearl is adoptable through Chicagoland Dog Rescue starting this week. So is her puppy Peregrin. Sadly for the potential adopters but happily for his littermates, the other two puppies are already spoken for. Percy will be picked up by his new family this weekend … and, showing the perils (falling in love) and perks (getting first choice) of fostering, their sister Perdita is staying with us.