61: The Crate Escape

61: The Crate Escape

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

The Crate Escape

Fun fact: The term “dog days of summer” was coined by the ancient Greeks and Romans to describe the hottest days of summer, coinciding with the rising of the Dog Star, Sirius.

The cruiser slows as it rounds the bend, the policeman looking across the street in amazement. The construction workers on the corner drop their shovels and stare. The neighbors watch from their windows and doors, mouths hanging open.

What they’re looking at isn’t a fender bender, or a tsunami, or a Sasquatch. It’s my sister Brittany “Rollerblading” her dogs.

Clad in a helmet, elbow pads, and Rollerblades, fourteen-year-old Brittany careens down the street, pulled by Georgia, Sadie and Tucker, three energetic dogs sprinting as fast as their legs can go. My brother Zac follows, Rollerblading behind a large Boxer named Digsby. As neighbors gawk and stop to watch, the humans and dogs finish their last twenty-mile-per-hour loop around the neighborhood and slow to a halt in front of our house. Inside, five more canines — two Portuguese Water Dogs, two Cockapoos, and a Golden Retriever — wait eagerly to walk at their own slower pace.

“How many dogs do you take care of?” people often ask incredulously. When Brittany was ten, she started a home boarding business called The Crate Escape, turning her love of dogs into a way to earn money for horseback riding lessons. She started out with a dozen dogs that visited throughout the year, but word spread quickly, and she got more e-mails and calls every week. Now, she cares for more than seventy dogs on a regular basis.

Most kennels keep dogs in cages, but in Brittany’s care, a dog’s day couldn’t be more different. Visiting pups nap in front of our fireplace, chase tennis balls in our back yard, and join the family on hiking and kayaking adventures. Brittany brushes them, gives them baths, removes wax from their ears, and clips their nails, all free for the owners. Many dogs sleep in her bed at night, often four or five at once. Depending on the size of the puppy pile, sometimes there’s barely enough room for Brittany.

When they’re not staying at The Crate Escape, our neighborhood dogs pull at their leashes when their owners walk by, trying to turn in to our driveway. Georgia, a Boxer who lives a few houses down the road, runs over whenever her owners let her outside. She trots up our steps and “knocks” on the front door with her paw, waiting for Brittany to come out and play.

But it’s not all tennis balls, treats, and wagging tails for Brittany. Taking care of dogs is a lot of work. They all have their own foods, medications, quirks and routines. Some have hip or heart problems and need special care. Some are afraid of thunder or bicycles, and others wake up at 4:00 every morning, barking to be let outside. But no matter how complicated or exhausting, Brittany takes care of all her charges’ needs.

Brittany has read the entire Dog Training section of our library, and it’s not uncommon for owners to be shocked at how well behaved their dogs are after spending time with her.

Recently, Brittany boarded two Labs named Trixie and Muffins. When their owner dropped them off, she warned that the two were uncontrollable, and often jumped on the dinner table and took food. Brittany knew her work was cut out for her as she watched the frantic dogs tearing around the kitchen, barking and jumping on people. But as soon as the owner left, Brittany got to work re-training Trixie and Muffins. First, she took both dogs for a long walk to get rid of all their pent-up energy. To teach them that she was the leader, she made them walk slightly behind her. When they got home, she went through the door before them. Trixie and Muffins were used to going wild at dinnertime, but she waited for them to sit quietly before putting the bowls of kibble down.

At first, the dogs seemed uncertain about the new way to behave that Brittany was showing them. But within half a day, the change was unbelievable. The Labs followed Brittany around like shadows, obedient and relaxed. If they started jumping up or barking again, it only took one stern look from Brittany for them to stop, sit, and wait for her to tell them what to do. Needless to say, the owners were dumbstruck when Trixie and Muffins came home one week later — calm, polite and happy. In the months since, people who have had dogs for years have started coming to Brittany for advice.

Our brothers joke that Brittany spends so much time around dogs, she’s starting to sprout a tail. Nobody is ever surprised to hear that she wants to become a veterinarian. For Brittany, running The Crate Escape isn’t about making a profit, or impressing people with how much she’s accomplished. It’s about the 280 muddy paws that she’s constantly wiping, the hundreds of Milk-Bones she hands out while teaching new tricks, and the blankets that will never, ever be fur-free again — no matter how many times they’re put through the wash.

Big or small, purebred or mutt, well behaved or a diamond in the “ruff,” each dog is special to Brittany. She gives a piece of her heart to every four-legged fur ball that comes into her life. When people remark on how lucky all the dogs are, Brittany has a thoughtful reply. “It’s true, I scoop a lot of kibble, and go on more walks than I can count,” she says, “but there’s nothing quite like being woken up by three wet noses on your face, or having a caring paw placed on your arm when you sneeze. There’s no doubt about it — I’m the lucky one.”

~Caitlin Brown

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