86: The Reluctant Host

86: The Reluctant Host

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What?

The Reluctant Host

Guests always give pleasure—if not their arrival, their departure.

~Portuguese Proverb

One January, my oldest sister and her family went on a cruise. They asked me to look after their house and take care of their pets: a goldfish, two cats, and a Toy Poodle named Scruffy.

A few months earlier, they had gone out for the day and asked me to stop by, let Scruffy out, and make sure he had food and water. Things hadn’t gone well. Not only did he bark and growl at me, he also squeezed into the back corner of his cage, just out of my reach. I must have spent twenty minutes sitting in front of his cage trying to coax him out with treats, but with no luck. So I made sure he had food and water, and left a note about how I couldn’t get him to come out.

I showed up at their house just before they left for their cruise, and Scruffy again just barked and growled at me. They showed me his favorite toys and held him so I could pet him, but he didn’t seem pleased.

Before they left, they put him back in his cage and I turned on the TV. A couple of hours later, I figured I should try to let him out. I don’t know how long I spent at the front of his cage with treats trying to get the leash on him. Eventually, it got to the point where I decided to just carry the cage outside. It had a removable bottom, so I figured I could slip it out, let him do his business, and then slip it back in. I started cleaning the dog treats and other odds and ends off the top of the cage—thinking it was going to be a very long week—when I came across an old towel.

Figuring I should give it a try, I threw the towel over him in the cage. This either calmed or confused him long enough for me to pick up the back of the cage and slide him towards the front. Then I was able to pick him up—with just a few growls—and carry him to the back door. Attached at the door was a ten-foot line. I hooked him onto it and let him run around in the snow.

During the next commercial break I went to bring him back in. He didn’t like that idea. I stood at the door gently pulling on the line while he dug in between barks. Then the collar slipped over his head.

We stood looking at each other for a second or two, as if not sure what that meant. Then he turned and ran.

I took maybe three steps after him before realizing that, one, I was in my socks, and two, he already didn’t like me so chasing after him probably wouldn’t help.

Back inside, I put on my boots and coat. When I opened the front door, he was standing there. He barked at me and ran away again. I followed, hoping I wouldn’t strangle him when I caught him.

I don’t know how long I searched for him that first evening. On the one hand, I knew I needed to find him. But on the other, I knew if I chased him too much I might scare him away. With no other option, I put out food and water for him by the back door, and watched a movie on TV. Every commercial break I looked around the back yard with a flashlight, but other than tracks through the snow, I saw no sign of him.

The next morning, some of the food was gone. Whether he, some wild animal, or one of the cats—who had a habit of slipping outside—ate it, I didn’t know. But I put out more food and water.

I called my mom and told her what happened, and she said to put out food and water for him and she would relay the news to my sister. Other than keeping food and water outside, and keeping an eye out for him, there wasn’t much I could do.

The second or third night, a neighbor stopped by and said they thought they had seen him along the road about a mile away. So I crept along the road with my arm out my car window squeaking his favorite toy, but didn’t see any sign of him.

Of course, I don’t think he went that far away. Every now and then, I’d catch a glimpse of him out a window, but whenever I opened a door he would run away from me. Then one day it warmed up a bit and I saw muddy paw prints coming out from under one corner of the house. I think he was just hiding in the crawl space.

He was too quick, so grabbing him was out of the question. I decided to outsmart him. I set his cage outside and put food and some of his toys in it. I then ran a string to close the door on the cage from the back door. Once it was rigged up, I stood at the back door and waited. After half an hour, I grew bored and went to watch TV. For the next hour, I checked during every commercial break, but nothing changed. Then, on one break, half the food was gone. I kept the cage outside for a couple of more days. Every now and then the food would disappear, but I never saw him.

The night before my sister’s family came back, the only animal left in the house was the goldfish. In the morning, I saw one of the cats jumping through the snow in the back yard. I opened the back door and he rushed inside. Then, about an hour before my sister and her family were due to return, I was looking out the front door and saw the other cat. He came in, and I locked the house down so they couldn’t slip out again.

Finally, they pulled into the driveway. My niece stepped out and called Scruffy a couple of times. He ran around the corner of the house and went right up to her. She picked him up and carried him inside. He was a bit muddy, but apparently no worse for spending a week outside in the middle of winter. And he still barked at me. On the bright side, they haven’t asked me to pet-sit since.

~Stephen L. Thompson

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