There are a whole lot of dogs in my new neighborhood. Like anywhere I go, I tend to take a more direct interest in the pups than their people. Not only are dogs more honest, in time they will tell us everything we need to know about the people they are associated with. Dogs always have a lot to teach us about ourselves.
Booker lives in the most architecturally significant house on our block. It is a Mid-Century masterpiece that the designing architect lived in for several years. The current owners admit they aren’t really architecture buffs, they just liked the location. Booker is a tank of a chocolate lab, full of playful energy and burdened with the bad joints that selective breeding yields. There is another dog in the house, but it never socializes on the street. There is also a cat that Hank likes to watch through the unique windows. The house has a corner window–two panes of glass that meet at a corner with an invisible seam–and the cat likes to hang out there. I would, too. Booker also has a human baby sibling. I can’t for the life of me remember if it’s a boy or a girl. The parents have both told me the baby was an accident, so it’s a little hard to be invested in the particulars.
Jack is a black Scottie dog that lives in the house to the left of Booker. He fits perfectly with his owners’ personalities, a couple of older folks. The husband is from the UK, the wife is a prototypical Ozarks hippie. They have another dog, which I thought I had noticed a few times but didn’t meet when I first moved in. Turns out they took him in when one of the wife’s tenants in her rental property died. She went in there and found the person and the dog. And now the dog lives with them.
Shadow is a wild dog. “Stray” is not the right word, because she has a home. It’s a small hole in the rocks behind one of the condo buildings on my block. She has weathered ferocious ice storms and sweltering days in her hole. Shadow won’t let any human come near her, no matter how much you feed her or how still you lay on the ground. Jack’s parents feed Shadow two square meals a day, and told me they have been doing so for almost three years. In my mind, I’d heard they were feeding her for seven years, but I think her legend grows with time because so many people know bits and pieces of Shadow’s mysterious story. She might be three and she might be thirteen.
Shadow loves other dogs, so much. She wags her tail and flops back her velveteen foldy ears and bounces around when she gets the chance to interact with a pup. Then, as quickly as she joins the fun, she disappears. It truly is something of a marvel, how good she is at the Irish goodbye. I suppose she has to be darty, to survive in this world which has never proven to her that it’s safe or trustworthy.
Linguine is a boisterous curly dog with gray spots and lighter gray fur. She reminds me of Hank, but in a designer doodle kind of way. She is so bouncy and enthusiastic and walks that fine line between seeming to have a big personality and simply being an optimistic, high-energy dog that’s never known hardship. One time her owner said he thought she had some hound dog in her, which really threw me off since I figured she was for sure a Fancy Doodle of some kind.
A few weeks later, I was sitting at my table working when I saw Linguine sprinting down the street in front of my house. I stood up to check on her, and then I realized she was out there with her person. He was sailing the tennis ball down the street with a Chuck-It, and she was chasing it full speed, her flowy locks blowing back as she ran. I grabbed my coffee and went down there with Hank for a little impromptu puppy party. Hank and Linguine ran all over the place. I threw the ball for ‘Guine with my hand because even though our street is pretty sleepy, it makes me nervous watching how far the ball goes with the Chuck-It. Too close to the blind curve at the end. Her owner told me that Linguine is, in fact, an Aussiedoodle, and that he dreams of being an entertainer. He wants to make people laugh. I ask if he does any acting or stand up around town and he says, “Not yet. But that’s the stuff I want to do. I work a couple of jobs right now and invest a lot, I want to try moving out west to see a different way of life and try to be in movies or shows.” He is a perplexing mix of prototypical SEC frat boy and a free spirit with an earring and a bunch of bracelets. I always love watching his loud, tricked-out truck rumble down the block because Linguine rides in the back and puts her paws on the window sill and sticks about half of her body out the window. It is very cute.
Birch is a timid, cattle dog rescue mutt who lives in the upstairs of the duplex that Linguine lives in. Birch is one of those dogs that very honestly reflects his owner’s energy. The couple he lives with are very quiet and exceptionally kind. He has a stubby tail so when he wants to show you that he’s wagging it, his whole body wiggles and moves. For the most part, I just know him as the tri-colored cattle dog that lives next door, but upstairs. And I am always a little sad that he is on a leash 100% of the time, even for quick potty breaks. Sometimes most all of the neighborhood dogs will convene in the middle of the road between our houses and run the show while us people stand around and chat. We don’t all have each other’s phone numbers, and yet we see each other more than I see almost anyone in my life these days.
Hank is my best friend. We have lived in a lot of places, we are rarely at home in any of them. Hank and I are like the soft version of Shadow–we bed down because ultimately every being has to, but we don’t necessarily feel like we picked a lot of aspects of our lives. From that position, it’s really hard to feel at home. Hank is very gracious with me, the way he is always so willing to make himself at home wherever he is, the way he never complains about learning a new routine for the third time in a calendar year, however many years in a row. Hank loves every dog in the neighborhood. He especially loves cutting through the missing posts in the very dilapidated fence between our yard and Linguine’s. They bounce and wrestle and often become one indistinguishable blur of gray spots and fur. Sometimes Hank is every other dog’s favorite and the dogs’ people will say things like, “She usually doesn’t like other dogs this much!” with a mix of bewilderment and gratitude. Hank is always so patient and kind. Sometimes if you look closely you can catch a flash of weightiness in his eyes, like he is tired of being everyone’s hero. Part of why we live in this neighborhood at all is that I really want to give Hank a more stable life with ample access to off-leash hiking trails and several sunny corners to nap in. Most days, I am not really sure if this is what Hank or I want, but the neighborhood dogs sure are nice.
Jack and his person walk by a few times a day, often at odd hours like 11 AM or 3 PM. Arguably the best times of the day to walk. It is endearing to watch them strolling; they really are the type of pairing where the human and dog resemble one another.
Booker and Linguine
One evening I return from a bike ride and see both neighbors out in the street halfheartedly calling after their dogs. I join them and Hank looks around with interest for a minute before deciding to sprint over and see if there are any leftovers in Shadow’s food dish. We all do that dog-neighbor thing of walking up and down the street calling their names. After a while, Booker’s person gets in his car and heads out. I learn later that evening that he found Booker and Linguine up on top of the mountain, covered in mud and happy as can be. Personally, I loved the vision of the two dogs out following deer smells and romping in the soggy ditches. Linguine really loves to lay her curly belly in the wet leaves beside every road up on this hill. Booker’s family has two mid-level luxury cars. I will never drive a car I wouldn’t be happy filling with muddy dogs.
Birch and Hank
It just dumped snow and ice all over a solid third of the country. Our little hill is one of the snowiest places in this region. That extra few hundred feet of elevation makes a big difference in this part of the country; it’s one of the taller points for several hundred miles in any direction and it likes to scoop up all the snow as the clouds roar through. Hank and I walked downhill towards town and strolled the campus. So many college kids are up to wild antics in the snow. We meet some dogs on the lawn of the iconic center of the University. All their owners are constantly halfheartedly chastising their dogs for being dogs. I try to insist that it is okay and Hank loves to play, and then they let them play for about thirty seconds before chastising their dogs again. It is hard for me to watch, so Hank and I head back towards our hill, traipsing through the foot of fresh powder that blanketed town. We take the long way up the mountain, and then keep going up instead of turning towards our street. There is a cross at the top and somehow either religious exemptions or power lines allowed the property owners to cut down a bunch of trees. Whatever the reason, there is a great view from up there and we try to stop by every chance we get. While I am there, we encounter Birch and his person. I comment on how wiggly he is. They are very polite and quiet, in that way where you aren’t really sure if everyone recognizes one another beyond the vague familiarity of this small and isolated neighborhood full of anonymous dog walkers with recognizable pups.
We leave the cross a bit before sunset, figuring with the thick, flat gray snow clouds, there isn’t that much to miss. Plus, we walked for two hours. The single-digit wind chill was taking a toll on me and Hank.
We came down the very steep, bamboo-lined hill from the cross back to our street. As we rounded the corner, I noticed the Tacoma that parks at the last house on the street idling in the middle of the road. Then I saw a ton of cars stopped haphazardly in the street, all congregating around what appeared to be my house. The scene felt eerie. I asked the Tacoma driver if he knew what was happening. “Someone must have gotten stuck in a driveway. Whatever they’re doing, they need to move. That’s the only safe way down the mountain.” He’s not wrong, I wrecked my car trying to descend the other way the last time we got a flash ice storm.
I proceed nervously because I am pretty sure a couple of the cars have light bars on top. As I get closer, I see a cartoonishly-tinted unmarked SUV, then a police car, then a government vehicle with logos I haven’t seen before. Death Scene Investigation. Arkansas doesn’t beat around the bush like some states which try to shelter their residents from what the officials are up to. Then one more police car. Given where the vehicles are all parked, I am certain I know whoever it is they’re investigating.
I stand there, and the odd mix of “plainness” and heightened awareness course through my veins. I almost forget how cold it is, and Hank points at the activity that seems to be centered around Linguine’s house. It all feels just as still as it did when we left for our walk two hours prior. But there is so much activity. Methodical, unhurried, somber.
“Excuse me,” I sheepishly holler towards one of the men stepping out of Linguine’s condo. He approaches. “Is everything alright in there?” I use my neighbor’s name to make it clear I know them. “Unfortunately, they passed away,” the detective shares with me. He is younger than I am, and his face still has the freshness of someone who experiences his uniquely macabre work as separate from the rest of his life. “Oh my God. What about Linguine? I mean. The dog.”
“She is with the girlfriend for now.”
“Okay, yeah. They hadn’t been dating that long. I’m glad she’s safe though.”
The detective asks me the typical logistical questions a Death Scene Investigator asks a neighbor, I suppose. Contact information, where the person’s relatives may be, if I’d seen anything, heard anything.
I can’t stop thinking about Linguine. The more I learn from the jaded, plainspoken detectives, the more it breaks my heart. The amount of hours she was in there. The amount of times I walked right by. This is often the only thought that keeps me going, knowing how much Hank cares and how much fresh air he needs. I feel a dutiful pang flash through my body. When I speak to the first detective again for the second time, I try to reiterate, “If they need any help with the dog, please pass along my contact information.” He talks about the protocol for these situations and how if she is surrendered by the family she will wind up in the pound.
Birch and his person return from the cross and walk up the other side of the driveway. The detectives accost him. Standing there with the detectives, we have the most conversation we ever have. I return to shoveling my driveway and the road in front of our houses. The various official vehicles are parked all over the street so I try to make things a bit easier for everyone. What else do you even do.
While I am standing there shoveling, several parts of the investigation unfold right in front of my eyes. I live in a glass house. There is almost no way to avoid it unless I close my blinds and close my eyes. I keep shoveling because my body is shaking and I am already so overdue for a good cry that the floodgates are extra jammed now.
I hear Jack’s mom ring Shadow’s dinner bell and do her sing song call, “Shaaaaaa-dow.” I see Shadow slinking between the detective car and the police car. I walk over there to lay eyes on her, just to see how she’s doing after 24 hours of temperatures in the teens or below. She always pulls through, but after each brutal storm I can almost see the new gray hairs. She is a bit wooly like a horse that overwinters in pasture.
Jack’s parents say hello and ask what all the commotion is across the way. “Oh, you haven’t heard?”
Already, I can sense the silence of a house with no Linguine. I even miss her barks in the night, when she would stay out in the yard until the wee hours while I was already in bed. She barked at every woodchuck and deer in the neighborhood.
The next day, I am shoveling again when her dad’s sister and boyfriend arrive. We exchange teary, puffy-eyed waves. At one point I shovel with the boyfriend, who clearly is way out of his element. I ask about Linguine. “Who?” he says. “His dog,” I reply. I am almost too numb to be angry at him for not knowing. “Oh, she’s with the girlfriend, we’re about to go pick her up after this.” I ardently shovel their driveway while the boyfriend paces and smokes another cigarette. The sister is taking Guine’s dad’s truck and his driveway is even more treacherous than mine. She skids down it and looks at me with panicked eyes. The boyfriend directs her with a cigarette between his lips. She catches the skid as the street levels out and gives me a teary, sheepish wave. The truck grumbles down our frozen street. Linguine is not surfing on the rear window sill. I don’t think I will ever see her again.