“Why can’t you teach him to return things instead of just take them?” Bob asked
as he picked up his wife’s plastic goose from our front porch. “My wife loves lawn
ornaments. She’s furious. Riley won’t leave ours alone.”
“I’m so sorry. I’ll reinforce the fence where he escaped.” I looked at the ugly
plastic bird and thought Riley had better taste than the neighbor’s wife.
“I’ve heard that before.” Bill turned and shook his finger at Riley. “You stay
home.” At that, my unhappy neighbor turned and stormed away clutching the black and
I looked at the brown eyes gazing back at me. “Let’s go find your escape route.”
Riley wagged his tail.
This dog scrounged trash, toys, pillows, shirts, cartons of milk, and sneakers. The
list goes on. You name it, and Riley has dragged it home. His larceny amused the
neighbors at first, but after six months, his propensity to escape our backyard and roam
the neighborhood while collecting treasures had moved well beyond entertaining. Our
options to keep the dog home had diminished to the significant undesirable few like a
cage or a shock collar.
“What did he steal this time?” Paula asked as I dragged the dog through the
kitchen to the back yard.
“The neighbor’s new goose ornament.”
She shook her head in disgust.
Once outside, I released him, and we began our morning vigil of walking the
perimeter, searching for the breach. He dashed ahead of me, sniffed the grass, and
barked. Fresh soil clung to his stomach, legs, and chest. He’d obviously tunneled under
the fence and belly-crawled to freedom.
“This is the spot,” I said, as I hauled our 50-gallon trashcan over and blocked his
escape route. I’d swing by Home Depot on my way home from work tonight and pick up
pave stones. Riley hadn’t learned to move those yet.
I looked down at the dog. “It won’t be long before the entire perimeter is paved.”
Riley rubbed my leg and wagged his whole back end at the sound of my voice.
That night when I entered the kitchen, Paula gave me a funny look.
“You’re home earlier than I expected. Did you forget the pave stones?”
Work had been crazy and I’d completely forgotten about my errand at Home
Depot. “I’ll go back out and get them.” I sighed as I stroked Riley’s broad forehead.
“Tomorrow should be soon enough. I’ve put the dog out a half-dozen times today.
And he’s been lying by the back door when I go to let him in. We’re probably safe for
I didn’t argue. I wasn’t excited about fighting the rush hour traffic.
The next morning Riley ran out to handle his morning duties. With the trashcan
barrier sealing his exit, I enjoyed my shower while Paula cooked breakfast.
“I’ll get the paper,” I yelled as I came downstairs, smelling of Irish Spring with
my hair still damp. When I opened the front door, Riley barged past me and bolted to the
I took in a deep breath and stepped out onto the porch. “Oh, boy!” I yelled over
my shoulder. “Paula! You’ve got to see this!” I shook my head and stared at a pile of
today’s newspapers. Riley must have tailed the delivery boy and retrieved every paper on
Paula stuck her head out the door and gasped. “There are at least a dozen papers
in that mound. I’ll call Tommy and let him know where his deliveries ended up. I’m sure
he’ll be getting complaints.”
“I’ll go and find out how Houdini freed himself this time.” I pushed past the dog
as he head-butted me, begging to be patted. “Lie down.” I pointed at the floor.
Riley whined as I shut the back door in his face. His wet nose pressed against the
glass while I canvased the area. He’d ripped open trash bags and had strewn our garbage
around the yard.
The trashcan was lying on its side. I could see mud where he’d clambered atop
and leaped over the fence. I climbed onto the can to see where he’d landed. Paw prints
across the hood of my neighbors new black Toyota Prius gave away his path.
“You’ve done it this time Riley!” I wasn’t happy, and the neighbor was going to
After I cleaned up the garbage storm, I returned to the kitchen and plopped down
at the table. “I don’t know what to do about this dog. Maybe we need to find Riley a new
home?” I stared at Paula. Her eyes brimmed over and tears ran down her cheeks.
“Why don’t we get a dog pen?” She sniffed. “I saw one with a canvas top. It
would keep him cool during the day and prevent him from climbing out.” Several
months ago, we’d tried a wire dog run, but unstoppable Riley learned how to slip his
“If you think it might work.” I had my doubts.
Riley appeared content in his new dog pen. The six-foot-high wire mesh sides and
thick canvas roof provided him a comfortable shelter. Rain or shine, he trotted willingly
into his private gazebo.
“I guess the pen turned out to be the answer,” Paula gloated. “He runs right out
and stands by its gate. I’m going to move his kiddie pool in so he can cool off in this
“Great idea.” Riley would lie for hours in a full pool and slurp the water.
At noon Paula called me at work. “Riley’s gone. I’ve scoured the neighborhood
and alerted Animal Control.”
The Animal Control officer knew Riley by name. She’d picked him up dozens of
times when he strayed too far from home on an escapade.
“How did he get out of the pen?”
“You won’t believe this. The dog flipped over the kiddie pool and used it as a
stool. He chewed the straps off a corner of the canvas top, then climbed out.”
When I got home that night, the Animal Control van was in the driveway. The
officer had Riley on a leash and was holding something substantial in her other hand.
“You found him.” I reached down and patted the dog. “Where was he?”
“I drove around after your wife called, making larger and larger circles away from
this neighborhood.” She laughed. “When I turned onto Everett, there he was walking
down the street dragging this.” She held up an electric blanket. “He’s preparing for a cold
“Oh, my God.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Who’s could it be?”
“I have an idea. I’ll let you know.” The officer left me with the dog and a slightly
soiled electric blanket.
The phone rang about an hour later.
“The blanket belongs three blocks west. I’ll pick it up on my way by tomorrow.”
“How did you find out?”
“From my husband. He’s a cop. A woman reported it stolen. She was airing it on
her clothesline. When she went out to collect it, it was gone.”
After the electric blanket incident, the neighbors declared war. And honestly, we
couldn’t blame them. My wife and I admitted defeat. Either we had to move to the
country, or the dog had to go.
The deck on our country home is never empty. Riley keeps his pile of treasures in
one corner. Thanks to him, we have a constant supply of kindling wood to start our new
If you ever owned a golden retriever, you’d understand our decision to move.