Lessons from Copper’s escape.


Inevitably at least once each summer, someone leaves the rickety old gate to our enclosed backyard open. And when I say someone, well, 9.999 times out of 10 it’s your’s truly — me! And friends, what happens when you leave a gate open —things escape!

No, not a wily old bull, a goat or even some backyard chickens up and ran off. It was our golden retriever Copper, and it was my fault as per usual.

I walked out the gate to move some transplants around — organizing several varieties of hot peppers to go in the side garden. While I was making frequent trips in and out of the backyard each time I put the door up to the lock, but did not latch it. Like I said it’s a rickety old thing and it can sometimes give you a challenge when attempting to open it.

And Copper, well, he just sat there jealously watching me come and go. I walked out the gate bringing a 3’ x 3’ garden box to the front yard for some watermelon transplants. I put the gate up to the door, picked up the small, square wooden box — made my way down the driveway with my bulky delivery.

I set the box near our sidewalk trying to position it as level as I could with our matching garden boxes in the front “farm” yard. I had it just about right and was headed back to the end of the driveway to start loading dirt by the shovelful into our secondhand, 30-year-old wheelbarrow —when I saw it — the open gate.

It couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes that I was in the front yard, 10-whole minutes, but I guess a lot could happen in 10 minutes — I mean a flash flood, a volcanic eruption, the apocalypse — and even your dog could run away.

Gasping at this — not again — I grumbled, and verbally blasted myself in my head, because I wouldn’t want our neighbors to hear what I was actually thinking!

Checking his usual spots around the backyard — the shady spot against the garage, behind the adirondack chair next to the firewood, and in the lily patch — nowhere! Copper was on the run.

I grabbed a leash hustling out the front door hoping to run into the rascal. I must of had a frantic look on my face, because a woman around the block from our house asked if there was something wrong.

I told her I was scouring the neighborhood for Copper, described the 7-year-old runaway retriever and his escape tactics.

“I thought you looked familiar,” she said. “I see you walking both your dogs all the time.” She let me know her name was Anita and that she hadn’t seen Copper, but would be on the look out for him.

Not really giving it too much thought as I peered into a few backyards looking for Copper, but the dogs and I are recognizable in this little community. A neighbors whom I have never spoken to has seen the dogs and I on a daily basis. And treated me, a stranger, as a friend.

Doesn’t that say something though — something about being able to count on your neighbors? I don’t think it was too long ago when we all knew our neighbors, spoke with them about life, politics, family, had them over for dinner.

Growing up I remember one of my parents neighbors, he was an older guy, Joe. Each spring he went lake trout fishing, bringing back gigantic catches of enormous, fat, fresh Seneca Lake trout. He’d clean it, gut it and send some over to house.

My mother would put it in the oven with lemon and butter it was just so tender and delicious. But that’s what neighbors do, share the good news, share the bounty and be kind and helpful.

After speaking with Anita I headed back up the street — no luck in finding Copper. On the way back home, looking in between houses and cars, I noticed a man washing his car, based on initial impressions he didn’t look as though he would have the friendliest disposition. But he came up to me as I was walking by and asked me if everything was OK.

I told him who I was, and said I’m on the lookout for my dog and without hesitation he said his name was James and asked me to describe Copper. He said he hadn’t seen my runaway dog, but that there were a lot of other female dogs in the neighborhood, which Copper may be interested in and that he’d also be on the watch.

This situation proving you don’t really know people based on your initial judgement, again another friendly neighbor coming to aid the troubling situation. I consider myself lucky for having run into Anita and James, and luckier still for having their help.

A bit downtrodden, frustrated and in general ticked off — I made my way up around the corner headed back to the house. Generally I walk with my head down, the constant thinker walk I call it, but I looked up for a second and I saw my next door neighbor, Charity, waiving me down. Figuring she had just seen the missing golden in question, I picked up the pace and hastily my made way down the street.

The whole situation is now funny to me really, Charity told me she noticed Copper was in  their backyard. She personally nabbed him, putting him in the house where he belongs. I couldn’t thank her enough, Copper has a whole backyard to himself, but I guess it’s not enough, because he has a case of the wanders.

But I did learn something reassuring about some of the people in our neighborhood. I know we live in the city and nowadays people come and go, renting or selling their houses in a couple of years — no permanence. But one thing, one thing is permanent, that’s the basic instinct to help someone in need to be kind, to be human.



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