The week after my husband and I got home from our honeymoon, we brought home our first dog. Trixie was only a year old, and we were already her fourth home. We loved her for the rest of her life. Trixie was there for me when I miscarried two babies, and when I brought home our sons. She moved from our first married apartment to all the places we lived before we could finally afford a home with a big fenced yard and a dog door just for her. She was fourteen when we laid her to rest in the shade of the big pear tree right outside our bedroom window. It was her favorite place. She would lay there for hours watching the bird feeders and barking lazily at the squirrels.
I’m not really a “dog person,” but I loved her. When she died, I thought we would spend a few years without a dog, but within days of Trixie’s death, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. My kids were devastated, my husband was sad, and the house just didn’t feel the same without the scritch-scratch of little claws on our old hardwood floors.
I gave my husband some parameters. Shelter dog. Small-ish. Housebroken. Non-shedding would be a dream. I was willing to wait until we found the right one.
Two days later, my husband sent me this photo from our local shelter. This dog was 8 weeks old, decidedly not housebroken, definitely destined to be medium to large-ish, and that wiry hair was going to get all over everything.
I had looked at a million puppies without feeling a thing, but one look at her tiny little face, and I knew I wanted her to live here forever.
The shelter got hundreds of applications from all over the country. We went to visit her, and my boys cried when we left her. It took all my strength not to join them. The idea of that baby spending another night in the shelter was more than I wanted to think about. I promised them that if the shelter didn’t choose us, another dog would come our way soon.
But the shelter did choose us. Out of hundreds, we were the lucky ones.
Our girl’s name is Willow, and she’s been ours for more than two years now. She grew up from the cutest puppy to the cutest adult dog alive. She always looks like she needs to be brushed. That wiry puppy hair grew into a wild mess all over her entire body. We groom her and she’s a disaster again in an hour. She has never met a mud puddle she didn’t love. She steals my dish towels and my kids’ toys. Willow lets me put her hair in ponytails, and has never been anything but gentle. We have never heard her bark indoors, and she is truly the best, sweetest dog we could ever ask for.
Except for one teeny little thing.
She’s a runner. And she is FAST. If she sees an open door, she will run through it and be out of sight before you know what hit you. She always comes back, but it’s anyone’s guess how long she will be gone, where she will go, and why the heck she thinks this is a good idea.
Luckily, she doesn’t dig out or jump the fence. (Okay, there was that one little tiny time last spring when she found a gap in the fence. She apparently rolled in many mud puddles until her ID tag fell off, then went to visit the brand-new neighbors who had just moved in two houses down. They thought she was a stray. They gave her a bath and posted her photo on NextDoor. I was mortified, but she smelled awesome.) Usually, she doesn’t need to find an escape route. She knows she has one built in if she just waits for the perfect moment.
His name is Walker, he is almost 5, and apparently, his mother (AKA me) raised him in a barn, because he doesn’t know how to shut a damn door.
Willow knows her best chance at an afternoon of freedom is to wait for her little accomplice to leave the front door open. She has the patience of a saint. When she hears my van pull into the driveway, she runs outside and watches us through the fence. If my husband is with me, she just hangs out. She knows her limits, and one big, booming, “Willow!” from him will make her reluctantly run back home.
She has no problem easily ignoring my shrieking, frantic pleas for her to come back. If I’m alone with the kids, she sneaks up to the dog door and waits. As soon as that door is unattended for even a millisecond, she jets through the house at one zillion MPH and out the front door to freedom.
Before I even know what hit me, she’s three houses down, barking at a French mastiff, aptly named Hooch.
Hooch happily jumps his fence to be with her, and the mean, toothless chihuahua from next door usually joins the party, too. I’ve even seen them wandering around with a damn cat. What the hell. It’s like “Oliver and Company,” only not cute at all, and super embarrassing.
Last night, I noticed that Hooch’s owner has installed an invisible fence. I can’t help but wonder if Willow is to blame. (That’s a lie. I don’t wonder. She is totally to blame.)
In the two years since Willow has been here, I’ve chased her on foot while dragging a toddler in a wagon. I’ve waddled through the streets heavily pregnant, calling out for her and weeping because pregnancy hormones are a freaking nightmare. Once I just stood on the front porch, weakly calling her name and shaking a box of treats, hoping to summon her home with my beef-flavored improvised maraca.
But I think the low point of my dog-chasing life was driving through my neighborhood at 5 mph holding hot dogs out the drivers-side window, hoping she would smell them and I could convince her to hop in the car.
Last spring, Walker threw the door open to greet his brother who was getting off the school bus, and Willow seized the day. Instead of coming home, my kid threw his backpack into the yard and just took off like a shot, following her down the street.
I tossed Walker (and my newborn daughter!) into the van and took off after Henry, but he was nowhere to be found. I lost my shit. There was no reasoning with me. I was driving up and down the street screaming his name out the window, certain that my son had fallen down an old-timey well like an episode of Lassie. Willow is sweet, but she’s not a majestic Collie, prepared to rescue my kid from certain death. This useless mutt would definitely not alert the sheriff.
After a tense exchange with a neighbor who thought I was screaming at him instead of trying to locate my missing child, my boy and the pup came trotting out from behind some stranger’s home together, Willow walking obediently next to my smiling, proud first-grader.
It is the only time in my life that I have laughed and cried at the same time, maniacally like a cartoon villain. My children and the pup were all terrified.
Willow’s most recent escapade involved bolting out the door while she was still sort of drying from a bath. We hadn’t yet put her collar back on. She spent the night in someone’s garage, and I spent the night consoling my crying children who thought she was gone forever. Due to the miracle of social media, we got her back the next day. Thankfully, and she’s been home without incident for a couple months now. I think maybe being locked in a strange garage overnight was like canine “Scared Straight” for my sneaky pup.
And I know this is where the obsessive dog people judge me, like I should somehow figure out a way to outsmart this dog every single time. Well, I’ve tried. She’s fast, and I’m distracted. We are doing our best over here. Willow is warm, well-fed and adored by a family of five. She has a fenced acre to play in, a dog door, a dog house, and everything a pup could ever want. She’s just naughty, and wants to run. Can’t blame a girl for trying.
Willow is so, SO GOOD in every other way. She is the sweetest, most loving, gentle, adorable dog alive. She loves my kids. Willow rests her little head in my lap while I write sometimes, and she’s such a calming presence.
It’s hard to believe that sweet baby is the same disobedient dog that, every now and then, rustles up a multi-species posse and spends an evening running the streets.
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