Please don’t let your dog run loose in the wilderness.

A wordy cautionary tale which turned into a wall of words: Please bear with me.

For the benefit of anyone not a regular to this blog: My name is Joel, and I’m a desert hermit. I don’t live in a park. I don’t live within ten miles of pavement. I’m several miles as the crow flies from the nearest power pole. This is where the wild things are.

A few days ago some neighbors very abruptly lost a dog. While I have nothing but the deepest sympathy, it could have been avoided.

When I first moved to the desert, my kind hosts had a pack of dogs. I lived with or at least near most of those dogs through the whole rest of their lifetimes, and since I was not a dog person before coming here it was quite a learning experience. Though they’re all dead now, this having started almost 13 years ago, we never lost one of them to the desert but I often wonder why not. I think we were just lucky. They were allowed to run loose much of the time, they didn’t have collars or tags, and with one arguable exception I wouldn’t have called any of them especially wise to the danger.

I didn’t let Little Bear run loose because he thought he was the biggest baddest meanest SOB in the valley (he really kinda was) and he caused me trouble with neighbors and would almost certainly have led me into conflict with the cattlemen. Oh, how he wanted to kill a calf. Unless he met a mountain lion or something he probably wasn’t in any danger from predators (the one time he came nose-to-nose with a coyote was hilarious) and deep in his heart he wanted to go out and be one of those dogs. He was a slave to his chase reflex and when he was young he frequently broke clips off tie-out cables until he finally ended up shackled to hardware more appropriate to a horse. He avoided snakes and cactus but I don’t think he’d have survived a porcupine because he was an impulsive idiot. Also he had a lot of Newfoundland in him and if he’d been trapped in the sun he’d have quickly died of exposure. That dog overheated at the drop of any hat. I always felt bad about it because he lived with Ghost, and Ghost ran around loose. I worried about Ghost but somehow he managed to die old and fat. If he paid for his sins it was only in the form of old injuries coming back to haunt him in his dotage and … well, I can’t throw stones at that.

Anyway: Speaking of porcupines…Regular readers might remember Porcupine Dog. If I may quote myself from that second link…

And this is why I don’t let any dog run around loose unless I’m convinced he has some sense. He’ll have a great time – until something kills him.

Sometimes even a dog that has been raised in the desert will panic into doing something that leaves it lost and alone. Dogs can be stupid. I’ll shorten this screed by suggesting you read my story Ghost does his good deed for the day. That dog got home because his owner, whatever else I may say about how she cares for her dog, did at least provide him with a tag with a name and phone number. Tag your dog with its name and your phone number – even if it’s fenced. Even if it’s “always” leashed. Sometimes dogs run off and get into trouble, and though the odds aren’t good I might find it but I can’t return it without contact information.

Which brings us to townie dogs.

Regular readers know that my current dog is one I would frankly not have chosen left to my own devices. The same month that Little Bear died, which was 13 months ago, I also lost a friend in Wyoming. She had a Corgi…


…one thing led to another and needing a place to go he ended up here. Torso Boy is really quite a clever little dog and though it took a while we have warmed up to one another. But he will never be anything but a house dog. When he goes out for a shit, which is basically to the end of the driveway and back, he is always on a leash. This is because he has spent his entire life in a house or a fenced yard and simply has no concept that anything might be dangerous. He has lived with me for eleven months and he still doesn’t understand cactus: I pulled a spine out of his paw this very morning. Recently he literally stepped on a snake. A big snake. I let it happen just to see what he’d do. He learned nothing. He’s a townie dog and he’ll always be a townie dog and that’s just the way it is. It’s not an insult. But a dog that hasn’t been trained young to understand that it’s part of the food chain will always behave as if there is no food chain. It will heedlessly bark and chase and have fun and not realize that it isn’t a game until something terrible happens.

My friends are weekender neighbors whose place isn’t far from mine. They have had two Shelties which are kind of miniature Collies. And they let them off the leash – because of course they love to run. And they didn’t have tags – because of course they’re right there, how can they get lost?

And then something spooked them both – my friends weren’t able to identify what – and both dogs ran off as fast as their short legs could take them. And one came back.

And my poor friends searched for three days. But now it’s Sunday, and it’s time to go back to the city. And how would that make you feel? They put up fliers. Maybe somebody will find a Sheltie. I hope I do. I’ll certainly continue to look for her.

But I don’t expect to find her. And I guess that’s all I wanted to say.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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5 Responses to Please don’t let your dog run loose in the wilderness.

  1. Winston Smith says:

    And microchip your dog too. It really isn’t that expensive. Despite your best efforts, folks, that dog WILL get away from you one day.

    My current girl is Never allowed outside off leash. We live in semi-rural but she is an Akita. The typical Akita thinks every animal it sees HAS to be killed.
    One day the door didn’t shut well when I came in with armfuls of groceries. 15 minutes later, I am wondering where my dog is. Is see the door and experience the closest thing to panic I have ever known. Call and call and call her. Drive like a maniac to the neighbors who let their dog run loose to warn them.
    Drive around the area, calling her.
    Then I get home and she’s sitting at the edge of the forest waiting for me. Hadnt even gone off the property.
    As careful as I have always been, I found a new level of intensity that day. Now she is decrepit with age, but still tries to kill any dog that comes near her. And she is ALWAYS on lead when she leaves the house even tho I can outrun her now and she is blind.

    REALLY hope you or someone finds that sheltie. ime, they are some of the most clueless (ie survival instinct) dogs I have known.

  2. terrapod says:

    Sad, but keep an eye out, sheltie #2 may get lucky and find a human before something eats or it it dies of exposure.

    BTW your recommendations apply to townie humans as well – you know – the kind that are unawares of snakes, scorpions and other things that bite, and go off traipsing in the desert with city shoes or sneakers instead of boots,, no wide brim hat and insufficient water, lacking a good bit of orientation skills.

  3. I saw a Far Side cartoon long ago that comes to mind often. It showed a clearing and a treeline with a banner above saying “Welcome to the Woods!”. Below were two bear amid a pile of bones – one playing with a skull.

    As to the Arizona desert – it’s said that if it doesn’t prick, stick, or try to bite you – it’s probably hiding something that will.

    At about 7 y.o. my favorite farm dog got a home-done neutering – apparently from an annoyed neighbor. I wanted vengeance but my uncle explained how my dog – and by extension – we – were to blame. He also explained to me that often any stray dog is simply shot dead if it doesn’t mind it’s manners. That dog’s name was “Lucky” because he was the survivor of a litter that some town person had abandoned along the road near my uncle’s property. He was lucky twice-over.

    Neighbors – some weekenders – have lost dogs several times around here in the last decade. Same old story – loose for a romp and something goes awry. I’ve helped find a few. If a neighbor’s dog/s comes around the property I secure it/them and let the neighbor know that they need to come and pick-up their dog/s. It’s not even a question as to whether they’re allowed to continue on loose. One git even had the nerve to offer that since it was late – he’d just pick them up in the morning. It would come as no surprise that when he finally showed – he chewed his dogs out. Those two dogs almost found new homes a couple counties over.

    The most interesting dog we wound up hosting overnight had gotten separated from a fence rider from a neighboring ranch. She was a brindle Ridgeback – quite a looker. The rider had a pair of them – sisters – and while going after some cattle had lost track of one of them. It’s a good thing for him that dog had a tag with a current number on it.

    At least twice a week since the heat has set in there’s been word on the local network news of some ‘rescue’ of day hikers – usually from parks adjacent to the nearest large city.

    “Welcome to the Woods!”

  4. LB says:

    Agree w/ Winston re: microchipping. I also use a Marco Polo brand radio transmitter which slides on my girl’s collar. The receiver stays with me. She is mostly Great Pyrenees, and they have the wanderlust.

    Also, if your dog will not come reliably when called, another option is PetLiner vibration collar. Mine wears this radio receiver when she goes out, on a second collar. This transmitter also stays with me. So, I can find her, and get her to come to me, under almost any circumstances, unless she is out of range. Thank God for modern technology.

  5. John says:

    I think a good way to treat your pet would be the same as a four year child.

    We live in Northwest Arizona. Our lot is a third of an acre and has a five foot chain link fence all the way around it.
    All three of our gates are always locked.
    We do NOT have a doggy door – like we did in California. Our baby is chipped and has a Mohave County dog license – most people in our neck of the woods don’t license their dogs.

    Not far from here are rattle snakes, scorpions and coyotes.
    Last year I found a Gila Monster about ten feet from the back door of the house.

    You can’t undo bad things.

To the stake with the heretic!