Naughty Jake’s trip to the dog park alone


I treat pet care a little like a religion. Most of my day is consumed (happily) with caring for, entertaining, and snuggling with the 20 or so animals on our little farm. But for all of our attention (and experience), Jake, the newest addition to our family, continues to challenge us.


Jake and Betsy

Early last week, Naughty-Jake came in from the back yard huffing and puffing and greeted me in his usual exuberant style of jumping up and plopping his deep shepherd chest on my lap as I worked at my desk. He smelled like hard play and his ruff was completely wet, like he’d been wrestling with other dogs … but that was impossible. No one was home who could have taken him to the dog park.

Later in the week I was picking my brother up at the airport when “unknown caller” popped up on my phone. I ignored it. They called back. I begrudgingly answered and heard a strange man talking through the wind — saying something mostly unintelligible. I did catch some broken phrases: “I think (crackle) dog park (crackle) real nice boy.” With a sinking feeling, I pieced it together. When I left for the airport, Naughty-Jake had let himself out of the house by pawing the door knob, gotten out of the fenced back yard and made his way to the dog park, where, I later learned, he sat patiently at the gate until someone let him in.

He IS a very good boy — in his own naughty, self-actualized way. Jake was very happy at the park when I made it back to him. But I still haven’t recovered. I wasn’t even in the same town! What if someone had “rescued” him before I got there? What if he hadn’t gone to the dog park, where there are always dog lovers, but had gone toward the highway?!?! Argh! And I almost didn’t even take the call!


Jake’s first time at the dog park.

We have a farm with lots of entertainment for a dog. But regardless of how much work there is for him here (harassing cows, herding chickens), how many times we check the doors to make sure they are locked, how many training classes he goes to or how high our fence is, there is always a small chance that the planets will align to give this clever pooch the chance to go exploring. I now suspect he’d been going to the park all week when I thought he was in the back yard. What a life he has been living!

He already has an up-to-date microchip registration, he wears a martingale collar that won’t slip off (although I fear choking, too), and he has our address and phone number on his ID tag. But this week I think I’ll go get another tag that says, “I’m Jake. I live nearby. If you meet me at the dog park, please stay with me until my parents come find me.” It will have to be a big tag. Or maybe I should have him wear a doggie tee so I can write a longer letter including his full address, our email and maybe even his PetFirst insurance information in case he gets hurt. Maybe our friends at the Animal Rescue Site or Thundershirt will help us create a doggie identification t-shirt. Just in case.

My visiting brother suggested that perhaps I was overreacting. I should relish how smart and responsible Jake is. After all, he did go straight to the dog park. He is undeniably a good, smart boy, I agreed as I plotted to fortify the livestock fence around our back yard. But you can’t be too careful. I live in a great neighborhood, but there are undeniable dangers out there for such a handsome rapscallion. He could get hit by a car, kicked by a cow or rescued by someone like me who might fall in love!

Jake is on a short(er) leash now. We go to the back yard together. But I know he’ll outwit us. Life is just too hectic to keep the fortress properly sealed with so many animals and people coming and going from the farm. The storms across the country last week provide ample evidence that we can’t provide for every circumstance, no matter how cautious we are. We all, from time to time, have to place our confidence in our pets’ tags and microchips, and the kindness of strangers.