There is nothing more dispiriting in life to live next to a dog chained up outside. It happened to me once, years ago, and it became so depressing that I finally did something about it because I was losing my heart. Here is the story: I moved to a town and began walking my dogs past a neighbor’s home on our way to the beach. I observed the neighbor’s big red dog chained up outside, day and night. The dog had roughly 30 feet to run on a one-acre lot and a little ramshackle wood fort for shelter. Sometimes the dog would stand up as we passed, but usually she just slept on a mat in the dirt, rain or shine, her head buried in a curl. This went on for three months. During that time, I’d never met my neighbor or seen him walk his dog, let alone interact with it. It was possible that the dog hadn’t been off the chain in the all the time I’d been living here. One morning I passed the dog and called out to her, “Hey, Brownie! How’s it going?” which was odd because the dog was red. She looked up, let out a mean bark, then resumed her curl. From that moment on, I started calling out to Brownie every time I walked the dogs to the beach. A couple of days after I started this, she stopped barking, stood up, and wagged her tail at our coming and going. As I said, I’d never met my neighbor, but, of course, being a writer predisposed with a keen insight into the human condition who loved dogs, I knew him. Therefore, it was safe to get pissed off. Why couldn’t the neighbor get up fifteen minutes early and walk his dog once or twice or week? And how about his wife? Wasn’t it her dog too? The beach was ten minutes away. Why wouldn’t everyone with a dog want to take his best friend to the beach every morning or evening? By chance, one late afternoon, I was walking the Sonny and Ray home after visiting the beach when I came upon another neighbor, Ed, working in his yard. We’d chatted a few times before and he came over and petted the dogs.
“Hey, what’s the deal with that dog chained up over there?” I said.
“Her name’s Maddie. I feed her when Mike’s away, when they go on trips.”
“Have you ever tried to walk her?”
“No, she seems sort of aggressive when I get close and she probably weighs a hundred and twenty pounds.”
“It just kills me to see her chained up all the time. I don’t understand how people can do that to a dog. You think Mike would let me walk her?”
“Sure. Who wouldn’t? Let’s go ask him.”
“You mean right now?”
“Why not? I just saw him drive in.”
I walked my dogs back to the house and then jogged over to Mike’s house. Ed was waiting by the front door. He knocked and a few seconds later Mike appeared and came down few steps to greet us. He looked tired. I introduced myself and we shook hands.
“Hey, I was wondering, would you mind if I walked your dog sometimes? I’ve got a lot of free time and would love to help out.”
“Yeah, that’s a great idea. I hear Maddie bark in the morning at 6:00 or so, and I always say, ‘There goes Matt with his dogs.’”
He knew my name and I had no idea how.
As we approached Maddie, she stood up, wagged her tail, and let out a series of grunts and cries. Mike petted her head and we discussed her various traits. “I’ve been meaning to get up and walk her,” he said.
“Why don’t we meet tomorrow morning and have all the dogs meet. At about 6:30,” I said.
“Okay, see you then.” We shook hands and I said goodbye to Mike and Ed and jogged home. It was on. It was on with a dog!
The next morning, Mike was ready to go and we walked all the dogs together on leashes as a sort of introduction. A little hostility between Maddie and my dogs flared briefly, but it was nothing serious. Most humans holding different religious beliefs act a lot worse when then they meet one another.
At first we walked in silence. I gathered Mike wasn’t much of a talker. “Mike, where do you work at?” I asked.
“I’m a Ranger down at South Beach State Park. Been there for twenty-two years.”
“That’s impressive. I love that park. You guys do a great job.”
We made small park talk for a few more minutes, and then it was time to take the path to the beach, Mike didn’t follow me.
“Don’t you want to take Maddie down to the beach?”
“I have to get to work.”
“Okay, so I’ll go over later and see how it goes with Maddie.”
Later that day, with Mike and his wife at work, I approached Maddie and she stood up, jumped in little circles, and wagged her tail. I leashed her up and we headed for the beach. When we reached the sand, I took a look around and didn’t see another human being. I released Maddie and she ran to the ocean in a goofy lumbering manner that made me laugh aloud. She found the wrack line and began gobbling every dead crustacean in sight. We spent thirty minutes on the beach running and roughhousing, playing stick and tug. The next morning, after I took my dogs to the beach, Maddie and I hit the sand again. We did this for the next five years I lived in this town and Maddie became my de facto dog.
Perhaps it is worth adding that not long after I began walking Maddie, I anonymously paid though a nonprofit organization called Fences For Fido to have a fence constructed for Maddie. Fences for Fido’s motto is, “Unchained, one dog at a time.” (Please donate to them.)