It never fails out here in suburban New England. One dog in the neighborhood lets out a bark, and the one next door feels compelled to answer. Then the hound across the street and the one around the corner join in. Pretty soon the air is filled with the howls and yips of a dozen pups, each one standing as close to their fence as they can possibly get.
So I was thinking this morning, as the canine cacophony made its way around the block, the life of a suburban dog is a lot like life in prison.
No, I mean it!
Think about it. The dog wakes up in the morning. He’s hungry and he has to pee. Can he just head outside and do his business before grabbing a bite to eat? No, sirree. Instead he has to wait patiently until the boss decides it’s time. If he gets frustrated and starts to make trouble, he’ll probably either be ignored or yelled at.
And when he’s finally fed, will he get a plate full of beef and cheese, or at least some toast and peanut butter? Nuh, uh, not in most houses. Instead he’ll get a metal bowl filled with a single scoop of tasteless, overcooked, unidentifiable “food”. Or if he’s lucky, a blob of vaguely meat smelling goop with embedded bits of orange and white stuff.
If he doesn’t eat it, he waits until the boss decides to feed him again.
And what does the dog’s day entail? Mostly boredom, right? He can nap, gaze longingly out the window at the world passing by, and dream of freedom.
If he’s a lucky dog, he’ll get a little time outside in the yard. Of course he’ll be confined inside the fence, or possibly allowed to “walk” alongside the boss. But he definitely won’t get a chance to run into the woods the way he wants. He won’t be allowed to roll himself in a dead animal or dig in someone’s compost pile.
Every minute of his day is controlled by the boss. Will he have a chance to play ball, or fetch a stick? That’s up to the bosses and their moods.
But the most striking similarity between suburban dogs and prison inmates, as far as I can tell, is the way they try desperately to communicate with each other.
Of course, I’ve never stepped foot inside of a human prison, but I do read mysteries and crime novels. I’ve seen Shawshank Redemption about 10 times, too. So I know that lonely inmates yell things to each other from cell to cell. I know that even when they can’t see each other, they call out, make jokes, complain and plot devious methods of escape.
Apparently they sometimes even tap on the walls or bars to send morse code.
They are desperate to connect with others in their same situation. They are determined to share their experiences with sympathetic souls.
Exactly like the dogs in my neighborhood.
Just this morning I was sipping my coffee. I hadn’t fed the dogs yet, but I had let them out the door and into the fenced yard. One of the big dogs down the street let out three loud barks. The little dog across the street from him answered. They went back and forth a couple of times, just short woofs and arfs.
“Gonna be warm.”
“Me, too. And I haven’t pooped yet.”
The next voice to join the conversation belonged to a Shepard mix a few houses past ours. His deep, bell like voice added a note of tension to the exchange.
“I smell chickens! You know the guy across the street is raising chickens, right? Chiiiiiiiiiiiickens!”
“And ducks! Ducks! I smell ducks! I want to eat duuuuuuuucks!”
By now my two dogs were standing at full attention in the farthest corner of the fence. Both had their heads up, noses twitching. Both had hackles raised.
“I WANT OUT!” One of them suddenly howled. “I gotta get outta here!!!” Every dog voice in the area joined the chorus.
Within a minute, the air was filled with howls, rising and falling in the morning air. You would have thought that a pack of wolves was out there. The howls were chilling in their desperate intensity.
The hair on my arms rose.
The inmates had to be restrained before there was an uprising.
“Come on inside, sweeties!” I called. “Time for num nums!”
I shook their metal bowls of crunchy food-like bits.
They came inside, but they weren’t real happy. They sort of slouched past me.
I swear the terrier mumbled something about a breakout.