How the Hen House Turns—The Unthinkable: Running Free

How the Hen House Turns
The Unthinkable: Running Free
Column by Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.

Skates, our blond border collie, was missing. I must have gone downstairs and called, then whistled. No Skates. I walked down the front stairs, up the driveway to the backyard and called and whistled again. Still no Skates.

What is remarkable, now that I think of it, is that I felt no angst, just a little irritation: “Oh dear. Skates and Sammy are probably off somewhere on campus.”

Those were our graduate school years 1959-1963 in Madison, Wisc. Sammy was a small dog who lived somewhere nearby and often came to visit Skates. I had no idea who owned Sammy. He was friendly to us humans and a playful, unassuming companion for our much larger golden girl. When Skates was outside, he would often show up, and they would peruse the neighborhood doing what dogs do—mostly sniffing every bush to see who or what had been around lately.

Some years earlier on Pa’s Hayward, Calif. victory farm, a similar friendship had blossomed between our first pup Boots and Browny, a dark brown German shepherd whose territory included our entire 40 acres and old man Madeiros’s acres across the gravel road.

The road ran down the hill of fruit trees, including fig trees with their smooth horizontal branches for hanging by one’s knees. The dogs hunted gophers and moles, and I think Mr. Madeiros fed Browny occasionally, but no one ever claimed to “own” the dog. Browny belonged to no one. He simply occupied the neighborhood. No one worried about it. Now, in most US communities, such acceptance—an attitude of laissez faire toward “strays” is unthinkable—for good reasons like rabies and pack behavior.

Later, in Madison, Wisc., I had no thought of not letting a dog run free. Now, allowing such freedom to one’s pet is unthinkable. It’s analogous to the idea of letting your five-year-old walk across the neighborhood to kindergarten. We old folks all did it, right? Now parental cars line up in front of schools, even junior high schools, to take children home safely, in spite of their loss of exercise and independence. Let them walk home? It’s unthinkable; the world has changed.

With little angst, and no thought of impropriety or a feeling of guilt, I walked down the street in Madison, calling Skates and Sammy. I crossed the railroad tracks and spotted them running toward me across the grassy acreage surrounding some university buildings.

The dogs erupted with joyful hops and tore off up the hill to our home on Breese Terrace. There they waited for me on the front porch. Times change, and we can’t help but feel some nostalgia for the years when we were growing up. That’s the way the world is supposed to be, isn’t it? Or not?

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