On Friday afternoon, I got the opportunity live out one of my nightmare scenarios. I wasn't sure I'd write about it, but I decided it's important to show the downside of owning huskies. My posts and Instagram photos paint dog mushing in a pretty positive light, but it's not all beautiful scenery and cute puppies. Before you rush out and buy some sled dogs of your own, you should probably read this.
A few months ago, we got a fence put up at the Pawling house. The yard is large and the ground is rocky and uneven. There's also a lot of gates and decks and tiny spots that needed to be secured. We've kept a close eye on the dogs whenever they're outside, making sure to reinforce any spot that seemed inadequate. And for a time, all was well.
I was off on Friday (work treated me to a 3-day weekend for my birthday), so we slept in while it rained. I finally got up around 11 and let the dogs outside, but they didn't seem interested in being out for long. They came back in, ate, then went back out—all part of their usual routine. I left the back door open so they could come in and out as they pleased. It took about 20 minutes for me to make breakfast, and when I sat down to eat, I thought it was odd that only Dexter was there eyeballing our food.
I called them from the door, but no dogs came running. They don't tend to hang outside when it's raining. I threw on fuzzy boots and a plaid shirt (over my crop top and pajama pants) and walked over to the side of the yard, assuming they were obsessed with some animal they had cornered. But nothing, no dogs.
I checked all their usual hang out spots, but they were nowhere to be found. Now the panic sets in. I couldn't see any obvious breakout point, but I knew they were gone. I ran inside, asked Will to help, and ran out into the woods that surround the back of the house and yard.
A lot went through my mind during the hour or so that they were gone. I also made a lot of weird clothing decisions as I ran back and forth from the house to the woods in the pouring rain. I attempted to have Dexter track them, which he may have been doing, but it's hard to tell with all the peeing and grass eating he did. Will jumped in his van and started checking around the neighborhood.
Now at this point, I'm fully prepared to never see them again. Or at the very least, to not see all four of them again. That was going to be it for me. I'd move away and never get another dog. I had failed them.
Finally, Will called and my cold, wet fingers could barely work the iPhone screen. He saw Willow darting through a pasture. A woman said she saw "all of them" (whatever that meant) around the back of her farm. I just about collapsed with relief, but the details were foggy. He said he'd come grab me if he couldn't wrangle them. I started back to the house with about an inch of water sloshing around my hiking sneakers—no socks, because I couldn't think straight to dress properly.
Luckily—so, so incredibly luckily, he managed to get them all in his van without much trouble. Blitz, Knox, and Denali came right to him. Willow was a little hesitant but came once she recognized Will. Or so I was told. At this point in the story, I'm standing in the house, dripping red hair dye remnants and trying to remember how to breathe.
It took about 15 minutes for him to get back home with the four soggy adventurers because they got that far away. The farm was over a mile from the house, and in the pouring rain, it's unlikely they heard my calls. None of them seemed terribly phased and Willow was eager to go right back outside. Not until we reassess the entire fenceline, of course. We found what we assume was the breakout point, just a small gap that was loosened up with all the rain.
The moral of the story: these dogs fuckin' run. That's why we love them, right? It's worth noting that every one of my dogs has gotten loose at one time or another, but they stayed close or came back when called. They don't really try to escape, except for when an animal is nearby. And since all four of them were together, they had the added confidence to keep on going.
I'm forever impressed by people who have trained their huskies to recall off leash, but I'll never trust it. What happened Friday was enough evidence for me. Please consider your environment and containment plans if you decide to get a husky. I consider myself to be above average (read: neurotic) about my dogs' care. I mean, I've altered my entire career so that I can be around them almost 24/7. And they still got loose. Thankfully, the area around us is primarily woods and farmland, but they very easily could have wandered another direction towards roads. That's a nightmare I hope to never experience.