GUARANTEES

“Miss, what guarantee can you give me that he’ll be safe in your home?”

That question came to me via email from a dog rescue operation somewhere in Texas.

Here in New England we get lots of dogs from the South—Dixie dogs, they’re called—through rescue groups that get dogs out of kill shelters and occasionally have them fostered in a family for a short time before transporting them up North. They advertise online and ask you to fill out long applications. Friends of mine have gotten wonderful dogs in this way.

Looking for a companion for Aussie, I dutifully filled out one lengthy application after another. Ignored. But a third yielded some results, namely, a lengthy email exchange. The questions came from Texas, the answers from here, and I thought I was doing pretty well till I was asked what I would do with the dog in the times I wouldn’t be home.

“I work mostly at home,” I typed, “but there’s also a dog door so that dogs could go out into a large fenced yard. In that way they are not dependent on me for running out to pee or shit. This has worked very well for a variety of dogs that we’ve had over the years.”

“We don’t think dogs should be exposed to the outdoors without human supervision,” the answer came back.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because of nosy neighbors, prowlers, and predators.”

“The few neighbors I have are not nosy. I live rurally without too many people looking to steal mutts, in fact without too many people period, except for an insurance agent who came prowling around once, saw our pit bull and shepherd mixes, and promptly reported this to our insurance company, which promptly canceled our home insurance. Other than that, no prowlers. As for predators, coyotes are the only plausible ones here for midsize dogs, and the odds are low. P.S. The dogs love their freedom.”

And that’s when I got one final answer: “Miss, what guarantee can you give me that he’ll be safe in your home?”

I didn’t renew the conversation. When you talk of guarantees, you’ve lost me. Does the word even exist in other cultures?

I am aware that dogs are raised in urban and suburban settings, and there the rules are probably very different. But this is rural New England, farmland and woods. Here, if you look for guarantees you’d never take dogs off-leash into the forest because there are predators there as well, not to mention hunters or an occasional maniac. That means they’ll never fly over the ice or chase a deer scent, never sniff in the hollows of tree trunks. But they’ll be safe.

They’ll never be able to lie and soak the sun on a warm spring day even in a magnificent, fully fenced backyard unless you can sit there with them for hours. Nor will they play tug of war with sticks or dig after gophers for any length of time that you can’t match, but they’ll be safe. The rhythm of their life will always depend on you. They won’t follow their cadence of play—rest—relaxed and curious walking/sniffing—more rest. But they’ll be safe.

True, you live in the country among flora and fauna, have spent the money needed to fence your yard, and take them out every day for a run in the forest—

But can you give them guarantees that they’ll live to a ripe old age?

Can you them give guarantees that they’ll always be safe and never sorry?

Can you give guarantees that nothing, positively nothing bad, will ever happen to them?

That word should be outlawed from the English language.