GOING WILD

“Aussie, the fence is back up. They sawed off the big tree that came down and fixed the fence.”

“Darn it, Harry, we can’t go wild anymore!”

My dog Aussie wants to go wild.

Not in the back yard, now thankfully intact, but in the woods, to which she runs every chance she gets.

In the woods, the two dogs espy a few deer up the hill heading towards the state preserve, and both run after them, Harry barking joyfully. Five minutes later Harry comes back; Aussie doesn’t come back. A half hour will elapse before I see her again.

On the way home, coming down to the car, they see a doe bounding down towards the creek. Off they chase again, Harry barking ecstatically. He comes back and drops on the ground, out of breath; Aussie doesn’t come back. More than an hour will elapse before a pair of young women text me that they see her, and I rush into the car, drive down the road, and bring her home.

In the car she sits in the middle of the back seat, panting. Her eyes are narrowed, nostrils flared like they never are in our back yard. In fact, Aussie’s eyes seem to get a little yellow, like the eyes of wolves, after a run of hours in the forest. She looks straight ahead, but she looks at something other than the road, I’m sure. Watching her from the corner of my eye, I can almost feel the drape of drooping leaves as she runs between the trees, smell the warm scent of deer, the flutter and whisper of small critters, the gurgle of the creek, the high-flying shadows of hawks. Call of the wild.

Common sense tells me that she’s not wild, she’s a domesticated dog, and my job is to take care of her. That means that Harry’s chase of deer, ending with his return five minutes later, is fine; Aussie’s foray for hours is not. Harry’s happy, shrill barking is fine; Aussie’s yellowing eyes, ears listening to long-ago, primal sounds, her obliviousness of me and other humans (she usually stays away from men, but on these occasions women too)—these aren’t fine at all.

“She’s used to the sounds of the house,” a trainer told me, “so the sounds of the forest are far more interesting to her.”

Is it just my imagination, or is she also listening to some wild, ancient voices inside, when home meant something very different from a front door that shuts behind her and a fence that keeps her in a large, enclosed yard? They say that humans like to listen to seashells because the sounds of the sea remind them of their own remote origins. Aussie in the woods is a dog following instincts thousands of years old and a primeval landscape only she can distinguish.

“She’s beautiful when she’s like this,” someone said to me.

“I can’t let this go on,” I replied.

After every escape she gets a leaner, more restless look in her eyes. She wants to follow a destiny not limited to three dead squirrels this past spring. Out there is bigger prey. It will outrun her, but she won’t give up. She has glimpses of her true nature and no one can tell her otherwise. She doesn’t miss humans, she doesn’t miss the pack.

Eventually, she comes home, drinks water, eats some dog food, and has a rest. Then the eyes turn to slits, she goes out through the dog door, approaches the repaired fence, and sniffs the air. Freedom is so close she can taste it.