Coveting Thy Neighbor's Dog
Sometimes even a good pooch needs a little help finding his way home
The dog made us do it. Under a blazing September sun in front of two hundred friends and relatives, my husband and I got married in our backyard on the rural outskirts of Salem, Virginia. Scooter, our beagle-collie mutt, had set us on the matrimonial course. But even a country dog had the sense to get in the shade in the 98-degree heat—beneath the caterer’s pig smoker.
Scooter had a knack for jamming himself into the juiciest of spots. He’d first shown up scrounging for table scraps during a backyard party the year before. We learned later that he belonged to the family across the street.
But they didn’t pay much attention to him, judging from the ticks my husband pulled from his ears, the way he ran loose throughout the little mountain holler, and his unquenchable appetite. He was always nudging himself under the picnic table or next to the grill.
Getting a dog had been our whole reason for moving in together. Too dense to admit we were falling in love, Tom and I decided that since we both wanted a dog, we should just rent a place together and get one. We found a funky brick ranch at the base of Fort Lewis Mountain with so much land that it took three days to mow the lawn. It had stone retainer walls and a root cellar that was cloaked in poison ivy, which meant that before long we were too.
Having grown up city kids, we were new to this country enclave, full of shotguns and wall-mounted deer, cars on blocks and roaming, average-looking chickens—back then no one gave a thought to raising Rhode Island Reds. We tried to run over a copperhead in our driveway once with a Volkswagen Jetta, instead of just hitting it with a hoe, if that tells you anything.
The road was named Texas Hollow, but locals have long referred to our section of the county as West of the Brickyard, a nod to the brick factory near Salem’s western edge. When I told a native-born coworker we were getting hitched, he said we had it all backward. “The only marriage recognized West of the Brickyard is common law.”
Scooter was part and parcel of the WOTB landscape, an almost-stray who wandered loose, his right rear leg jutting out when he ran—from the time he got too close to a hot rod roaring down the street. And he was a master cuddler.
Then the For Sale sign went up in the neighbors’ front yard. I was crushed. We’d been trying for months to domesticate Scooter, extracting the ticks, letting him sleep in our house. He had become a shared hound, and, though we hadn’t spoken of the arrangement with the neighbors, they had three other dogs and didn’t seem to mind. By the time I sent my husband over to ask if we could take the dog off their hands when they moved, they nodded yeah, sure, and that was that. You might want to get him a rabies shot, they said, and we did.
They called him Bear, which must have been ironic, because he was the friendliest, easiest-going dog in the world. Didn’t make a mess, didn’t shed. And he seemed invincible, never once requiring a sick visit to the vet. He once consumed a giant chocolate bar I’d inadvertently left out on the coffee table, foil and all, and didn’t puke.
We called Bear’s people the Bumpuses, after the neighbors in the movie A Christmas Story. And for a while everything was great. Scooter/Bear was back and forth between the two houses, double-dipping on food. In preparation for becoming solo dog parents, we started taking him on walks, eliciting grins from the Bumpuses when we walked past with Scooter tugging madly on the leash.