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Dogs and the Fourth of July

By CASS COLLINS
Posted 6/30/21

Sometimes things happen that we can’t explain. Like that time I said, out of nowhere, from the back seat of our little red VW Beetle, “The moon is groaning.”

“I was just …

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root cellar

Dogs and the Fourth of July

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Sometimes things happen that we can’t explain. Like that time I said, out of nowhere, from the back seat of our little red VW Beetle, “The moon is groaning.”

“I was just thinking the same thing!” my stepfather Mike exclaimed from the driver’s seat. My mother was up front, Gretchen our dog was in back with me.

Gretchen was some kind of water dog. She was wise, quiet and deep and I didn’t know how much I loved her until one July when, spooked by fireworks, she ran away and didn’t come back that day. We were up at the lake house my mother rented every summer on Mount Tom in Connecticut. There were woods all around us but also a busy county road not far away. When Gretchen stayed out all night, I became despondent, fearing the worst.

We called the local radio station and reported a lost dog near Mount Tom State Park. Late in the afternoon, a call came in saying she had been sighted about a mile away in a wooded area. I sped out to the road and then drove slowly with my blinkers on and the windows down, calling her name. Soon, a car on the other side of the road slowed and the driver called out, “She’s down there!” pointing to a sloping hillside. It seemed the whole world had stopped to look for Gretchen. I made a U-turn; then I saw her and called to her again, and she came running up the hill to me. I was so deeply grateful and happy to see her.

Years later, Gretchen was riding in the green Volvo with Mike on their way to Connecticut from the city. On the Saw Mill Parkway, just north of Yonkers, the Volvo veered off the parkway into a ditch. Mike was dead from a heart attack. Gretchen was rescued but Leo, the orange and white tabby cat, escaped from his carrier when the police and ambulance arrived.

When the news came, it was inconceivable and I was devastated. At just 50, he was the third father I had lost and easily the most caring and devoted of my mother’s three husbands. On the way to the city later that day, I saw an orange and white tabby cat climbing a hillside on the westbound highway. “It’s Leo!” I exclaimed, not yet knowing that Leo was lost. I will always wonder if it was him.

My husband and I have two dogs now. Jackson and Guthrie are miniature Schnauzer litter-mates. They inherited our hearts from our previous mini-Schnauzer, Aengus, who died in 2015. Jackson is determined to escape the hell-hole of our home and regularly tests the boundaries we set for him. His brother stays behind to alert us to the security breach.

Jackson’s first escape attempt occurred when he dove into the swimming pool at four months. Guthrie quickly breached the locked deck to bark at me in the driveway, saving Jackson from drowning. Now, whenever we discover he is missing, all hands fan out to find him, calling his name and offering “treats!”—his favorite word. He always returns on his own terms, prancing down the street or across the field, proud of himself and happy to be back in the fold.

We often wonder what compels him to uncover the loopholes in his perimeter, or what makes Guthrie stay behind given the same opportunity. But with the Fourth of July comes fireworks, and my memory of the lost Gretchen is never far from mind. We hold the Schnauzer brothers close, hoping to keep them safe at home.

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