Some of you have read this before, but I had a request to post it so here it is! (If you want to skip it, you can always go back in the archives and read this story again, but don't say I didn't warn you.) The neighbour in this story has since moved away but the memories, like the dandelions on her lawn, still live on.
The worst of winter is behind us and as we head outdoors into the warm sun again, we are all singing the same song on our street - Who Let The Dogs Out?
Or rather, one dog in particular.
My neighbour, a talented artist, is less proficient in the dog-training department. Her mixed breed mutt was named after the French novelist Honoré de Balzac, a founding father of realism in fiction and an independent thinker with both a willful nature and a penchant for personal drama. The canine pretty much lives up to its namesake, although he is actually a goofy, high-strung she. Where the original Balzac had a soft spot for the nobility, ironically my neighbour has a professed disdain for our “bourgeois neighbourhood.”
(What Balzac was not, as I spelled out for my giggling son who had only heard the name spoken, was a vernacular term for a certain part of the male anatomy.)
Its owner adopted this particular dog mainly because of its tendency to tilt its head to one side, which The Artist believed would make a fetching subject for a painting. Ah, such stuff as dreams are made on.
I don’t know about the novelist, but Balzac the dog has an imposed vegetarian diet, and if the owner is to be believed, organic squash is the dog’s favourite food above all else. Not coincidentally, Balzac also has a tendency to fly the coop. The Artist has been unwilling to put up a fence on either side of her house, and so Balzac escapes frequently - from their screened-in porch, a rope around a tree, a garden shed and even a second-storey window where Balzac perched on the roof and bayed for hours. Using a crate is "just cruel" but apparently bursting through a window is not. The recalcitrant Balzac is constantly on the lam, leading to frequent complaints from neighbours whose gardens are torn up or used as a toilet. The invisible fencing is either deactivated, or the dog has developed a taste for electric shocks. Perhaps the jaunts are fueled by an unwillingness to sit for portraits, but I’m guessing it’s something more primal. When released from the purgatory of vegetal excess, Balzac bolts after anything that remotely resembles protein - cats, squirrels, postal workers.
Tilting the head? That’s but a distant dream. Balzac remains untamed and obstinate in the extreme.
One afternoon, Balzac devised a way to jump over the six-foot fence backing their property. It wasn’t difficult; a compost heap, conveniently mounded against the fence, provided a platform. Owing to the vast quantities of vegetables consumed by the family, the compost pile has grown exponentially until it was a veritable mountain of squash rinds, with all the properties of an organic trampoline. With equine grace, Balzac vaulted up the veggie mountain and soared over the fence where it was promptly met by the two resident guard dogs on the other side that didn’t know what (literally) hit them. Perhaps because the intruder did not smell like dog but more like a furry veggie burger they did not attack.
But there was no way for Balzac to get back over the fence.
Soon The Artist discovered her gal penned in and racing around with two new large, aggressive friends. My children came home from school, and together we watched from an upstairs window and placed wagers as the drama unfolded below. Instead of contacting the owners, she took matters into her own hands and hatched a plan; she decided to lower an old wooden ladder over the fence.
Now, Balzac doesn't respond to the command "come" so I was pretty confident it never learned the command "climb up the ladder straddling the fence." The Artist coaxed, and cajoled and threatened, but Balzac continued to run in loops, tongue lolling, occasionally stopping to look over with it’s head tilted to one side (which I thought would make a charming painting.) Meanwhile, the two guard dogs continued to lunge and snap every time The Artist stuck her head over the fence from her perch on the compost.
Some incentive was needed. Realizing a big slice of organic squash wasn't going to cut it, she brought out a cartoon-sized raw steak. Leaning over the fence, she dangled the beef bait.
We couldn't see what happened next, we could only hear the fracas on the other side, as the meat was snatched away and the dogs ripped into it and presumably each other. The Artist looked on in mute horror, holding her head in mittened hands, rocking back and forth. Those other dogs sounded ferocious but my money was on Balzac, who had been denied a fair share of protein since birth and was not about to let this opportunity slip by without a fight. My kids declared it better than TV.
Eventually Balzac was rescued, if you can call it that, and things went back to normal, if you can call it that. The compost pile is gone, and Balzac appears to have lost its hunger for autonomy. The canny canine now loiters at the back fence, head cocked to one side, no doubt wondering, “Where’s the beef?”