I knew I was pushing it. Malamutes are unreliable off-leash, or, as some veteran malamute owners put it, “They’re reliable — until they’re not.” But I don’t have easy access to an enclosed area where Tam can run, and he’s actually been pretty good playing soccer in the yard and chasing his squeaky ball in the yard or the driveway, or even on the dirt road we live on.
He had, however, interrupted a round of soccer (I kick, he chases) to bolt over to the neighbors’ when he heard his friend Ziggy outside. Tam and Ziggy play well together, though Tam is now more than twice Ziggy’s size. When they first met, this was not the case.
The problem at Ziggy’s house wasn’t Ziggy, it was the free-range chickens in and around the yard. Malamutes and livestock do not mix, and that includes fowl. It especially includes anything that runs. Chickens are not known for standing their ground when threatened. I caught up with Tam in time, but that was a warning. We played less soccer, and I paid closer attention to any sign that Ziggy was outside — all the while knowing that Tam can hear better and react a helluva lot faster than I can.
Still, our early morning routine didn’t change much. I get up, give Tam his breakfast, go downstairs to do my business, then come back upstairs to get dressed and take Tam out to do his business. This generally involves some playtime, with or without the squeaky ball. I run down the path. Tam chases me. Often he’ll get the zoomies and run in a big circle or figure 8 through the woods. In late January I was lucky enough to get a typical morning routine on video:
Watching him run, even on video, takes my breath away.
Even though I know: “They’re reliable — until they’re not.”
So last Wednesday morning we went out as usual. After a little playing around, Tam stood stock still, looked toward Pine Hill (the dirt road that runs behind the house), and took off. He did not run in a big circle and come up from behind me. He didn’t come back, and he didn’t come back, and he didn’t come back . . .
I jogged over to Ziggy’s house, though Tam had taken off in the opposite direction. No Tam, no nobody, and the hens weren’t out yet. I set out to drive around “the neighborhood.” On Pine Hill I met a guy walking who said Tam had taken off after a horseback rider. Aha. The horseback riders I meet around here mostly come from the Indian Hill/Christiantown area, on the other side of State Road. I continued my drive — up Pine Hill to the Dr. Fisher Road (including the godawful stretch with moguls that’ll destroy your undercarriage if you aren’t real careful), to Old County Road, and back on Halcyon Way, which is the (dirt) road I officially live on. As expected, no Tam.
Tam has very little car sense, but I was worried more about the damage he could do than the damage that might be done to him. I alerted the animal control officer (ACO), my closest neighbors, all of whom know Tam, and the MV Helping Animals Facebook group. Then I hit the road again, this time heading for Indian Hill Road and Christiantown.
The Dr. Fisher Road comes out next to the town dump on Old Stage Road, which is short — John Keene Excavation on one side, the back end of Vineyard Gardens on the other, and that’s it. I rolled to a halt at the State Road intersection — and what should I see across the street at Takemmy Farm, in a paddock with two ponies, but the AWOL Tam Lin. For a moment I thought I was hallucinating, or maybe this was some northern-breed look-alike who actually belonged there, but no: it was Tam. He looked like he was wondering Where am I? And where were you?
Tam, I should add, still has some of the separation anxiety he had when he was younger. When I go downstairs to the bathroom, he’s usually waiting at the top of the stairs for me to come back. But his disappearing out of my sight is not the same as my disappearing out of his. Until instinct-driven adrenaline wears off and I’m not there.
I drove through the intersection, parked on the shoulder, and went to rescue my dog. He was paying no attention to the ponies, and the ponies, peacefully grazing, were paying no attention to him. The rails of the post-and-rail fence were so close together that I couldn’t coax Tam between them, so I climbed over, attached leash to collar, and walked him out through the gate of the adjacent paddock, where a big gray Thoroughbred cross gazed at us and went on eating.
Back in the car, I called the ACO (I’d actually brought my cell phone with me) and left a message that Tam was found. I asked Tam how he’d managed to get into the paddock that he wasn’t able to squeeze out of, but he didn’t reply. Back at home, he hung out on the deck while I let everyone know he was OK and it was safe to let the chickens out.