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Jack Smith

'Don't Fence Me In' was a popular tune decades ago, and today it is still keeping a family from going to the dogs

August 19, 1987|Jack Smith

Psychologists say they can tell us how people are going to act.

That is, they can tell us how 10,000 people are going to act; but they can't tell us how one person is going to act, because the individual person is unpredictable.

Dogs are even more so. No dog, whatever his breed, acts like any other dog.

Susie, our German shepherd, is as different from Fleetwood Pugsley, my late Airedale, as Madonna is from Hermione Gingold; or perhaps I should say as different as Madonna is from Boy George, since Pugs was a male. Or is that ambiguous?

Pugsley was a crafty dog. Whenever a gate or a door was left open, even for two seconds, he was out. He loved to run.

He loped straight down the hill. He was hell to catch. But one thing he never did was dig under the fence.

Our backyard is perhaps half an acre, and entirely fenced-in with a chain link five feet high. Except when a gate was left open it contained him.

Susie is something else. She was a stray. Evidently someone opened the gate and put her in our yard. Big as she was, she wasn't as big as she was going to be.

She is now enormous. About 2 years old. Strong as a bear, playful, bright, affectionate and sweet. She won't bite you but she can knock you down.

She began knocking over my wife's potted plants and digging in her garden, so we had a portion of our yard enclosed in five-foot chain-link fence. This dog yard, as we call it, is on a rise behind the house and along the side street.

Susie did not seem too isolated there. Neighbors would come by and talk to her. They liked her. They put her on a leash and took her on walks.

Then she began digging holes under the fence. Here and there. Evidently when one failed to provide passage she would try another. As each one appeared I would appraise it. It was impossible, I thought, for her to dig one deep enough to escape through. She could dig deep enough on the inside of the fence, but she couldn't dig an exit on the other.

So I thought.

One day a neighbor told us she was out. She was easy enough to catch. She didn't bolt like Pugs. She came in the front door willingly. She has always loved the house. After knocking over a few tables and lamps she always settles down on the carpet and goes to sleep.

I put her back out in the dog yard and surveyed the fence. I saw one hole that looked large enough to pass her through. I wondered how to block it.

Since March a construction gang has been building a cinder block reinforcing wall along the walk that runs from our house up to the top of the hill. The work has destroyed the quiet and serenity of our life. Enormous pieces of equipment are parked permanently by our house. All day long we hear the clank and grind of heavy machinery. Sometimes work is suspended for weeks, but the equipment remains. From my bathroom window I can see a tractor with five-foot wheels. Old lumber and other debris is piled by the curb.

Dozens of broken cinder blocks have been dropped outside the fence. I wondered why I couldn't use one of them to block the hole.

They are about 16x8x8 inches, and heavy. I lugged one into the dog yard and worked it into the hole.

That ought to do it, I thought to myself.

The next day she got out again. I found another hole. I got another block and chunked it in. A third hole appeared. I started to get another broken block but saw a workman standing there.

"Are they using these broken blocks for anything?" I asked him.

"I don't know," he said. "I think they chip 'em up and throw 'em in the mix."

I told him what I wanted them for. He could see that I had already stolen two. He lifted one, raised it up over the fence and shifted it into my upraised hands. "Maybe this will help," he said.

I sank to the ground with it. In the next few days I plugged four more holes with broken blocks. It was obvious the dog was winning the battle.

We decided to let her into the big yard, figuring that would give her enough room and she wouldn't try to dig her way out. She dug out the first day. The fence was too long to be plugged.

For the last several days we have had to keep her in the house, letting her out only occasionally for the necessities. She even stays in at night.

She is one happy dog. She has defeated us, and she knows it.

We are hoping to go to Spain this fall but we don't know what to do about Susie. We can't leave her in the house. Boarding her would cost about as much per day as it would cost us to stay in Caesars Palace.

I have talked to the fence people. They say there's nothing they can do but attach a chain-link apron to the bottom of the fence, and that would be expensive. Or we could dig a trench under the fence and fill it with concrete. That would really be expensive.

Meanwhile, I expect to be arrested any day for stealing cinder blocks.

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