Steve and I blame Tucker for the bald patch on Darby’s nose. We’d taken both dogs with us to Julian, where we spent Friday and Saturday at the home of some close (and dog-tolerant) friends. Because their large property is unfenced, we’d been careful about keeping the dogs either inside, or on the enclosed deck, or under close observation. At bedtime, we put both of them in a the large cloth kennel we’d brought with us. That’s where they were at 3 a.m. when one of them started whining.

Thinking that maybe Darby had been thrown off by the new surroundings, Steve stumbled in the dark to find his shoes and coat. He unzipped the kennel; hustled both dogs out the front door. They peed for a few seconds. Then they ran off into the black frosty night.
I, in the meantime, was lying in bed, wondering why the bathroom break was taking an eternity. Curiosity finally drove me out the front door too, where Steve announced that they had run away. I freaked out.
He went back into the inky house in the delusional hope of finding some flashlight, while I stood shivering in my pajamas on the porch. “Tucker!” I called, trying to keep the volume soft enough to avoid waking up everyone sleeping within earshot but loud enough to reach the racing canines. I clapped my hands. I heard nothing.
I kept clapping and calling, and after what seemed like an eternity, I heard a distant tinkling of dog tags. Eventually, they bounded into sight, tongues lolling, tails a blur.
They went right to sleep, but it took us a long, long time to drift off. Incredibly, they ran away again in the morning, when Steve took them out to toilet. This time he searched for them in the bright sunshine, and Darby came racing back alone. Tucker showed up several minutes later, his collar firmly in the grasp of the sheriff’s deputy who lived in the distant house across the way.
That’s why we think he was the ringleader. As meek and deferential as he is at home, he longs to be the Wild Dog of the Forest. Given a forest, he bolts. Darby merely followed. And somewhere on the romp, she skinned all the fur off a fingernail-sized patch not far from her right eye.
He may look sleepy most of the time, but the Wild Dog of the Forest lives within.
Was it a run-in with cat or raccoon? Too close a brush with some immovable object? We shudder to think. But she’ll never tell.

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