Published in the September 13 – September 26, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

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The Leadership Morgan Hill Class of 2017 pose for a photo at an event. Their class project was a new kennel for the Morgan Hill Police Department to hold lost or stray dogs.

Wanted: Single white male w/gray spots and long ears seeks playmate for digging holes, chewing sticks, chasing squirrels. Can escape family’s fence and meet up twice weekly. If interested, leave liquid message on big tree stump in Community Park.

Dog roaming has been on my mind: Four furry friends from Morgan Hill — Happy, Sporty, Timmy, and Tyler — have taught me important truths, of late, about being a better pet owner.

Happy is a neighbor’s Goldendoodle with an unmistakably huge, fuzzy head and a metronomic tail that telegraphs joyful energy. A few months ago, Happy suddenly appeared in front of our pick-up truck, which I jammed to a stop. I called his owners (close friends, socially and geographically) and they soon picked him up. Seems a construction worker had left their fence gate ajar and Happy staged his first roadkill-risking breakout. Lesson learned: Thoroughly educate all visitors.

My second school master, Sporty, showed up in the middle of Monterey Road a month ago, darting through traffic. We caught the confused and nervous terrier and held him until his owner showed up. When she arrived, she seemed irked. She described Sporty as a repeat escape artist who runs off despite her “spending thousands” to keep him home. The dog seemed happy enough as the two drove away, but he was apparently in the dog house, again.

Timmy the Shih Tzu could have composed the above personal ad. This spunky toy dog belongs to a couple who lives near Mount Hope Cemetery. As one of the owners explained Timmy periodically tunnels, squeezes, or otherwise evaporates through their sturdy fencing and goes on a walk-about. Twice, neighbors tipped off police officers after they saw Timmy running among the tombstones. Twice officers captured Timmy and locked him in the impound kennel. And twice his owners paid the substantial fine, took Timmy home, and fortified their fences. “Next time,” the man said only half-joking, “we want him to pay the check!”

The Leadership Morgan Hill Class of 2017 (of which I’m a member) spruced up the police kennel as our class project with contributions from individuals and businesses throughout South County. This project taught me how to keep pets safer. For example, it’s important to repair obvious fence holes. But owners may need additional countermeasures: burying chicken wire to thwart diggers, or tilting fence tops inward at a 45-degree angle to foil climbers. Hard-core escapers might even need an electroshock system.

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I’ve also learned that an identity chip can help with a gallivanting pet. Chipping means your dog or cat is injected with a tiny glass and metal transponder. It can’t contain your furry friend in the house or yard. But it can help animal control officers locate you much more quickly. And chipping is inexpensive, especially at weekly pet store clinics.

My education on dog roaming came too late to help our own beloved Tyler. A Brittany with all the breed’s zest and intelligence, Tyler disappeared countless times from our fully fenced property like a hairy Houdini. Despite his many gallops around the dog park, Tyler continued to break out. When we finally located him, he was usually bounding through a field or playing with some other loose dog — all thoughts of home apparently gone.

These breakouts were especially troubling because roaming dogs can get cut, bitten, hit by cars, and even poisoned. In 2013, Tyler suffered near-fatal liver failure after an escape. He lived for two more years, but he had chronic pain and almost no appetite. We’ll never know what he swallowed. A poisoned mole? A toxic mushroom? But in retrospect, we spent too much time fixing our fence and too little time trying to understand why he occasionally took off.

Maybe he was bored, spied a squirrel just outside the yard, or — as a sporting breed- – maybe he needed a more meaningful career than dozing on the rug and running circles in the dog park. We haven’t replaced our Tyler with a new puppy. The loss is still too raw. But if we do, and if the fur ball eventually strays, we’ll go about things differently: Yes, we’ll have him or her chipped and certainly we’ll secure our perimeter. But this time we’ll put extra energy into understanding and addressing our best friend’s emotional and physical needs — and with them, perhaps the urge to roam.

Janet Hopson Dommer

Janet Hopson Dommer

Janet Hopson Dommer is a member of the 2017 Leadership Morgan Hill class.
Janet Hopson Dommer

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