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How to Catch a Runaway Dog

Updated: Mar 21, 2022

(Originally published June 27, 2020)

I was reminded tonight of how to catch a runaway dog. (There’s a metaphor at the end of this, folks, so even if you’re not in the business of dog catching, so stay with me.)

Years ago I would occasionally dog-sit my parents’ increasingly-senile pooch when they’d go out of town. One time, very against her character, she ran out the door faster than I could catch up to her. After driving through the neighborhood I finally found her, heading for the busy road. I jumped out of the car and ran after her. My parents had this dog since I was a teenager, and I thought she’d be thrilled to see me and let me take her home. Instead she took off running in fear, straight into traffic.

Miraculously she somehow crossed the road safely, but as I managed to catch up to her again on foot I realized: She doesn’t remember who I am right now, and she doesn’t know where she is, and she is absolutely terrified. So instead of running I stopped. I crouched to the ground, whistled, and opened my arms to her. She too stopped. She turned to me and just waited. I spoke soothing words to her, and when she realized I wasn’t going to chase her, she turned and ran straight to me and into my arms.

A few years later I called upon this knowledge again when we had to replace a tire on the freeway and my own dog leapt out of the car and took off running in fright. I jumped out after her but instead of running I stopped, got down, held out my arms to her, and whistled. Again, it worked: She raced immediately to the safety of my arms.

Tonight I used this knowledge again (hopefully for the final time). On my evening walk I came upon a runaway Boxer racing toward traffic, followed by three frantic men in hot pursuit. They were able to chase him back into the neighborhood where he headed into a nearby front yard. The four of us cautiously followed until we had it cornered. While the men approached on foot, hands up and at the ready to pounce on the leaping dog, once again I got down on my knees. I opened my arms and spoke soothing words to the keyed-up pooch: “Sweet boy, what a good boy, you’s a good doggo!” The dog eyed us one by one, looking back and forth as he weighed his options. I’m sure you can guess by now which choice he made. He relaxed his stance, walked right into my arms, and sat down practically on top of me, basking in my praise.

So. Are you ready now for the metaphor?

We’re all scared right now. This pandemic came on us quickly, and it's big, and it's scary, and it's overwhelming. We’re all feeling lost, or like we’re staring down the danger of oncoming traffic. We may want to go in one direction while everyone around us screams to go the opposite. We may be deeply confused and unsure of who to trust. We just don’t know with certainty where we are headed, or if we’ll ever feel safe again. The last thing we need right now is someone in anger bearing down upon us. Someone in fear and judgement over our actions. Someone trying to chase us into a corner and shame us into submission.

No one knows for certain how to get out of this mess. If they did, we’d already be out of it by now. The best we can do as individuals is just sit down, shut up, lean in with open hearts, and speak soothing words to each other. We may not agree on where to go from here or how to get there, but I think we can all agree that we just need to be loved right now. Every one of us.

And in my experience, people who feel loved — whether dog-people or human-people — tend to stop running scared. We tend to settle down, to cooperate, to feel safe again. And then we can walk each other back home.

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