It’s funny how dogs have their own personalities. Our 1-year-old yellow Lab Penny, for instance, is in possession of an unfettered wanderlust — she’ll take every possible opportunity to sneak out an open door. You tend to spot her for a second looking toward the heavens like Tim Robbins when he crawled out of the sewer pipe in “Shawshank Redemption,” and then, before you can get close enough to grab her, she hightails it off into the wild unknown.
Our 4-year-old black Lab Lilly, on the other hand, is our homebody dog. She seems to have picked up on the fact that if she sticks with us she gets two square meals a day, and there’s not a single couch in the house that’s off limits. Even when the others go galumphing off after squirrels or other people’s dogs, she’ll always give us that glance over her shoulder that says she’s still got our backs, or that she thinks we might be carrying bacon.
It’s Lilly’s penchant for staying close to home that has earned her the privilege of joining Annie, our 10-year-old golden, out the side of the house to do her nightly business, as poor Penny is relegated to the penned-in area in the front, yapping at the echo of her own bark, which sounds suspiciously like the dog she spots daily in the glass window of our entertainment center.
What we never counted on, though, was a sudden ice storm like we had Thursday night. One minute it seemed like regular rain; the next a branch that most people would consider an entire tree was crashing to the ground outside our door, right where the dogs tend to congregate. Within seconds the side of the house was a sea of limbs, branches and pine needles — and though Annie bolted right up on the porch, Lilly, our homebody dog who’d never left our sight for more than 10 minutes, was gone.
My wife, Theresa, went into the yard to call Lilly’s name — which she’d responded to every time before — but had to turn back when branches kept falling around her like bludgeons from the sky. This was around 11 p.m., and it didn’t take long for us to determine that our best avenue of behavior was to panic.
Still, I tried to remain calm. “Dogs have a survival instinct,” I told Theresa about two hours after Lilly disappeared, not having any idea what I was talking about. “She’s seeking shelter and she’ll be back when she feels safe.” Of course, I knew that Lilly knew the safest place was in our house with all the couches and the people who always forget to tie the trash up, not outside in the pouring, freezing rain. She wasn’t like Penny, who would clearly go with any family that had the same salty taste that we did.
Eventually we had to give up and go back to bed, if not to sleep, the whole time hearing the pounding rain and the crack-crack-crack of snapping tree limbs in the yard outside. Finally, the power went out, extinguishing any chance of spotting Lilly’s black fur against the rainy night. I was suddenly sorry for all those times I missed curfew back in high school, when my mother may have very likely been imagining me outside in the rain, trapped under a tree branch.
By the first light I think Theresa and I had resigned separately to ourselves that Lilly wasn’t coming back. I had visions of having to explain it to the kids — my son Tim, 7, had managed to sleep through the excitement, but my 9-year-old daughter, Jackie, had caught wind of Lilly’s departure and was panicking right along with us. And I felt guilty for every time I’d admonished Lilly for some slight or another she’d committed as a puppy, whether it was eating my shoes, or eating the new coffee table, or eating the wall. (Although really, what would make even a dog want to eat a wall?)
Then, at 5:30 in the morning, when my wife’s stepfather left his side of our two-family house to make his way to work, he heard a familiar jingle coming up the driveway. We were all lying awake in bed when we heard his voice coming up the stairwell: “Lilly’s home!”
Who knows where she’d been — she was moist, but not drenched, almost like she’d spent the night in a sauna. But she practically bowled us over as we ran down the stairs to see her. It’s a running family joke that of our three dogs, Lilly is “cheap with the love” — we think it has to do with her having to wear a retainer when she was a puppy (long story). But on Friday morning, her tongue was out and licking Jackie’s face like she hadn’t seen her in years. And that’s probably what it felt like, on both sides.
By the time the sun came out on Friday we had two smashed windshields, a crushed barbecue grill, a side door blocked by branches and enough wood to keep us in bark mulch through the next century. But somehow that’s all a little easier to take, because we also had our own early Christmas miracle, in the form of a pudgy black homebody dog who took a little longer than usual coming home.
A dog who, I might mention, will be doing her nightly business out front with her sister Penny from now on.
This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Follow Peter Chianca on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”