Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Houdini's Last Trick

Bru is gone. For good this time, we think. Still, one never knows for sure with this dog. A little background:

Bru was the last of the three pets to join our little family when we lived in Atlanta. We really thought we were doing just fine with one cat and one dog. Then this gorgeous, gregarious dog started making appearances in our neighborhood. Ours was not a neighborhood where dogs tended to roam unaccompanied, so we took note when we would see him happily trotting from yard to yard without an owner in sight.

Having seen the evidence on our daily dog walks of way too many cats killed by cars, we were worried that this pretty boy with his mahogany red coat and black bandit mask would meet the same fate. And then our neighbor started working on us: "You should really take him in." "Honestly, two dogs are just as easy as one." "You only have one dog. Don't you think she'd be happier with another dog to keep her company?" "I'd take him in if I could have dogs in my apartment but it's not allowed."

We resisted but by Memorial Day weekend our resolve had weakened and over brunch at the Flying Biscuit, we agreed that we'd feel terrible if anything happened to him. So, we decided to take him in. Never having been good at coming up with names for pets, we had narrowed our choices by using a food theme for all of our pets. Our newest addition had a strikingly jet black back that contrasted with his reddish brown fur everywhere else making him look almost burnt on top--but in a glossy, appealing way. Creme brulee came to mind but it was too pretentious (we'd already had to back off of Butterscotch for the first dog and let her retain some dignity with the modified name of Buddy). We settled on Bru. Derived from brulee but sounding like beer, we thought we were set.

I wish I could show you a picture that does him justice but he has never photographed well. Our friend, George Veltri, got some shots of him early on that certainly show off his personality if not his looks:

Oh, did I forget to mention the dotted line running up the middle of his tongue like lane markers on a road? Our best guess was that he was a Rottweiller/German Shepherd mix with just a touch of Chow--thus the black spots on the tongue. He certainly had the naturally affectionate nature of a Rottie and their habit of leaning on people and exploring the world with his tongue. His shape and shedding habits were more Shepherd but the Chow kept him at a nice size c. 60 pounds.

We think he was about 18 months old when he found us. He seemed to be in good shape, was already neutered, and had a collar with no tags. Our neighbor confirmed that he'd been in the area for weeks but no signs or ads appeared for a missing dog. We took him to the vet to get checked out.

The news came back: he had heartworms. Immediately, they began treatment which consisted of administering arsenic to kill the worms. We then had to keep this dog who was used to roaming freely confined with no activity or excitement for 4-6 weeks. Let's just say that Bru and I did some serious bonding during this time as I tried to keep him company in the small guestroom that became his well-appointed prison for the next month or so. He was remarkably cooperative (didn't chew or pee on the futon--good dog!) and seemed to enjoy being in a place that was climate-controlled, dry, and served good food twice a day along with tons of attention.

As soon as the vet gave us the all clear, we added him to our daily walks around the neighborhood. We soon discovered that we were not the first to try to rescue Bru. Everywhere we went people greeted Bru but not by that name. "Foster!" "Sparky!" "Houdini!" Had we taken on a total con dog who kept switching identities to stay one step ahead of the law? Turns out, the truth was in that last name. He was indeed the world's greatest escape artist. No one had been able to keep him for long. Our five-foot privacy fence would prove no match for a dog who could climb over or dig under a fence with ease and one time literally climbed a tree to avoid being recaptured before he was ready to come home. But he always came home--he just liked making his social rounds in the neighborhood. We did our best to keep him entertained, socialized, and at home when he wasn't accompanied by one of us, but we did spend a lot of time chasing him to prevent him from getting into trouble and annoying our neighbors.

Nine years ago, we moved to North Carolina and discovered the joys of an Invisible Fence. The electronic fence managed to keep our canine Houdini at home better than we ever could have hoped for. It probably helped that neighbor dogs could come and play with him, so he didn't feel as much need to go to their homes.

Getting older probably helped, too. By the time we moved to our farm two years ago, he was getting arthritic and didn't seem inclined to escape much, despite having only a four-foot chain link fence to keep him in the yard. Only when the temptation was great (e.g., the first time the horses came over to graze in our pasture) did he haul himself over the fence to go lick them on the noses and then he came right back.

July 4th weekend this year, he disappeared for four days. Given that he was nearly 14 years old, suffering from cancer, cauda equina (spinal nerve compression), and laryngeal paralysis (floppy vocal cords making him sound like Darth Doggie and making it difficult to keep his stomach contents in his stomach), we were pretty sure he'd gone off to die. We live on the edge of a 2600 acre conservation area which makes for a great place to disappear so we weren't surprised that no one responded to our "lost dog" signs. As I made my way to check the shelters after the long holiday weekend, who should I find trotting along the road heading towards home but Bru? He was tired and sore and thirsty, but happy as always. We were ready to euthanize him, if necessary, but he bounced back after a few days rest. Despite his lengthening list of health problems, he continued to think like a puppy and seemed to be having more good days than bad, though he had started insisting on sleeping outside at night around the time he started having accidents in the house. Good dog.

Two weeks ago, he ran off again. He hadn't been eating much for a few days (and this is a dog who never turns down food) probably because the regurgitation was getting worse. This time, he disappeared in broad daylight when I was working nearby on the electric fence for the buffs. Having grieved prematurely in July, we waited this time. After four days had passed and the weather had turned bitterly cold, we suspected we wouldn't see him again. There have been no reports of him near here or at the shelters, so we're pretty sure he's gone for good. Sure, it's possible he's found an old barn with a nice straw bed and loads of mice to eat but I'm working on the assumption that we've seen Houdini's last trick. And it better be, because if he shows up again I am going to be pissed! So will Buddy. She's enjoying being the only dog in the house again.

Oh, and about that two dogs are just as easy as one? Total lie. But he was worth the trouble.


  1. Bru was a good dog though I could never understand why he insisted on licking me when I kept telling him I didn't like dogs. I'm sure he is not resting in peace but romping somewhere in the spirit world.

  2. Aw, c'mon, don't make me cry! You guys are the sweetest family a dog could ever have. We'll miss his silly romp around dinner time, and the guilty look on his face after wiping his lips on the couch. Hope he's a happy pup wherever he is. :)

  3. Your story reminds me of my dog, Gus. He went disappeared last February and never came home. I miss him very much and always wonder where he is. i can only pray he is fine where ever he may be.

  4. Thanks, everyone.
    @Quay Po Cooks: So sorry to hear about Gus. These dogs have a way of staying with us long after they've gone, don't they?

  5. I'm so sad for you! If my little guy ran off (even with all his annoying quirks), I'd be heart-broken. I'l keep an eye out for him!