Freedom Has its Costs

Our children need their hours of unstructured play--off the leash

I’ve mentioned that my wife places an inordinately-high priority on allowing our dog freedom to roam. Part of my problem with that is that, while I more often stay home for all but 2-3 walks a day, she roams with him, and the two of them are often out of sight and out of earshot for long stretches of time.  Especially when there’s ice and snow on the ground as there is now, the possibility of unanticipated falls with injury goes up.  If she is around the bend as she is this morning, over the noise of the creek and the wind on the ridge, I wouldn’t be able to hear even the emergency whistle she carries in her pocket.

I don’t think she would consent to it, but I’m wondering about getting a simple set of walkie-talkies that would work over the distance that we usually walk on our land and up and down the road. I know it would make me feel better when I don’t see her back in the time frame I expect. It’s hard to get engaged in thinking or writing while wondering if she and/or the dog are under a fallen tree somewhere as dusk approaches.

Looking out the window just now, I see her coming back down the snow-covered pasture without the dog. No great surprise there. So while I’m having technological-communication dreams, maybe I should toss in a radio-telemetry tracking collar for the stupid dog, and just turn him loose when it’s not hunting season. But then…

Yesterday morning in all the ice, we had three small dogs (all with collars) show up outside the window–which drove Tsuga crazy and helped remove what little bit of floor finish we have left under those particular windows. I was not able to get close enough to look at their collars to know where they belonged. But even today, if we just let Tsuga out the back door, I expect he’d pick up the scent, and who knows how far that would carry him, and for how long?

I swear – between clucking along behind the chickens to make sure they have food and water and are either in or out of the pen depending on the dog’s state, and walking the dog on or off the leash, and all the visiting dogs and other animals we have tracking across the pasture day and night, the pace of our lives is pretty well dictated by our nonhuman neighbors.

And just this morning, and says she thinks we need a second dog–while it already feels to me like we’re being nibbled to death by mice.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. It’s good to see you back up and looking all “fragmented”.

    I agree with you about the “talkies” though. The problem of being out of communication range was brought home to me years ago when we were staying on Nettles Knob out of Valle Crucis. I went out walking without even my cell phone. Being in an exploratory mood I worked my way towards the top of the knob. When I came upon a seep and started sliding down a pretty steep slope I realized how stupid I was being for a fifty year old man…No one had any idea of where I was going…If something happened it would be a long time before anyone found me…

    I never left the house again without letting the family know where I was going and with my cell in my pocket. Luckily, in that area I never found a place without reception.

    So order a set of talkies…Get em with lanyards so you can hang them around your necks. Hang ’em with the leash by the door…It will eventually make both of you feel better.

  2. I hear ya’ loud and clear! I have 5, count ‘en, 5 standard poodles and 2 cats. I am their servant, their door woman, their cook and maid, nurse and friend. And for this they mostly stay home and are well behaved unless…… I accidentally let any 2 of the poodles out at the same time loose. They consider that a license to take a romp together. They always come home, so far, eventually, but my blood pressure and stress level can’t take it! Who knows what they may get into; so I try hard not to have accidents.

    They spend a lot of time out on long cables, happily playing with the one loose one. So I also spend a lot of time switching off who gets to run free for a while.

    I’d be happy to reduce my poodle load, great dogs though they are. So call me if you think you need another dog.

    Also a friend has a pair of some exotic chickens she’s looking for a home for. Sorry I can’t remember the breed now. They are a young mated pair, the hen is laying. She’d like they to stay together. The rooster is getting picked on by another rooster in her flock. Need some more chickens?

  3. Get the walkie-talkies. Just do it. You can get a decent set with great range for not too much money, and it is definitely worth the peace of mind. We have a set that we use when one of us takes the dogs out alone. Say things like “roger that” and “breaker, breaker” and “over and out” a lot. People like that.

    My experience has been that the transition from one dog to two dogs really isn’t that dramatic. Going from two to three is much more of a jump for some reason – I think it has to do with two hands, two leashes, two bowls, etc – once you have two hands and three bowls or three leashes, things get sticker. But if you already have one dog, getting a second isn’t that much of a shock to the system. You don’t have to tell your wife that, though.

  4. Fred and Ann, If you do decide to add another dog to the pack I hope you’ll consider adopting from the Humane Society. You can take a dog on a trial basis to see if it’s a good match all around.

    On another note I’m down to just 3 of my own dogs now plus one foster and the place seems sorta empty compared to the days of 6 of my own and 3 or more in foster care. Tsuga would probably be happy to have a friend to romp with.

  5. Cell phones or walkie-talkies for certain!! I should think she’d be the one to want that. I can’t imagine her falling and maybe breaking something and lying in a snowbank or on ice because you don’t know where she is. Gives me the willies to think about it!!

  6. It will have to be walkie-talkie, cell phones don’t work in our valley (but DO a quarter mile up the road.) I’m on the hunt later today, maybe look at Radio Shack.

  7. A communication plan will work only if it is executed. Get “two ways” that come with recharging stands. KEEP them in the stands. When the lovely Ms. Anne departs, INSIST that she carry one. You might find it odd that I suggest this, but it’s not necessary that it be switched on. Yours, on the other hand, MUST be switched on and at PEAK volume.
    Agree on a time limit for her return and a “flight plan”. It’s important that she understand any deviation from plan could seriously hamper rescue efforts. If she is not back in “X” minutes, you’ll be expecting a call from her that she’s around the bend and OK. If you have not heard from her by then, begin search & rescue operations immediately.
    This plan WILL work IF it is adhered to diligently. There is no room for complacency when medical/rescue teams are far away and you’re isolated. I’m not suggesting that Ms. Anne is not responsible, but she needs to understand your fear of a possible bad scenario and the length of time and complications should one arrise in a location such as yours.

  8. I do not know how we would have survived (or more truthfully, the dogs and I) without those long-range Midland Walkies Oscar bought. They have a huge range, and although do sound a little scratchy when you are in a far-away hollow, they really get the job done! They helped us coordinate our search and find and Claris when she ran off and got stuck in Laurel Creek…

  9. Got a Motorola pair on the way, took a while to sort out FRS and GMRS and which required an FCC license and what the distance for reception was etc. The wife was all for it. Won’t hurt either to have these if I’m off getting wood up the valley etc, so seems money well spend.