It was love at first sight.
At least I think it was. But dogs don’t sit around analyzing their feelings. Within seconds of meeting another dog, either their hackles go up or they start sniffing butts. They know.
So as soon as they locked eyes through the bars of the fence in his front yard, their tails began wagging. They bolted toward each other, and began running together on opposite sides of the fence. They made up the rules of the game as they went, and they were in complete agreement. They jumped up on their hind legs and barked. He ran in joyful loops around the front yard.
While they played, we humans made small talk. His name was Bear, and he was just over a year old. Abby was seven, but she’d never really stopped being a puppy. They were both Lab mixes and had a Labbish resemblance, with floppy ears and big doggy grins, but he was larger and pure black while she was cocoa colored. They looked perfect together.
When I finally pulled her away to finish our walk, she looked back at him over her shoulder. He was still standing by the fence, watching her go.
That fall, whenever we walked past his house, which was just around the corner from our apartment, she slowed down. When he was there, they picked up their game again seamlessly.
And then he disappeared. The next-door neighbors had complained that he was ripping up their lawn. We didn’t discover that until the following spring when, by chance, we were walking down the alley behind his house and we saw him standing by the fence. Abby squealed with joy. She must have thought he was gone forever. His human, who was clearing out the garage, let him out into the alley, and he and Abby really got to play together at last. He leaped over her head, and they chased each other in circles.
As the spring and summer went on, she got in the habit of pooping on the half block just before his alley so we would have to walk toward him to use the trash can by his yard. Sometimes he could tell she was nearby, and he would bark for her. There were a few great days when a human would be around to let her in, and they would play. But those were rare and increasingly awkward; it was as though they had forgotten how to be together.
More often he would be waiting by the fence. They would rub noses through the bars, and then they would try to play their old game, but there wasn’t as much space. He would run back into the yard and she would stand by the fence and cry.
On days he wasn’t there at all, she would stand looking forlorn, and she would whimper.
The neighbors complained he was too loud. He got a new collar that gave him an electric shock when he barked. When she came to visit, he stood a few feet from the fence and looked guilty. There was nothing he could do. She would bark angrily, and then she would cry.
By the time his collar came off, he had changed. He didn’t bark anymore, but he didn’t want to see her, either. He would ignore her, or he would look in her direction and then deliberately turn his tail and walk back toward the house. She refused to be pulled away. She just stood and watched him and cried.
Then one day, while he lay on his back deck ignoring her, she stopped crying. It happened very suddenly. She turned around, picked up her leash in her mouth, and walked away, toward home. And every time she walked past his alley after that, it was like it had never had any significance at all. v