Preston was amazing to me. If ever there was proof that a dog can read your mind, it came from Preston. He knew the instant that you weren’t thinking about him. He took full advantage of that and disappeared.
This started as soon as I had gotten him. I took him walking or running every morning. Originally, I took him on the same run as I had taken Filbert. This involved some on-leash road and off-leash path areas. We lived near the Oregon State University campus and, since it is an agricultural college, there was farm land that was owned by the school. A road that was closed to vehicles except for those who worked on the farm went through the land and was appropriately referred to as “The Farm Road.” This led into a path through a park called “Bald Hill.” I would unleash Preston in both of these areas.
Fortunately, Preston did not seem to care about the farm animals at all. Maybe it was because they didn’t run. They just stared blankly, chewing their cuds. We always made it through the Farm Road okay. But, in Bald Hill there were many wild animals. I soon found that Preston loved coyotes. If he saw one or smelled one, he’d be off.
On one occasion, Preston was in front of me when I saw him suddenly slip under a pasture fence and take off. I ran up to the spot just in time to see him chasing a coyote away from me in the pasture. I tried to call him back, but it was no good. Given a choice between a coyote and me, Preston would always choose the coyote.
The pasture went around a grove of trees that obstructed my view of the fields from the path so I kept running back and forth from one side of the grove to the other, hoping to see him coming back. At one point, another runner came up, so I asked him if he had seen a black dog.
“D’you lose your dog here?” He asked.
“He ran off that way after a coyote,” I answered, waving off toward the pasture.
“You know they can shoot a dog if it’s on their property,” He said.
Well, no I didn’t know that. I decided right then that it was time to choose a new running place.
Yes, I know I sound like an irresponsible pet owner because I didn’t just keep him on a leash. But I couldn’t do that. To me it is like keeping a tiger in a little cage at the zoo. Preston loved and needed to run. I just always wished he didn’t run so far. More often than not, he didn’t run off. But those times weren’t as memorable.
The runner went on his way. I was left pondering the idea that the farmers could shoot Preston, even though he was actually doing them a favor by running the coyote away from the farm animals. About 45 minutes later, I saw a little black dot off in the distance. Then, just like in an old Bugs Bunny cartoon, the little black dot moved closer and closer until it became Preston. He came up to the fence and couldn’t figure out how to get back through so I had to lead him to an opening.
His tongue was lolling out of the side of his mouth. He was wet from the dewy grass. He was breathing heavily. And we still had to make it back home.
On another occasion at Bald Hill, we were on a different path and I was actually trying to keep him under control by keeping him on a long, retractable leash. We walked along when suddenly he leaped after a rabbit and nearly took my arm out of its shoulder socket (this actually did happen to my previously mentioned friend, Mary, with her own dog). Instead, I let the leash fly out of my hand. Again, Preston went under a fence and into a pasture. The rabbit ran into the brush, as any rabbit would do. Preston followed. I could see him going around and around and getting the leash in ever more complex tangles. He tied himself up, unable to get out.
Of course, this “thicket” was entirely blackberries and nootka roses. There I was crawling around, getting scratched and cursing the day I adopted this stupid dog. Of course, when I finally untangled him and got him back to the proper side of the fence, I looked like I’d been through hell and he was completely unscathed…with a big shit-eating grin on his face.
So, I started taking Preston for runs in McDonald Forest. Mac Forest (as we call it here) is a research forest that is actually owned and run by Oregon State University Department of Forestry. My thinking was that if Preston ran off, there was mostly just forest around and the chances of someone doing harm to him was less. I didn’t really think about the coyotes, bears, and mountain lions. I never was actually concerned too much about them. I feared his getting shot or run over by a car much more than his getting attacked by an animal that was rarely seen.
I soon learned to love Mac Forest even more than Bald Hill. For one thing, there were only trails and forest roads to run on. Almost my entire run to and through Bald Hill was on concrete or asphalt. Gravel and dirt was much easier on the body. Preston liked it because it was vast and there were so many, many smells.
Preston ran off so many times that I couldn’t possibly remember them all. He would disappear for 15 minutes up to his record of five hours. I was lucky that he had the best sense of direction of anything or anyone I have ever seen. I heard of people who lost
their dogs overnight or even for a few days (not to mention the miracle stories of those dogs that were gone for months or years and somehow got back to their people).
Preston never did that to me.
But, he did have magical powers. I clearly remember running down a hill once in which three roads intersected the road I was on. A patch of trees about the size of a city block were between each of them. I watched as Preston slowly wandered down the first road. I kept running. The next thing I knew he was coming back to me from the second road! I am a slow runner, but not that slow. He managed to traverse that city-block sized grove of trees and underbrush in under a minute. He then went back down the second road and did the exact same thing to me by coming back to me from the third road. It was on this day that I decided that Preston had the ability to teleport himself. There could be no other answer.
Eventually, I bought a shock collar in an attempt to let him have his freedom, but not as much as he wanted. I hated using the thing, but I also hated the thought of something happening to him. When I first got the collar, Eric did what every man would do in such a situation. He held it in his hand while I tested the strength of each setting. I didn’t actually go very far before he chickened out. I decided that I would not go higher than that setting.
It was awful the first time I used it on Preston. I called him. He ignored me. I shocked him. He let out a “Yipe!” I really did not want to be the cause of that ‘yipe.’ Preston did learn very quickly to come back when I called him. And I learned eventually that if I didn’t get him at the precise moment and location, he would run off anyway. Once he was out of range, there was nothing the shock collar could do.
Paul was always kidding around that he would crank the shock collar up to its highest setting and “really get Preston.” I don’t know if it was because he wanted his own revenge for Preston running off or if he believed that if he really put it Preston, Preston would “get it.”
Once Paul had to take the dogs out for the morning run without me. I reluctantly handed over the shock collar controls to him.
“Don’t shock him too much,” I said.
“Always use the tone first to give him a warning,” I repeated for the umpteenth time.
“Okay! Okay!” Paul said in his usual grumpy way.
I put the shock collar on Preston and kissed the top of his head. I watched them leave and got ready for work.
Paul managed to get to the Forest and do the run without shocking Preston at all. Then, after he had put Preston and Ursus into the car, he got in himself. As he put his seatbelt on, he heard a thump in the car. He looked around, but nothing seemed to be amiss. So, he went back to putting his seatbelt on. This time the thump was a little louder. Paul turned around to see Preston looking a bit nervous and realized that every time he wrapped the seatbelt around his chest he was pushing both the button to intensify the shock and to inflict the shock on the control hanging on its lanyard around his neck.
When Paul related the story, he was laughing. I was so mad. The shock collar was to be used for one thing and one thing only: to stop him from running off. I could only thlnk that this episode confused the poor dog.
“What did I do? What did I do?”
A shock collar’s main function is to train dogs for hunting. Specifically, I think, they are used for upland game such as birds and rabbits. This type of hunting is mostly done in fields and meadows. So, when I ordered the shock collar with a ‘mile’ radius, it didn’t really mean it could transmit that far when trying to penetrate a forest. So, it really wasn’t effective once Preston got into the trees. And, since he could teleport, he could do that very quickly. The upside of that is that I had to catch him in the instant before he ran. I had to be vigilant to watch when his nose suddenly veered off to the left or the right because he had caught a whiff of something. Or when he stopped and looked intently in the woods. There were many times like these when he had that split-second pause and I could catch him before he was gone.
But, more often than not, he did it the second I wasn’t paying complete attention to him. Often, this happened right after I decided he was being such a good boy and would give him a treat. Then, because he was being such a good boy, I would momentarily think of something else and…zoom!...off he went. Afterward I would always think of what he was saying to himself: “Thanks for that little bit of energy, Kelly. Catch you later!”
At another time, I was running along when Preston disappeared again. I called and called. Nothing. I ran back and forth along the road, waiting for him to show up. Finally, as always, I decided to just run back to the parking lot where he invariably showed up in his own sweet time. As I was running, I came across two teenage girls on horses. I did what I always did when I saw people on these occasions: I asked them if they had seen a black dog.
“No,” they said. This was the usual answer. Preston very seldom was seen when he ran off until he was near the parking lot.
I ran back to the parking lot and waited. I waited for a few hours. Finally, I realized that I didn’t have my cell phone (not that cell phones actually received any signals out there). I left a note on the kiosk at the start of the trail (there is a gate here, also) to tell people that I was missing my dog and would be back. I went back home. When I got to my phone I saw that there was a message: “Hi. I think I have your dog…”
As it turned out, the girls on the horses actually did come across Preston and somehow convinced him to follow them. He ended up at the far end of the forest and in a house that was quite a long way from any entrance. I am still uncertain if he followed them down the roads or if he got a ride in a car with them.
I drove out to the address that was given to me and knocked on the screen door. Preston immediately came to the door. He looked at me with a look that seemed to say: “Hi, Kelly, nice to see you. Come and meet my new family.”
Shortly afterwards a woman and her own dog came up. I thanked her profusely for rescuing my dog and kept wondering if I should give her reward money. Considering that the house was much nicer than my own and in a great neighborhood, I decided against that. So, I just took Preston and left.
Another time Paul, Preston, Ursus and myself were all out at a different part of Mac Forest. I had brought Preston to this part of the forest on my bicycle many times and he had never run off. So, I didn’t worry too much about him. Paul was taking pictures, as he often does. He is the slowest photographer ever born. It is a good thing he doesn’t photograph animals or sports; he’d never get anything. So, I was just walking around killing time while Paul took pictures. I glanced at Preston. He was right there looking completely content to just sniff over the area. I turned back to Paul with a sigh because he was taking so long.
“You’re always in such a hurry,” Paul complained. “What do you have to do?”
I looked back at Preston. He was gone. I thought he must have just gone up the trail a bit, so I jogged up ahead. No Preston. I waited a while. Still no Preston. I walked back to where Paul was. I walked back down to where I had been. I did this about ten times.
Finally, I had to tell Paul. “Preston’s gone.”
“WHAT??!!” Paul yelled, “You are supposed to watch him!!”
“I was! But then he ran off.”
“Does he even know this area?” He asked.
“I think so,” I answered nonchalantly, “we’ve been here a number of times.” I always hated those paternal moments when Paul yelled at me like I was a child.
Paul packed up his gear and we decided to just go ahead with our walk in hopes that Preston would figure out where we were or be waiting when we got back to the car.
He didn’t and he wasn’t.
We waited for a long time, asking everyone that passed us: “Did you see a long-haired black dog??”
No. No. No.
“Do you have your phone with you?” Paul asked me.
“What!?? Why don’t you ever have your phone!!!!”
“It never works out here anyway. Besides, Preston’s tag has both of our numbers.”
Paul, as always, was disgusted and gave me that steely-eyed look that had at one point sent me shrinking.
After about an hour of waiting around, we decided that he wasn’t coming back. I told Paul my theory that whenever he took longer than two hours (which it had been by this time), it was because some well-meaning person picked him up. We decided to go home.
At home, a few hours went by and I was actually getting very worried about him.
Paul often liked to tell me the story of how his two dogs, Lupi and Bootes, ran away from his yard one day. They were actually gone for two day. Preston never did that to me! I can’t even imagine how worried I would have been. I would have been going crazy. I would have put posters up on every telephone pole within five miles with Preston’s picture. Paul drove around the neighborhood whenever he had the chance.
Finally, a man called that he had the dogs. When Paul picked them up he got the story. Lupi and Bootes had ended up on this man’s front porch. He had looked for Bootes’ tags on his collar, but there weren’t any (he had lost them). Only the next day did he think of looking at Lupi’s tags. There was Paul’s information. The man informed Paul that he had a female dog who was in heat. This scenario actually happened twice. The second time, of course, the man knew who to call.
There I was, still worried about Preston and wondering if it was going to go on for days, weeks, forever. Finally, five hours later, my phone rang.
“Hello. I think I have your dog….”
After the brief conversation about who, what, and where, I thought of Paul’s story about his dogs. I asked the woman: “was he on your porch?”
“No,” she said. ”He was digging through my compost pile.”
She had fed him cat food (she only had cats) because she decided he must be hungry and that was why he was going through her compost pile. He had managed to cross at least one rather busy road.
I went to meet her at a dead-end that was near her house and that I could not miss. When I drove up, there was a woman with short hair and a tie-dyed shirt sitting cross-legged next to her car. Preston was curled up next to her legs as if she were his rightful owner. To my left was a house with a fence and a frantically barking dog.
“Hi. I’m Kelly.” I introduced myself. The woman merely smiled and stood up.
“Here he is,” she said. As she did so, Preston got up and sauntered toward me…and then past me toward the barking dog.
“Good to see you again, Kelly.”
“C’mon, Preston!” I said, feeling guilty and wondering if the woman was going to call the ASPCA. Preston came along with me willingly enough, but not excited. After all I had done for him!