A natural disaster vs my dog: I chose my dog
When a Chicago tornado made me fully understand dog lovers
Chicago has had 13 tornadoes since 1855, with a death total of 13 people. One of the major ones in Illinois was on August 28, 1990. It lead to 29 deaths and 353 injuries, but none of those injuries were in Chicago’s city limits. My guess is that must’ve also been around the time that I got into a big blowout with day camp leaders regarding my dog.
Every summer in my elementary school years (from ages 7 to 12), my mother sent me to day camp. Personally, I would’ve been just fine hanging out at home, chatting on the phone with my Girl Scout friends, playing with my dog Shep (a German Shepherd/Labrador Retriever crossbreed), and reading “The Babysitter’s Club” or “Ramona” books. However, my mother was adamant about me doing something active and productive.
One summer day in particular there was a lot of hoopla about a tornado watch. If you live in Chicago, you hear these weather warning announcements enough that you start tuning them out. I went to day camp per usual, complained about the boring sandwiches and snacks, and enjoyed hanging out with my day camp friends. I especially loved the days when we walked over to a bigger camp to go swimming — that is, after I stopped trying to impress one boy in particular who almost watched me drown. (That’s more of a “We Need to Talk” post though.)
I explained that my dog, Shep, was outside in the backyard. And if this tornado was as bad as they said it was, he’d have nowhere to go but under the lowest step of our back porch steps — his favorite place to hang out away from the sun.
But on this particular day, I recall the swimming pools were closed and we stayed inside. That’s odd, considering our day camp leaders were always taking turns creating games for us to participate in outside. On this day though, day camp leaders stood off to the side more than usual. I didn’t pay attention at first. That is, until I saw a couple of police officers (or maybe firemen?) come inside of our facility. And then adults started using equipment to tie our exit doors closed on all sides of the gymnasium.
Soon enough, the day camp leaders announced that a tornado was headed in our direction and we all needed to stay away from the doors and wait it out. I nodded politely, remembered Shep and tactfully asked to be sent home. My day camp leader looked at me, confused, and asked me did I hear the announcement.
I’d heard them just fine and still asked to walk home. I only lived one block away from the fieldhouse. Her response was “no.” I asked a third time, realizing I’d been doing this all wrong. I forgot to explain why. I explained that my dog, Shep, was outside in the backyard. And if this tornado was as bad as they said it was, he’d have nowhere to go but under the lowest step of our back porch steps — his favorite place to hang out away from the sun. She still said, “No.” So I walked to the door to let myself out. That did not go over well with my day camp leader — who yanked me back inside. I was ordered to go back and sit with the other kids. I was pissed.
While the rest of the kids sat there crying, asking a million questions and whining about wanting their moms, I flopped on the floor and plotted on where Shep could possibly hide. We didn’t have a garage at the time, so under a car would be dangerous. The neighbors’ gates just didn’t seem strong enough to handle strong winds, and I crossed my fingers and hoped he’d stay away from those or one neighbor’s nearby tree. Lady (one neighbor’s dog who had a crush on Shep) could be around to distract him, but I wanted her to run for cover, too.
I can still remember the booming sounds. I’m pretty sure I heard a couple of trees fall, too. The doors rattled. Kids and a few adults looked around helplessly. And while all of this was happening, I sat there plotting on where Shep would go and why I wish I would’ve just left him inside. He was paper-trained anyway. He wouldn’t have to wait on us all day long to come home and relieve himself. I’m not sure how long it took (felt like hours) before things finally settled down. But the minute the noises stopped, the doors stopped shaking and I didn’t hear as much rain, I knew we’d seen the worst of it.
And as soon as the day camp leaders got the OK that it was safe to go outside, I quickly stood up. I tapped one foot, waiting on this long-winded speech about safety and cooperation to end, and talk of which kids needed to be picked up by their parents, and let out a long sigh. Let’s wrap this up! I made eye contact with the leader who’d yanked me back inside when I tried to Flo-Jo my way out of day camp. She gave me a nod, and I took off like the Olympic runner all the way from the now-open doors and the entire way home.
I don’t know why, but I screamed “Shep!” at the top of my lungs over and over again all the way home. I bolted to my gangway and scrambled around opening the combination lock. It was a bad sign already that Shep wasn’t standing there waiting on me. I took off again through the side of the house, still screaming his name. And underneath the bottom step came a big ball of brown and black fur with hazel and golden eyes, looking at me. I threw my arms around my favorite fluffy ball and was so relieved. From that point forward, I watched the weather before I left for day camp. Unfortunately, another thunderstorm that lead to several feet of rainwater in our basement made him fed up with wet weather altogether, but just like me at day camp, we both survived.