Dog-catcher for a Day

Also: how to do anything.

No one has any idea what they’re doing.

I love that. I love that we’re all just improvising, trying to make our way in life or business. Parenthood. Whatever. We just figure it out as we go.

Maybe learning to improvise is a skill you can get good at. If you get good at it, maybe you’ll be “successful” at something. I’m mostly bad at it. I try something new every month, just for fun, to experiment and learn and to keep from getting bored. It helps, even if it goes wrong sometimes.

I became a dog catcher today while I was walking home from lunch.

I turned a corner and a flock of pigeons flew past my face. They erupted at me, actually, the way only pigeons can. Disgusting.

Then I saw the dog chasing after them. He had a sort of crazed look on his face. Like he had never been happier in his life, never had such a sense of purpose, never felt more alive and focused. It was a chaser’s look.

A dog on the chase becomes an idiot. Most of their brain shuts off, and all they can think is “birds!” or “frisbee!” They don’t think about traffic. This pretty dog with the crazed face and no collar chased the birds right into a busy street. I cringed.

What can you really do in that situation? There were dozens of people standing around, eating frozen yogurt, walking with their shopping or strollers. I’m standing there too, with a look as dumb as the dog’s.

I have no idea what I’m doing.

“Um… Hey, dog!”

He looked at me for some reason. Which made no sense.

The Invisible Treat Trick

When I want my own dog to come to me, I’ll sometimes lean down and hold out a closed hand, pretending like I have a treat for him. It’s an awful trick, and I’m sure it erodes his trust in me, but it works EVERY SINGLE TIME because I actually did have a treat for him once, and dogs remember that sort of thing. I tried the invisible treat trick on this new dog and he came running. I hoped I wasn’t the first person to lie to him.

Awesome. Now the stray dog is out of the street and jumping on me, eyes still crazed from the thrill of his failed pigeon hunt. I have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t really want to touch him because he looks insane and might bite me and give me rabies and I remember hearing that you need to get some kind of horrible shot if you’re bitten by a rabid dog. I’m afraid of needles.

I don’t want the dog running back into the street, but it’s not like I walk around with a spare collar and leash. How do you catch a stray dog? Not with your bare hands, because: rabies.

The brain is funny. Sometimes a memory comes back at just the right time to help us out. I remembered something my mother-in-law said years ago. English is her second language, and she speaks it well, but sometimes she’ll forget a word. She once referred to our dog’s collar as his “neck belt.” (which is a solid description, to be fair).

So, I’m looking down at this crazy dog and I think, “neck belt!” I pull my belt off, make a loop with the end and toss it around the dog’s head.

Disclaimer: Don’t catch stray dogs with your belt. It’s a stupid thing to do. A stray dog will definitely bite you and you will have to find out about that rabies shot thing.

He didn’t seem to mind the belt. Now I was in a dumb situation though. I started to think about all the things I had to do today. Work deadlines, phone calls.

Why did he have to run into the street like that? Why did I care so much? Am I dumber than he is? Why is my belt around his neck? What do I do now? Now my shorts are loose. Stupid dog. He’s cute though. Stupid me. I like him.

I walked him over to a side street and tried to figure out a plan. He had no collar, no one was running around asking about their missing dog. A woman sitting outside a restaurant had seen what happened, but she didn’t know where the dog came from. A few minutes later she walked out of the restaurant with a bowl of rice and lentils and chicken. (Props to Holy Land Restaurant for being awesome.)

He ate the way only stray dogs can.

I couldn’t keep him, couldn’t find his owner. I called animal services. They said they were on their way to pick him up. I waited an hour and called back and told them not to lie. It would be three hours before someone could pick him up, “if at all today.” Ugh.

I called my wife. She brought a proper collar and leash and we tried putting him in our car to take him to the animal shelter, but he didn’t like that much, and I didn’t want him to go crazy in our car, so that was out. She had errands to run, and left.

He slipped the collar and ran back to the restaurant where he stole a pita off of someone’s table. (Props to Holy Land Restaurant for bringing that guy another pita. Also, sorry dude!)

I had shit to do, and an iPhone, and a Zipcar account. And thus, a plan. There was a cargo van a few blocks away. It was $16 to rent it for the hour. I booked it from the Zipcar app on my phone, and walked over.

As I drove him the 10 minutes to the animal shelter, I thought about how weird the whole thing was. I was just walking home from lunch, and I accidentally became a dog catcher. I had no idea what I was doing. A belt leash, a rented van. All improvised, like everything else in my life. Like a dog chasing pigeons or stealing a pita.

I could tell the dog wasn’t used to being in a car, but he was a good sport about it. Smiling the whole time. I think that’s a decent lesson. None of us really knows what we’re doing, so you may as well be a good sport and smile when you can.

Thanks for the reminder, dog.

Good boy.

If you lost this dog, or want to adopt him, you can contact Oakland Animal Services.

You can also read about my Monthly Experiments Project or follow me on Twitter.