By Tracy Ahrens
My neighbor, Kathie told me how one day the police came to my house while I was gone. She called them in a panic because she walked outside of her house next door and spotted my 60-pound dog, Trucker, on my roof standing by the chimney like a mountain goat.
This was just the beginning of insanity that ensued. It may have been less alarming to her if my house was just a one-story ranch. Instead, my house is two stories with a rather sharply pitched roof.
Why was he up there? How did he get there? How would he get down? All were questions pondered by onlookers.
Thankfully I never witnessed all of this – just his escape route and his wounds afterwards.
You see, Trucker is terrified of thunderstorms. If someone is with him, he’ll stay close to that person and not tremble or pant. If he is alone in a storm, however, he will try any means possible to “get out” of the house, fenced yard, whathaveyou. He came into my life at the age of 5 with these fears already instilled.
I’ve tried behavioral training, anti-anxiety shirts, sedatives, natural remedies, but nothing works during storms to help calm Trucker like having someone babysit him. That’s why I closely monitor weather predictions via computer and try to line up caring babysitters who can sit with him at their homes while I’m gone.
The rooftop escapade all started with a surprise, intense summer thunderstorm. I was miles away but could see thunder clouds in the distance towards my home. I drove as fast as possible and came home to full sun, but wet ground and downed tree leaves and branches, signs that a storm passed through. When I entered my house and called Trucker, he didn’t come. Panic started to set in as I went up the stairs to my bedroom and noticed that a window, merely 9 by 18 inches in size, was up and the screen was torn out.
The first year that Trucker was in my life, we lived in a ranch-style home. He pushed up unlocked windows, tore screens with his nails and climbed out of the house while I was gone. I learned then that windows within his reach can never be left open or unlocked when I am not present.
In my current home there is second floor and I didn’t think he’d have a desire to jump out of an upstairs window once he realized how far down the ground was. Obviously I was wrong.
On this particular day he exited through the tiny second floor window, located 31 inches off of the floor and providing just a gutter and minimal roof ledge outside to walk on.
Somehow he skillfully walked along the gutter and the only way out of his predicament was to scale the house up or jump to the ground from at least 14 feet up. I’m guessing that it was also raining and storming during the time of his expedition.
As Kathie, a police officer and two neighbors from next door tried to talk Trucker down, one person tried to use a tall ladder to reach the roof. But Trucker, in a panic, jumped from the upper roof to a lower porch roof and immediately leaped to the ground, sprang to his feet and ran like a dart along a riverbank towards town.
Kathie hopped into her car to follow Trucker and two neighbors assisted her on foot.
The story they tell is that Trucker ran across a very busy highway that runs through town and he entered a park. He then ran from the park back across the highway to the other side of town to a high school where he collapsed in the shade under a tree.
One neighbor picked up Trucker and carried him several blocks to Kathie’s home to rest in air conditioning with plenty of accessible drinking water.
That’s where I came into the picture. I arrived home, noticed that Trucker was gone, saw the upstairs window screen torn out and ran outside calling for him. My neighbor who carried him home saw me and told me that Trucker was at Kathie’s house. That’s where I ran to, dropping to my knees to hold him and then heard this story.
He limped on all four feet and left little blood spots on the floor, revealing massive blisters on every toe from running on hot pavement and climbing shingles on the roof.
The next morning I hurried him to our veterinarian’s office. Workers were shocked and amazed at Trucker’s fleet of angels that obviously protect him. I treated his wounds and he wore white booties on his feet for a few days until the paw pads healed.
The night of the storm I noticed nose prints on most of my windows, signs that he tried to escape that day from every window. Dirty paw prints on the shower stall wall indicated that he even tried to reach a little glass block window about 5 feet off of the ground. He found freedom from that one upstairs window I forgot to lock.
Now I make sure that every window is locked when I leave my home and I monitor the weather radar days in advance and before I leave home to make sure I have a babysitter ready to be with Trucker if storms are predicted.
Some people hear this story and say, “How do you/why do you put up with this dog?”
It’s what you do when you love your pet. You work with them, observe them, talk with a veterinarian and animal behavior consultant, and you help them live a healthy, happy, safe life.
Sure, I’ve cried. I’ve worried. I’ve wondered in the past, “Can I do this?”
But five years of repeated abandonment that Trucker faced before he met me was a result of other people giving up on him. I knew that Trucker couldn’t help himself and he has thanked me for never getting angry with him, never throwing him away, and showing him unconditional love through everything.