When you live in a house for ten years, you come to know all of the neighborhood dogs, even those you’ve never met. You recognize their barks, calling to one another across fences and yards, down streets and alleyways. They pass secret messages to one another and information of great importance, such as:
“Hey! A squirrel is heading your way!”
“Get out of my yard, cat!”
Or most often, I imagine, “Did you hear that?”
These dogs I’ve never met have taken shape in my imagination: the dog down the street who cries out a long stream of excited barks every time he’s let outside is a medium-sized mutt of many colors with fluffy tufts under his ears; the loud, occasional woof comes from a big, black lab who’s barking just for something to do; the yapper is a miniature, white, overly animated dog with anxiety issues; and on the other side of the wall which borders the north side of our yard is the small, yet tough-sounding, scrappy barker I called the wildling.
Then there are the dogs I know…
Across the street, my neighbors have huskies, easily distinguished by their distinctive howls. Next door is a lovable duo–a low-key chocolate lab and a furry, troublemaking, little rascal. And behind our house, the dog known as Sheriff Brody.
When my husband and I bought this house we were elated to leave behind the noise of a rental house on a busy street for a quieter neighborhood. Even though we’d only moved a few blocks away, it made all the difference. Traffic had been steady, day and night. Beer trucks gunned their engines up the steep hill, people sped by on their way to and from work, and snow plows/garbage trucks/street sweepers were a constant noise.
At our new house, we could still hear traffic, but it was a soft din. We embraced it as the sound of our town thriving, people going about their lives—our neighbors, our family, our friends.
The first morning we couldn’t have been happier. We owned a home! We had waited so long. We’d worked hard, we’d saved, and we’d searched a long time for the right place. And now we’d finally moved into our own house.
Then, at 7:00 AM, “Bowowowowow!”
It was a big dog, we could tell. And it was close.
Another “Bowowowowowow!” came a minute later.
We got up and looked out the back window to see our neighbors’ yellow lab sitting on their deck overlooking our backyards, occasionally breaking the morning silence with a good old-fashioned, big-dog bark.
We watched him for a few minutes, sipping coffee, laughing about how much better it was than waking up to hundreds of cars and trucks speeding by, then went on with our day. Truthfully, we didn’t mind. We both had to get up for work anyway.
The next morning it happened again.
And the next. And the next.
The dog was a yellow lab named Body, but for some reason we called him Brody, and eventually that turned into Sheriff Brody, after the character in Jaws (which we watched years later and realized his name was actually Chief Brody. But that was for the best; there was only one Sheriff Brody.)
He was an older dog, and as sweet and mellow as could be. He never barked at any other time of the day–unless a siren went off at the fire station. Then he would let out a mournful howl that came from the very depths of his doggie soul. It was a howl of longing, perhaps one telling the world that somewhere deep within him the wildness remained.
Sometimes his owners would howl when they were on their deck with friends and it would cause the Sheriff to howl along with them. (If you have a dog who howls, you know you’ve done this…) Those coerced howls never sounded as mournful as the howls for the fire alarm, though. That siren struck a chord within him, like when we hear a song that brings tears to our eyes, or a certain note on the piano that strikes a melancholy within.
During the day, when Sheriff Brody was in his yard, our dogs would run to the fence barking ferociously. He would look at them passively, walk to the fence and sniff, then lay down in the shade. He never barked back. He never reacted. He was completely quiet … except for when that siren rang, and at 7:00 AM in the morning.
So we had bought a new home with a built in alarm clock that was perfect for a pair of dog lovers. We left behind the sound of traffic and traded it for an old lab welcoming a new day by calling out into the morning sky. It was wonderful while it lasted.
Sheriff Brody passed away a few years later. He had a nice, long life with good owners, but it was still sad. It always is. We miss the best alarm clock we ever had to this day. He was our introduction to the fact that when you own a home, things don’t often go as planned, but sometimes, if you go with the flow, they may turn out even better than you imagined.
Some mornings I wake up thinking I hear him, but I know it’s only a memory. Those mornings I get my coffee, look out my back patio and imagine him, sitting quietly, content, gazing across the yards behind his house, occasionally sniffing. Then his body flexes and his head flattens out and he puts his snout in the air, letting out a “Bowowowowow” for all he is worth.
I remember the fog of his breath on cool mornings.
And sometimes, when the fire alarm goes off in town, I call out a wild and wolf-like howl in his honor, and wonder if he is howling along.
Rest in peace, Sheriff Brody. You were a good boy.