Monday, March 10, 2008

Happy Birthday, Pooch!

Today I am celebrating my dog's birthday. This story pays tribute to him and is true. It is also tells what some high school kids choose to do for fun when they have a day off from school.

One day last October while I was at work, I received a call from my 14 year-old daughter who was at home alone. “Mom,” she said in a puzzled voice, “a neighbor down the street just called and asked why there are so many police cars in front of our house.”

The ringing of the phone had awakened her. A typical teen, she had been sleeping late that Friday morning because she didn't have school; it was a district-wide Staff Development Day.

“How many police cars are there?” I asked, trying to get a feel for what might be going on. To this she replied, “A lot.”

“Okay,” I told her, starting to feel more and more worried myself. “Double-check to make sure the doors and windows are locked and I’ll be right there.” I hung up, grabbed my things and quickly left. Fortunately, I only lived about five minutes away from the school where I worked.

As I approached my normally quiet, totally residential street, I could see a police car blocking its entrance. Farther down in the middle of the block, five or six more police cars were stopped.

I told the officer who was blocking the street that my daughter was alone in the house and had called me to come home. He explained that they were looking for some burglars who had just broken into one of the houses. Savvy Oakland parent that I am, I thought to myself, “It’s probably going to end up being students because they aren’t in school today.”

He gave me permission to pass and I parked near my house. Another policeman gave me permission to go to inside, so I went in to be with my daughter. I then called my retired next-door neighbor to ask if he knew what was going on. He told me that someone had broken into the house behind mine, and that the police had been in both of our backyards and on my garage roof.

Out my back window I could see more police cars parked on the next street. All in all, about ten units responded to our neighborhood. It must have been very quiet in other parts of "Oaktown" that morning.

For the next half hour or so, the police searched my neighbors' backyards and garages with a K-9 unit. One by one, four teenage boys were caught, arrested, and placed in the backseats of separate squad cars. They were all high school age, the youngest was 14 or 15.

Several of my neighbors and I gathered outside on the sidewalk to talk. Earlier that morning someone on the next street had seen the young men lurking in the neighborhood, checking out houses. When he saw them go into the backyard of a house as one stayed in front as a lookout, he quickly called the police.

Apparently, the kids had driven to our neighborhood in a stolen car. One had remained in front as a lookout. His three friends broke the back door and went in to ransack the house. Later, we learned that one of them had called his mommy on a cell phone as he was trying to escape. She ended up coming to the neighborhood to intervene on his behalf.

The squad cars were parked on our street for a long time while the police wrapped things up. I could see an officer going from house to house, knocking on front doors. When he arrived at my other next-door neighbor’s house, I hollered to him that they were at work. The officer then asked me if they a black dog. “They don’t," I replied, "but I do.”

He approached me and told me that one of the suspects had complained that he had been bitten on the ankle by a black dog (apparently my dog, a border collie mix) as he was running through a backyard. In amazement I asked the policeman, “Did it break the skin?” He replied, “Yes it did," and added, "It also tore his shoe.” I must admit, I was absolutely delighted.

But then things took a bad turn. The policeman asked me if my dog’s rabies vaccination was up-to-date.

I couldn’t believe this was happening. I shamefully had to admit that his vaccination had expired last summer and that I hadn't renewed it yet. “I’ve been going to do it,” I said, and even showed him the renewal papers attached to my clipboard where I also had it written on my list of “things to do.” I had known I would have to pay a fine because it was overdue and I was really, really going to get to it soon!

The officer seemed understanding, but kept formal. He ended up giving me a violation warning notice from OPD's Animal Control. I was ordered to quarantine my dog at home for ten days, a slightly lenient consequence because of the circumstances. Normally, a dog that has delivered a bite must be quarantined for two weeks at the animal shelter.

For the next week and a half, my dog was stuck at the house – with no walks, no car rides, no fun. Then he got his shot, I paid the fees and the fine, and he was finally free again.

It was funny how all this happened, and I definitely think it was worth it. My neighbor's stolen belongings were returned, the police caught four juvenile delinquents, and my nearly nine year-old dog ended up becoming a neighborhood celebrity. Most of all, it was wonderful to learn that my darling, limping, ASPCA pooch is so appropriately ferocious and protective. Those are outstanding traits for a family dog.

As for him, it must have given his ego a tremendous boost. Before this incident, squirrels were the biggest creatures to appear in “his” backyard. And even though he has been absolutely driven to sink his teeth into them, those naughty teases could outrun him every time.

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