When I was young, our family was possessed by a blithe spirit named ‘Peggy’, who was, we were sure, the reincarnation of an Irish leprechaun, packaged this lifetime as a small, red, short-haired dog. She was allegedly an Irish Terrier, though an expert once told us that what she was, mostly, was “runt”.
Whatever the experts might say, we were sure that, other than being a leprechaun, Peggy was part greyhound, because she sure could run. And we were sure about the leprechaun part because if you didn’t keep an eye (and a hand) on her when the door was open – poof! – she would disappear!
Spring was a particularly dangerous time for this to happen. We lived in a small town surrounded by farmland. In spring, farmers improved their land by spreading manure. For Peggy, this was the best bargain around – free perfume! When she disappeared in springtime, she would inevitably return hours later, reeking of ‘recycled oats’. She knew we would give her a bath, which she hated; but she kept running off to roll in the fields, coming back with her short red hair sticking up in matted clumps, as proud as if she were wearing expensive perfume.
Peggy’s second favourite pastime when she went AWOL was to chase cars. One day, while we were discussing ways to stop her perfume sprees, word came that Peggy had been hit by a car.
After several weeks’ recovery (and several hefty vet bills) Peggy was sufficiently recovered to start disappearing again. We knew that for her safety and our own olfactory comfort, we were going to have to keep her tied up. In an effort to be kind, we got a 20-foot long chain and attached it to our clothesline, so Peggy could still run without getting bruised by a car or bruising our noses.
So Peggy was chained, and occasionally ran back and forth the length of the clothesline, barking at cats and passing cars, sniffing the country air that tempted her with its siren scents. But usually, she moped in the shade of our big old house, heaving heavy sighs and looking mournfully at her chain, and at us – begging us to free her to the thrill of the chase, the sensuous pleasure of a roll in manure.
Unfortunately, our large property didn’t end at the clothesline pole; there was another half acre beyond. This we called the capital “B” capital “Y” Back Yard, to distinguish it from the small back yard where Peggy was imprisoned. We could move freely into the Back Yard, and into the forest that fenced it on two sides – and all Peggy could do was strain at the end of her chain and whine.
What caused us that day to run from the back porch, past Peggy, and into the Back Yard beyond – what the excitement was, none of us can remember, because of the greater excitement that followed.
Peggy, seeing us all running, forgot her bondage and ran too – from the back porch, through the back yard, past the pole, and 20 feet into the Back Yard itself.
And that was as far as she went – on the ground.
When she reached the end of that 20 foot chain, caught now in the clothesline pulley, her speed caught up to her, grabbed her off her feet, and launched her into the summer air. The chain jerked tight: she was now 10 feet in the air, starting to orbit the pole. My father, who was the only one to witness the first 2 orbits, said the look on her face was one of amazed bewilderment. Her feet were still running as she flew through the air in circles.
It took 5 orbits for Peggy to run out of chain. She crash-landed against the pole, 4 feet above the ground, yelping and whimpering as we came to her rescue. Luckily there were no serious injuries, but for several days she wouldn’t allow us to put her on the chain in the back yard – even with the chain having been moved to the porch railing.
However, she still liked to be taken for walks on her leash. Then one day, after being put on her leash, Peggy escaped out the door without her escort. “Oh, no!” we thought, “she’ll run through the country with the leash dragging, get caught on a bush and starve to death!” Or worse, find some fresh manure.
We needn’t have worried. She leapt from the porch, ran from the back yard into the Back Yard towards the newly-fertilized fields that always seemed to be upwind. She was in her old greyhound form, stretched low to the ground, a red dog on the green grass, with the leash flapping at her heels. Then she reached the edge of the forest.
As we chased her around the Back Yard, the back yard, the side yards, the front yard and back again, we noticed that whenever she came to the boundary of our irregular-shaped property, she would stop, or turn abruptly. After a while, we didn’t bother chasing her anymore – and she never set foot off the property. We had invented the invisible fence.
Of course, if she got out without a leash, she would be off cross-country again. But even a short piece of chain (that didn’t even reach the ground) snapped on her collar would activate the invisible fence. Peggy believed that any chain or leash would launch her into orbit if she forgot her place, which was on our property.
Often, in circuses and zoos, you’ll see elephants restrained by the ankle with small chains or ropes that are barely more than string, fastened to a small peg in the ground. When captive elephants are very small, the tethers are large, heavy chains, fastened to a heavy pole securely driven into the ground. They learn that they cannot break free, and as they grow larger the chain and the pole grow smaller. And the elephants never forget that the chain is stronger than they are – even when that is no longer true.
So it was with Peggy. Even when her chain was not fastened to anything, it fastened her to our property. She would chase cats and squirrels to the boundary line and then stop, as if drawn up short by the chain snapping tight. She would then stand, barking, and not move one paw past the invisible fence.
So it is with many people. Something goes wrong, we get brought up short, and never try that (or anything like it) again. Even if there’s nothing holding us back.