Dexter was an escape artist.

Our miniature dachshund’s life with us was so charmed I assumed he’d want to stay, but no; he sought adventures beyond our yard whenever he could wriggle through a hole in the fence or gap in the gate.

In my memories of corralling our dog, I’m always wearing a denim skirt and flip-flops, a baby on one hip, and running pell-mell through strangers’ yards to find him. Our animal liked to scramble under bushes or vehicles, and my frustration mounted with every minute he scared the living daylights out of me. If he was brave enough to rip around beyond the security of our yard, he was bold enough to dart into oncoming traffic too.

After Dexter died of natural causes at the age of fourteen and a half, I brought up the topic of his continual straying with the family.

“Of course he wanted freedom,” Flicka said. “He was raised in captivity.”

And so he was. From the moment we purchased him from a pet store at Columbia Mall in Grand Forks, North Dakota, to his final breath at the veterinary clinic on a corner in our North Minneapolis neighborhood, Dexter lived in confinement. And his freedom within our property’s boundaries was never enough.

After Dexter, we rescued Lala, our pit bull. Her life was different from our entitled wiener dog’s. At four months old, before she found us, she was already gaunt from wandering the city streets, her fur riddled with mites. When a kind man scooped her up after the tornado of 2011, she snuggled against him. When he stroked her patchy fur, she peed on him. And when he drove her to a rescue place, her eyes gleamed. Maybe she already sensed the love to come. When she became ours, she chose our companionship over the freedom to escape—until a gate was left open one day.

Frantic, I scanned the back yard for our newest family member.

“Oh no,” I said to our girls. “Lala’s gone.”

Our combined efforts to hunt for her, though, took only twenty seconds. We located her, planted on her haunches on our front steps, staring at the door. When our eyes met, she wagged her entire body. And forever after, her freedom within our property’s boundaries has always been enough.


On this 4th of July, when we roll freedom around in our thoughts, we think about our gift to choose where we want to go—and where we want to leave. Whether it looks like it or not, we have options to escape back yards and explore; we have opportunities to pass through fences and sniff out worlds beyond our own.

So, while a dog like Lala—sensible and safe—is preferable, be like Dexter today.

And if you see an open gate, run through it.

Lala probably knows I’m writing about her.

Lala probably knows I’m writing about her.

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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.