Thanks for visiting this page! The photo on the top shows the little piece of the world Lance lived in minus the doghouse and run) for over ten years. The photo on the bottom shows Lance enjoying his new-found and hard-earned good life.
CHAPTER 12-Homeward Bound Clara and I moved into our new home near the end of June. A couple of days later, I drove back down to Mount Bethel to exercise Lance. After our walk I explained to him that he’d be moving in with us over the upcoming weekend. Lance wagged his tail, as dogs will do, allowing me to believe he understood me. Saturday, July sixth was a sweltering hot day. It was time to get Lance. I drove to the Schmidts’ residence. Lance was lying alongside his doghouse. Recognizing my car, he perked up. Though relieved to see he was still very much alive, there was no time for celebrating. I had business to attend to. Walking up the driveway, I entered an alternate universe, a domain controlled by these strange aliens who went by the name Schmidt. They didn’t really know me and I didn’t really know them. I had never once discussed Lance’s situation with them. Suddenly, the whole idea of taking their dog struck me as bizarre, surreal, and ridiculous. Then it hit me. My old nemesis, the panic attack. I can’t handle this. I’m going to collapse. Turn around. Go back to the car and regroup—or just go home. I never got to take the easy way out and reverse course. All the while my mind was screaming “Retreat!” my feet were braver and marched me forward. Just like that, butterflies and all, I found myself at the front door, introducing myself to a middle-aged woman with dark hair and olive skin whom I presumed to be Mrs. Schmidt. Throughout our brief conversation, she kept her right eyebrow arched in a way that created a look of bewilderment, disbelief, and distrust all rolled into one. “Hello. My name’s Walter. I'm the guy who has been walking your dog the past few months.” "Yes?" “I recently purchased a house and I'd like to take your dog with me. It's got a large property; it's on a low traffic street and—” “Oh, I couldn't let you do that. Lance is a part of our family. I'm going to have brain surgery soon, you know.” “I'm sorry to hear that. I hope all goes well.” End of conversation. I was left speechless, unable to think of anything clever enough to counter Mrs. Schmidt’s delusion that she loved her dog. Whatever the origins of the other members of Mrs. Schmidt’s family, our brief exchange combined with her facial expression convinced me she was from the farthest reaches of outer space. Dumbfounded, I took my leave, returned to my car, and headed back to Canadensis, soaked in sweat from the heat and my anxiety. No need to visit Lance in the backyard. Why give him the bad news? I felt like a fool. We had just traded an apartment that cost $450 a month (heat included) for a $750 mortgage (nothing included), all for the sake of a dog, a dog that wasn’t even ours. Now, that dog wasn't moving in. My foolish feeling morphed into a troubled feeling. Would I keep walking Lance, necessitating a lengthy car ride each time I did? Or, would I just forget about him? But wait! What the hell was I thinking about? Walking this dog wasn’t the issue. The Schmidts might very well kill him! Ultimately, my combination of feelings boiled down to one— anger. How could this woman call “a part of the family” a dog her family hadn’t fed, hadn't walked, and had not let into their house since he was a weeks-old puppy? If anything, he was a part of Anna's family. Nothing had prepared me for Mrs. Schmidt’s off-the-wall response to my request. Granted, I had never advised her or any member of her family as to my plans. In fact, I hadn’t spoken to any of the Schmidts after that initial meeting with Jack, but how on earth could they object to finally getting Lance off their property? Did they get so much enjoyment out of mistreating their dog that they’d miss having him around for the entertainment value? I felt extremely disheartened and growing angrier by the second. After getting home, I called Anna and let her know of Mrs. Schmidt’s inexplicable inflexibility. “What?! That's ridiculous! Let me handle this. I'll call you back in a little while.” I sat in my recliner and stewed. I tried to convince myself that Anna would be able to reason with the Schmidts. But what if she couldn't? My anger was now fostering criminal calculation— if necessary, I would steal Lance. Not having stolen anything since my shoplifting days as an adolescent, I figured to be a bit rusty on technique. Caution was critical. If the dog immediately disappeared it would be rather obvious who had taken him. To be on the safe side, I might have to wait several months--would Lance survive that long?--before making my move. I’d stake out the Schmidt residence to see if there was any period of time during the day when all of its occupants were not at home. Or maybe I’d take Lance in the dead of night. Could he be trusted to keep his mouth shut during such an operation? There was a further consideration regarding the Schmidts. They were definitely crazy people. What if they happened to be crazy people with firearms? To complicate matters further, I wasn't sure Clara would be as enthused as I was about committing robbery. Then, there were the legal ramifications. What if I got caught? I was the drug and alcohol counselor at the local correctional facility. A judge might decide that I should be living with, instead of treating, the inmates and possibly need therapy myself. I visualized the headlines in the local newspaper: “Jail Counselor Jailed”. A few hours passed before I got a call from Anna. I wouldn’t have to break the law. "You can take Lance.” Anna told me that she had warned Mrs. Schmidt that if she didn't let me take their dog, the following would happen: she would stop feeding him and then contact authorities, charging the Schmidts with animal neglect and abuse. My guess is Anna was bluffing, as I don't think it would have been possible for her to completely abandon Lance under any circumstances. If it was a bluff, thank God it worked. I broke the speed limit driving back to Mount Bethel, fearful Lance’s flaky owners might change their minds. I met Anna and a few other Mount Bethel neighbors at the Schmidt residence. Together, we loaded the run and the dog house—the thing weighed a ton!—onto a pickup truck. Thankfully, none of the Schmidts at home did more than occasionally peek from this or that window. I let Lance into my car and both vehicles proceeded to our new home. As always, he barked and jumped around endlessly during the entire trip. Upon arrival in Canadensis, he burst out of my car and, tugging on his leash, began feverishly sniffing every bit of the new terrain he could get his nose on. As soon as the doghouse and the run were set up in the backyard, I hooked Lance up to his lead. After thanking them for their help, Anna and my old neighbors left. Clara and I then went into the house to relax a bit. Before we could get comfortable, the howling began. I went to the side door that opened to the backyard and saw Lance straining on his run. The message was clear. He wanted to come into the house. Had he decided he’d lived outside long enough? Did he sense there was more security inside? Had he become that attached to me? Even if “Yes” was the answer to all these questions, we were concerned about taking in an older dog that had never been housebroken, hoping to delay that task for at least few days. Lance, however, would simply not stop barking, so we decided to bring him into the house in the name of peace and quiet. I went outside and, after unhooking his lead, walked him up the side stoop. Up popped a mental picture of him scurrying around our Mount Bethel apartment. Opening the door, I warned Clara to brace herself for Lance’s stampede throughout the house. It didn’t happen. Upon entering, he initiated a spirited, thorough, and quick search of our home and then sat down in the living room, his back to the fireplace, in a state of vigilance. His positioning allowed him to view the front and side entrance doors, the living room, the kitchen, part of the laundry room, and the hallway leading to the two bedrooms. Possibly most critical for Lance, his location allowed him to easily watch both Clara and me. I thought to myself, Hey! This isn’t so bad. At least he’s not the tsunami he was in the apartment. That first day I took Lance on three to four lengthy walks to protect against his urinating or defecating inside the house. Amazingly, in all the time Lance would live at 21 Oak Tree Drive, he relieved himself perhaps two times in the house. A dog that had spent the first ten years of his life outside housebroke himself.
Author’s note: This chapter represents a huge turning point in Lance’s life as he was escaping from the property on which he had been held hostage for over a decade. It also represents a turning point for his rescuers because they had no idea what they were getting themselves into!