Tales of Yesteryear!™ — The case of the mysterious next-door critter

March 18, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 18, 2017

Years ago, in a city that shall go nfonnamed in a state that shall remain nameless, I lived in a house on a street named…ah, but let’s not be too specific here. And in the house next to mine, my neighbors had — ah, but I’d better set the scene.

This particular block of this street was lined with houses on each side. The structures were set fairly close to one another. On my side of the road, most (or possibly all?) of the homes had short driveways; most of these were sandwiched between houses.

My property’s driveway ran past the house to a small dark shed. This shed was pretty much exclusively the province of a cubic ton of spiders, give or take. The arachnids also shared their domain with some long-abandoned containers of pesticide and a few yard tools, none of which I recall touching (let alone using) in my time residing there.

A sort of metal canopy that looked a bit like the one offered for sale on this page covered the portion of the driveway that led up to the shed. I often parked my car beneath the canopy to protect it from the elements. Going to the car entailed walking out the front door, taking a short stroll from the front porch to the driveway and walking back toward the shed.

My house and my neighbor’s on this side were fairly close to each other, separated by not much more than the width of my driveway. However, the other house’s backyard was fenced in, which is why my neighbors were able to let a wolf roam the space untethered.

I know what you’re thinking: A wolf? (Also, I sure hope the Yankees make the playoffs this year.)

To which I reply: Well, I was also skeptical about that. And: Hey, pay attention to my story! (And also: This blog post offers some hope that they can get to the postseason.)

To be a bit more specific, every time I saw this animal in my neighbor’s backyard, I’d think, Uh, that sure looks like a wolf. And every time I thought about the notion that my neighbors had a gosh-darned wolf on what was, after all, a fairly dense street of single-family homes, I’d tell myself, No, no — surely they have a Siberian husky, or maybe an Alaskan malamute, not a gosh-darned wolf.

This is a good time to discuss (in ambiguous terms) my neighbors, who to be frank I never got to know very well. There was a woman, a younger man and I think a handful of children who ranged from middle-school-age to early adulthood. I won’t disclose the woman’s occupation, but suffice to say that her work gave her a certain public profile — although not one that ever would have engaged my repeated attention as a newspaper reporter. I’m not sure what the man did, but he seemed to be a handy sort.

At any rate, we didn’t have the type of relationship where I might stop by on a weeknight with a six-pack and casually ask, over beers, By the way, are you harboring…a wolf in your backyard?

Over a period what in retrospect seems to have been several months, I would occasionally glimpse the canine through the fence and wonder about it. But nothing more ever happened — except on a singular occasion.

One warm sunny afternoon, I was walking along the driveway when I happened to notice that my adult male neighbor and the animal were both out in the backyard. I struck up a conversation with the fellow and asked about the creature.

My memory of this incident, unfortunately, is a bit hazy. But I think my neighbor told me that the animal was a dog-wolf hybrid, which certainly explained my confused and conflicting impressions about its species.

As we were chatting, my neighbor encouraged me to talk to the animal (I honestly wish I remembered its name). He said that it would probably be a good thing if it became accustomed to my presence, given that I lived next door.

It seemed like a sensible idea to me. I believe that I said, Hi there, uttered the creature’s name and looked into its eyes.

The wolf-dog, which was probably 15 to 20 feet away from the property line, responded by stopping whatever it had been doing and staring at me. My neighbor and I had been conversing through a roughly head-high fence, so I can only guess what the animal thought of me. Maybe my hair protruded over the fence line and it took me to be some sort of talking squirrel.

Right at this moment, my other adult neighbor evidently noticed that the animal was transfixed by something. Stepping into the backyard, she saw that the creature was looking my way and instantly — albeit incorrectly — deduced that the wolf-dog was stalking me.

She yelled the animal’s name sharply. I think all three of us who’d previously been outside — my male neighbor, the dog and me — were startled by her intervention.

The other man tried to explain that he’d just wanted the wolf-dog to become familiar with me. I agreed weakly; in fact, I felt rather shaken, since the woman’s actions implied that I might have been in some sort of peril. The woman said something like, Oh, well, that’s OK. But the moment had passed; it was as if a spell had been broken.

I said I had to get back to what I’d been doing. Then I went to my car to finish whatever errand I’d intended to do there, or perhaps I went back inside, having performed my errand before engaging my neighbors.

Whichever it was, I was definitely unnerved by the woman’s intervention. I think I saw the wolf-dog occasionally in the ensuing months, but I never attempted to bond with it, and I don’t remember having any additional conversations with my neighbors.

They moved out within a year of our impromptu backyard convention. I remember hearing that they’d relocated to a rural location of some type.

A middle-aged woman with two adolescent children moved into that house. I mainly remember them because they had an open wireless network, which allowed my computer to access the Internet from home for the first time since my arrival there.

And that’s the story of the time I lived next door to an exotic (and potentially illegal) animal.

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