Keeping doors open instead of closed welcomes, harbors, warms and feeds the needs of both humans and pets

click to enlarge Keeping doors open instead of closed welcomes, harbors, warms and feeds the needs of both humans and pets
The treat jar is full for the author's neighborhood dogs.

On Sunday, we buried Jasmine.

Jasmine's ashes, really. They were left to us by next-door neighbors who moved to Texas. "We feel like she belongs here. With you."

Jasmine is one of a dozen neighborhood dogs I've befriended since moving here 11 years ago. Some, like Jasmine, were here from the beginning. Some came and went with their renting humans; others are successors of dogs who were old when I got here. All of them have come to learn our house: There's a bowl of water on the deck, we walk in the morning, the fire's warm in the winter, treats are on the fridge, and the backdoor is unlatched all day.

It started with walks. My two dogs and I would head out the back door and walk through the neighborhood toward a ridge in the distance that gave their legs a stretch and my heart a rise. Eventually, Jasmine, then Moose — neither left in nor tied up when their humans went to work — joined us, and we were five. Later, two labs of a Forest Service couple fell in, and then a dog of a construction worker, and we were a pack. We would walk for an hour through Boise Cascade land and return to treats and naps. The neighbors, used to my routine, sent words of thanks attached to their dogs' collars or through open windows as we passed on the road.

The land we walked was purchased by Texas billionaire brothers, and a fence was built. And even though city policy forbids gated communities, the gates of the affluent subdivision bordering our modest neighborhood were closed, a sign was posted, and we were no longer allowed. The pack of eight shrunk to six, then four, then just my two. Now I drive them or leash them to our daily walk.

And even as these places are closed off, our door remains unlatched. The treat jar is full. And there are winter days when I walk into the living room to find any number of dogs asleep in front of the wood stove. In summer, they empty the water bowl, nose in for a treat, and join us on a short jaunt down the driveway. Sometimes the older dogs come to escape younger siblings; sometimes, they just seek company and a little attention.

In summer, they empty the water bowl, nose in for a treat, and join us on a short jaunt down the driveway.

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This isn't something we thought through, my partner and I. The door was at first cracked for our own beasts. We let our dogs out to pee, give them the time they want outside without vigil or leash, and they come back in when they're ready. We know how lucky we are to live in a neighborhood that loves dogs. Whose dog contingent, save for a couple of bullies that moved on or stay to their porches, get along. Tolerate one another. And even as traffic increases and places to walk decrease, we can still leave the door unlatched without fear for our safety. (Well, there was that one morning a bear cub nearly pushed its way in, but I gently closed the door before it got us both in trouble.)

I'll be honest; I'm more afraid of latching and locking the door than leaving it wide open. I have watched human visitors delight as the parade of dogs comes in for an afternoon visit. My great-nephew's face lit up when he woke from a nap to find four other dogs sleeping on the floor near him and exclaimed, "This is a doggy hotel!" He woke early the following day to be first to unlatch the door. I'm afraid of closing the door to those moments. And I am worried I will stop seeing open doors elsewhere — the restaurants in town open only during the week to support locals, the hearts anonymously hung around town to remind us we are loved, advocacy groups working to protect public lands, the souls leaving endowment lands for people to walk, the gates and doors, both metaphorical and literal, open to support neighbors and build community. The cracks and openings that welcome, harbor, warm, and feed whatever need we might have. Closing the door to the dogs would close me off from them as well.

The mountain ash bends and drops orange fall berries on the graves of Jasmine and Katie. This will be the first winter without Jasmine, the ninth without Katie. The Steller's jays remind me of my feeder promises, so I take a jar of critter food out and fill the water bowl on my way in. There's no way to know who will buy Jasmine's old house or what dogs might come with those humans, but we've split and stacked eight cord of firewood; we'll have the woodstove warm and the treat jar full. They'll find the open door, and hopefully, they'll continue to show us what that can mean. ♦

CMarie Fuhrman is the author of Camped Beneath the Dam: Poems (Floodgate 2020) and co-editor of Native Voices (Tupelo 2019). Fuhrman is also the director of the Elk Rivers Writers Workshop and resides in the mountains of West Central Idaho.

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About The Author

CMarie Fuhrman

CMarie Fuhrman is the author of Camped Beneath the Dam: Poems (Floodgate 2020) and co-editor of Native Voices (Tupelo 2019). She has forthcoming or published poetry and nonfiction in multiple journals including Emergence Magazine, Yellow Medicine Review, Cutthroat a Journal of the Arts, Whitefish Review, Platform...