I've been camping with my family in a particular tent, with a particular dog for many years now. I know how it works.
The dog sleeps in one of the vestibules, to keep some semblance of hygiene while we're out there. We may be as dirty and moldy as rats, but that thin zippered layer of man-made fabric is a big psychological barrier for me. It says we have standards. We have some kind of grip still on the civilized world.
The dog loves his sleeping quarters. He's dry. He's warm and next door to his people. He even puts himself to bed now. When he's had it with evening campfires, he stands hopefully near the entrance to his sleeping quarters waiting for us to open it up and then zipper him in.
He's also tethered back there. We have to tie him to something because even though he is zippered into his little apartment, if say, a nocturnal rodent scampers by, that dog can zip underneath the fly faster than you can say, SQUIRREL!
We adopted our dog from the SPCA. They rescued him off a beach, where he'd been running wild and malnourished. When he's off leash and chasing something, it's very difficult to get him back. Let me just state that last sentence is an understatement. When outside, we've learned to tie him to something, especially at night.
Over the years, it has been me who sleeps with one ear open. I'm the one who hears when the dog has launched himself under the fly and out into the big dark world of the nighttime campground. It was no different this past weekend, when we were on our first camping trip of the year. This time, like the other times, when I heard the familiar sounds of a frenzied canine with lightening quick reflexes, dart underneath the fly, I dutifully crawled through the back vestibule and peered out into the darkness.
The moon was nearly full. I could make out the low split rail fence behind the tent where we had tied the dog. But that was all. There was no dog. No growling. No barking. All was silent and still.
I called for the dog in my loudest whisper, not wanting to wake the neighbours in the next tent. (An extremely generous move on my part as they had been snoring loudly for hours.) I didn't expect him to come to me by voice, but I thought maybe I'd hear him sniffing or breathing heavily. I was sure he must have broken free of the rope and be long gone. I had a quick vision of myself walking through the vast, dark campsite with a flashlight searching for him until dawn.
But then the husband who was now awake, but (I will add) still, in his sleeping bag, sagely suggested I "follow the rope."
I did not expect to find to find the dog at the end of the rope because it was so damn quiet. But that is exactly what I did find. Barely a metre away from me, but on the other side of the fence. He was just standing there, silent, his head bowed, the rope somehow caught and loosely bound around his chest and front legs. He was facing the tent. He'd been thwarted mid chase. Everything about him seethed, disappointment. There was no use chastising him.
I unbound the rope and with no prompting from me, the dog gracefully leapt over the fence, headed to his vestibule, turned in a circle three times and settled himself on his blanket with a harumph.
I imagine it's a tough trade-off for a dog: An untethered, underfed, wild life chasing squirrels versus a domesticated life with a family to love and take care of him. Still, I hope he's able to catch the squirrels that visit him in his dreams. Then again, maybe not. I've seen what he does with his dog toys.