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Boris, a male pit bull, and Winston, an old yellow Labrador, serve as companions on neighborhood watch.

Neighborhood watch dogs 

The choir of barks was instantly recognizable: Winston was home.

During the first four months Tina and I have lived in our little brick ranch in Raleigh's Longview neighborhood, we've wrestled with the decision of where to put Boris, the massive male pit bull who wandered into our yard about two weeks after we moved in. We tried to keep him in our small office with Alice, my longtime terrier. But after a few demolished rugs and masticated tchotkes, we decided to give him the run of the house and cordon the cats in a food-and-litter-equipped guest room. That worked until, one day, someone found a way through a door, and Boris treated our younger cat, Bastian, like a chew toy. Bastian survived (the blood mostly belonged to Boris), but it was clear that the bull had to go somewhere. After a few failed adoption attempts, the realization that Boris was forever our dog prompted invention. On our screened-in porch, we designed a clever system of chains, loops and slides that gave him sovereignty and space—to play, to sleep, to watch as neighborhood kids rolled by on bicycles and in packs.

What's more, Boris soon discovered that he had a companion in neighborhood watch, an old yellow Labrador named Winston. Thanks to the irregular layout of our home, Boris' side porch (Borch, as we now call it) looks directly onto the back deck that belongs to the young couple across the street. For two months, the vigilance of Boris and Winston was unwavering and vociferous. When someone approached from the side street, they'd often spot the interloper at the same time, barking together until the threat was but a pair of distant legs nervously walking down the street. When someone approached from the front, Boris, blessed by the better vantage, would call Winston to arms. Proudly, loudly, they ruled the neighborhood.

A few weeks ago, however, the choir was cut in half. Winston escaped during a rainstorm, darting through an unlatched gate and out of his big backyard. I'd watched him sprint into our yard, stick his nose up to Borch's door as if to bid adieu and disappear across the street. I thought about racing for him. The last time he'd done this during a rainstorm, though, Tina and I had tried to help, but Winston's mother waved us off, saying the more we followed, the more he'd flee. She stood there, in the rain, shaking a bag of kibble and calling his name until he returned.

But this time—for weeks, or long enough for Tina and I to pronounce him disappeared or dead—that didn't work. As the simple presence of Boris might suggest, I'm a sucker for trying to save a dog, so I felt a bit guilty. But I didn't try to send Winston home, mostly because I didn't want to be told what not to do again. "This time, she can deal with it," Tina and I said to each other when Winston finally made his break.

When Tina and I heard Winston again barking in chorus with Boris last weekend, we both raced into the yard. We waved and said his name. Winston—staring as always from his back deck, his dark eyes beaming through the cones they put around the heads of badly injured dogs—started wagging his now-broken tail. One leg was still bloody, and he hobbled around the porch in circles, excited but pained. He'd, somehow, found his way home, without the sound of shaken kibble. The shameful thing, though, is that next time he gets out, he won't need to be chased to be caught.

  • Boris, a male pit bull, and Winston, an old yellow Labrador, serve as companions on neighborhood watch.

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