“Well, you don’t have to get up and go to work at 4 am, you @&$#%£{!”  A door slammed.   It was nearly 11 pm and my husband and I stood on the street as the misty rain coated my glasses, making it difficult to see. Our 12 year old son’s tear streaked face peered out at us as a police cruiser pulled up and the officer rolled down his window.  The beagle in the woods across the street continued yapping loudly as the policeman questioned our predicament. “Do you have a leash?” he inquired.  “I HAD a leash, but it does me no good at the moment as I can’t even get close to the dog without him running further into the forest!” my husband began to explain while I continued my attempts at coaxing the nameless (to us) dog out from behind the fence by holding out tempting, delicious dog treats.  Another neighbor, dressed in a bathrobe appeared on the scene.  “Mo!” she hollered to no avail.  “You go home!”   At least now we knew the dog’s name.

How did we find ourselves in this unfortunate situation?  We were simply trying to be good parents encouraging our son to take some risks, pursue entrepreneurialism and be responsible. Yet here were, outside on a rainy Sunday night encountering an angry neighbor who called the police to complain about us.  In order to explain, I must backtrack a couple of weeks.

“I want to start a business,” our son, K, announced. “I’d like to earn some money and try to help people.   I think I could maybe shovel snow in people’s driveways this winter.  Right now, since it’s almost fall, I could rake leaves.  I could make a flyer and pass it out to the neighbors and then they could call me.  Everyone has leaves in their yards! Everyone has snow covering their driveways!”

My heart sank and my husband and I exchanged knowing glances. He had certainly identified a need.  We have plenty of both leaves and snow here in New England, however, these needs are highly anticipated and well planned for. All our neighbors either have lawn and snow removal service providers already hired or they own heavy machinery to remove the unwanted deposits of nature. Not wanting to dash our son’s hopes and dreams immediately and completely, we tried to gently lead him down an alternate path.  “Let’s think about some skills you have and things you are good at,” we encouraged him.  “Try to think of something that doesn’t put you in a position to complete with teams of grown men and specialized equipment.”  Visions of app designing, videography or perhaps even cookie baking with online sales were popping up in our parental minds.  Our 12 year old, however, was firmly convinced of the need to offer manual labor to the needy neighbors. Soon he had his light bulb moment.  “I know what I’m good at!  I take Bono for walks and feed him all the time!  The neighbors see me and know that I could take care of their pets when they are away!”

And thus, Neighborhood Pet Care was born.  We asked countless questions as we tried to guide him and help him think through his plans. Eventually he produced a flyer that was proofread and approved by both my husband and I. K and his sister canvased the neighborhood with the printed flyers, making sure that each mailbox at houses where pets were known to reside had a flyer in it. He then waited and checked his phone for emails with some regularity. After a few days of no responses, I suggested that perhaps it might be advantageous for his prospective customers to see him out performing the service he was attempting to sell. In other words: please take our dog for a walk. Lo and behold, his “advertising” yielded a response.  A woman up the street had driven past him while he was walking the dog and she stopped and asked if he was the boy who had left a flyer in her mailbox offering pet care services.  You see, she is a nurse who works a night shift and needs someone to stop in to let the dogs out at night.  She promised to email K with a few possible dates she might need his Neighborhood Pet Care services.

Eventually she emailed some dates and it seemed that there was a possible fit for K to take two evening shifts during a three day weekend.  The job did not seem to entail too much complexity. All he needed to do was to let himself in using the key in the mailbox, put a leash on the smaller dog and walk outside into the fenced in back yard with both the small dog and a bigger one until they relieved themselves. After taking them back inside, K’s only job was to let himself out the front door, pulling it firmly shut behind him until it clicked, indicating that it was locked, and return the key to the mailbox.

The first night of work finally arrived. K was excited and nervous and waited until it was time to go to bed: 10 o’clock since it was not a school night and we had watched a movie as a family. My husband decided to accompany him as it was his first time and he had to enter a strange house in the dark.  At home, the girls and I continued our regular bedtime routines before I realized that nearly a half hour had passed and we had yet to hear from the boys. I texted my husband to check if all was going as planned and received a terse reply. “The little one got loose.  Please come and bring dog treats.”

As I jogged down the street I heard incessant yapping, punctuated by two men yelling at each other.  An irate neighbor whose sleep had been interrupted was yelling obscenities at my husband while shining a bright flashlight into the forest in a halfhearted attempt to locate the offending barker. He accused my husband, who I noticed had a big tear in his jeans from climbing the fence and traipsing through the woods, of doing nothing to retrieve the dog and threatened to call the police. Upon my arrival the angry neighbor went indoors to carry through on his threat.  A tearful K stood inside the house holding on to the collar of the larger dog for dead life. No one wanted two dogs off leash roaming he neighborhood waking up all the sleeping people.

Fortunately the police officer who had quickly responded to the call was both sympathetic and somewhat amused. The bathrobe-clad neighbor was knowledgeable and appeared to be helpful as she was already on the phone with the dog’s owner who assured us that she was on her way to rescue her dog. K was released from his duties and returned home – well past his bedtime and visibly shaken although no longer tearful. My husband and I were also “dismissed” by the bathrobe lady who assured us that she would see to the runaway dog.  The police officer, confident that the situation was under control left the scene.

Feeling responsible, we were uncomfortable with abandoning Mo and the bathrobe lady without knowing for certain that all was well.  After seeing K safely home, we walked back up the street toward the dog’s house. Although initially the stillness seemed encouraging, we soon saw the small canine walking along the street alone. Apparently, Bathrobe Lady had given up and gone back to bed. Upon noticing us (that dog must have a crazy sensitive sense of smell), Mo resumed his yapping. Keeping a comfortable (to him) distance, he followed us back to our house. Each time we made an attempt to approach him, he bolted off into the bushes, clearly skittish. Sitting on our front porch we coaxed him toward us with the dog treats, but he never came close enough to be captured. Eventually, a car drove up the hill and stopped as it reached our driveway. The dog’s owner jumped out and sternly called out, “MO! You GET in the car. Right.now.” Mo complied, and we heaved a sigh of relief as we exchanged regrets and apologies at how the evening had turned out. The car drove away, and we walked inside to comfort and reassure our son.

The following morning, K received an email, gently but clearly informing him that perhaps an older, more experienced person was better suited for the job. Being fired the day after starting his first job stung, but I could see that he was also somewhat relieved to not have to bear the responsibility of a repeat encounter with the dogs.

All in all, the whole episode was a complete bust. K now has no customers and his confidence in his ability to take care of other people’s pets is shaken. My husband and I ended up having to sit outside in the rain for nearly two hours waiting for the situation to be resolved. Could we have made K do it alone? Perhaps, but once the cursing man and police were involved, it seemed inappropriate for him to carry that responsibility on his own. Mo’s owner had to leave work to come home and care for her pet.

However, I do believe it was a valuable teaching experience for all of us. K learned that having a job and taking care of other people’s animals is not as easy as it might appear. We all learned that both animal and human nature is unpredictable and sometimes a situation can quickly spin out of control. Some people do not automatically have other’s best interest at heart and sometimes people can become angry and their behavior may not seem rational (I never knew that people called the police because they are annoyed at a yapping dog – nor that the police would respond!). We all learned that natural consequences can be uncomfortable, and that there is a reason that children need adult supervision and scaffolding. K is learning that when something doesn’t work out, we have to keep going and rethink our plans.

My son’s story will continue to unfold and I am confident that this experience is one that will remain with him and will influence the way in which he views the world, takes risks and makes decisions in the future. He is learning the importance of taking a proactive stance versus simply reacting to situations as they arise. Having taken the risk of putting himself into a new and uncomfortable situation, he soon realized that he also needed to anticipate potential pitfalls and plan accordingly.   I share this story in order to show that we are all still learning, and that life is full of mistakes and failures despite our best intentions and we must always be prepared to encounter the unexpected. We look ahead and concentrate on picking ourselves up and intentionally moving forward, while learning from events of the past.