Truth to tell, I've been a little bit jumpy since four suspected car thieves, a police dog, a half-dozen police officers and a police helicopter fell into my back yard one fine fall afternoon.
That's not to say the police helicopter fell into my back yard, but, er . . . well, you get the picture.
I was hard at work that day, struggling at the keyboard when the dogs started up in the back yard, Andy barking that big-dog bark he usually saves for intimidating the neighborhood cats, who aren't the least bit impressed by his bravado.
Figuring the ruckus was aimed at George, the orange tabby who amuses himself by teasing Andy into a fury, I called both dogs in, asking them to knock it off for awhile.
"Shut up, shut up, shut up!" I said. "I'm trying to work. I've had enough. Enough. Enough! Go to your beds!"
They settled into their beds, Toni with a sigh, Andy grumbling to let me know he was obeying against his will, and better judgment.
He knew something I was too dense to figure out: This time, there was more to bark at than a cat.
I went back to my work, but was interrupted by the police helicopter circling above my house. Figuring they were looking for someone I'd rather not have in my kitchen, I closed and locked the back door and the dog door, while Andy sputtered and strutted through the house with Toni yapping at his heels.
I still thought the situation was more annoying than threatening, until I glanced into the yard and saw the police dog.
It occurred to me then that something was afoot. I shut the dogs in a bedroom and looked out my front window, only to see a police officer looking in.
"Don't shoot me," I said as I opened the front door. "I live here. What's going on?"
What I actually said was, "Duh," "uh," and "huh?," but you get the picture, and so did the officer.
"Perps," he said. "They're in your back yard."
"Zat so?" I squeaked.
L "Ma'am," he said. "Would you please unlock your front gate?"
He motioned to it. "The gate. It's locked. Do you have the key?"
"There's a dog in my yard," I said.
"Yes, he's searching it. Now if you could just get the key . . . "
The rest of the operation went smoothly. I opened the gate, the police dog cornered the teen-agers in the house next door, and the police officers cuffed them -- although it was clearly the dog's collar. My own dogs spent the afternoon smug in the knowledge that their courageous display, while unappreciated at the time by their favorite human, drove the suspects from our back yard.
Things settled down until a couple of nights ago, when I awoke just before dawn convinced someone was in the back yard.
"Toni!" I hissed. "Andy! Go outside!"
But the dogs weren't in the bedroom. I bumped my way into the next room where their beds are, the ones they use when they opt to leave mine alone.
"Toni! Andy!" I groped for them in the dark, but their beds were empty.
As I stumbled down the hallway, I heard the noise again, followed by the sharp clatter of something falling on the back porch.
I found the dogs on the living-room couch, where they are not allowed to be. Toni awoke with a start and slunk floorward with a guilty look on her face, while Andy just yawned, daring me to correct him.
"Go outside!" I said, grabbing him by the ruff and giving him a little shake. "Out! Out! Go! Go! Andeeeeeeeeeeee, please!"
Andy rolled off the couch and stretched lazily, clearly annoyed at being pestered long before his breakfast time. He yawned again, then came alive with a yelp.
He'd finally heard the intruder.
He sprinted for the dog door while Toni jumped around me, yapping. From outside, I heard a bark, a growl and more clatter, followed by the sound of something heading for the front fence with Andy snarling in pursuit.
I looked out the front window into the early light and saw an orange-and-white mass hit the ground in front of the fence and streak for the safety of a nearby yard.
It was the neighbor's cat, George.
Andy slammed back in through the dog door, pride popping from every pore. For the second time in a month, he'd driven intruders from the yard, and he expected to be rewarded by the person he protected.
As my heart rate slowly returned to normal, I rewarded my heroic dog in the way I knew he'd appreciate most:
I gave them both breakfast an hour early.
Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o At Home, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md., 21278