By on Jan 29, 2013 in Fiction

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Stray dog superimposed on neon lights

It was a good day to fleece treats off the customers coming out of the 7-Eleven. The hot weather brought them in for beer and chips, and I sat outside pretending to be someone’s pet dog by sitting calmly and looking like I was waiting for my master to return from inside the store with a six-pack for him and a bone for me. Pet dogs were safe to feed. Moms didn’t have to worry about their kids trying to talk them into bringing home the stray. “Don’t feed the stray,” they’d say. “He’ll follow us home.” I’d heard that one a lot. So I put on my act of belonging to someone, and it worked for me.

This section of Burnside was on the east side strip where gentrification hadn’t been able to take hold. The soup kitchen and the strip club kept it firmly anchored in reality. It wasn’t a usual stop for the West Side whites, unless they got lost or the husbands got horny. You’d be surprised at the number of hookers who bought Ho Hos, but they were the best at sharing those Ho Hos and Ding Dongs. They saw me there often enough that they were on to my scam and knew I was nothing but a stray working my thing.

I’d tried to be a pet dog once. I even still wore the old collar my first family bought me, but the life didn’t take. According to the trainer my owners had brought in, it was due to my lack of impulse control. What a load. It took more impulse control than he could ever muster to sit through his long-winded spiel about finding the right kind of treat to motivate me and him clicking that damn training clicker. Hey, click this! Find the right treat? What did they think I was trying to tell them by stealing all the food bits off the counter tops? How dense could they be when I’m stealing everything except the dry little biscuits they’re trying to “motivate” me with? My life might have turned out entirely different if those first owners of mine had shared their Triscuits and cheese instead of just stuffing their own mouths with them.

After a point I couldn’t make the effort anymore. One day when they left open the gate in the backyard, I took myself for a walk and never went back. Sure, I’ve been through the system a few times since, and there’s been attempts to re-home me, but this is the life for me, eating Ho Hos and scamming strangers. I know the drill when it comes to domestic life. Do this, do that, sit here, lie down over there. Oh, don’t do that! And after all that nonsense they trap you inside all day long with nothing new to do, day after day until your life has passed by and you’re off to the vet for the big shot. It isn’t worth the dry biscuits they try to give you in trade. Give me your love, they say. Give me your loyalty. In exchange I’ll give you this dry biscuit bought in bulk at Costco made in China of carcinogenic wood shavings, and they’ll lock you inside all day long. And oh yeah, if I’m feeling energetic when I get home from work, I might walk you around the block. What a load. I was given the opportunity to be free and took it in an instant.

“Hey, Pimpster, want some Ho Hos?” asked one of the girls who was a regular on the strip. She shared every day, like she was buying the Ho Hos as much for me as for herself. I wagged my tail and started to drool. Who knew I was such a sucker for sugary cakes?

She broke one in half and held it out to me. “Here you go, little man.”

I gobbled it in a second. She ate her half slowly and I waited for her to take the second one out of the package. When she did, she broke it in half, too. “More?”

She didn’t need to ask. I gobbled it, too.

“You know what? You’re looking kind of skinny.” She reached down and petted my sides. “I can feel your ribs through that mangy fur of yours. I tell you what, baby, if you’re still here later, I’ll buy you a can of dog food.”

A car pulled up, and she leaned in through the open passenger-side window to talk to the driver, then got in and they drove off. I went back to pretending to be someone’s pet, but eventually fell asleep. Later, her voice woke me.

“They didn’t have any dog food, except in the bag, and I’m not feeding you a whole bag at once. You’d eat yourself to death.” She held a can in her hand. “But they had chili, and believe me, it looks just like dog food. Maybe even tastes the same. But my can opener is at home. You can follow me and I’ll get this opened for you.”

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Raud Kennedy is a writer and dog trainer. To learn about his recent collection of dog fiction, Gnawing the Bone,visit