GeminiMAGAZINE
_____________
STRAYS
by Raud Kennedy
It was a good day to fleece treats off the
customers coming out of the 7-11. 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 types, 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 and one day they left open the gate
in the backyard and 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 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 everyday, 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.”

Once we got a block away from the strip the
night was quiet and cool. It’s funny how when
things are busy around you like me running my
scam in front of 7-11 you think the whole world
is like that, but then you walk a few blocks and
it’s entirely different. We walked four blocks
down a side street and then she opened the
door to a basement apartment in an old house
that smelled like the rhododendrons in front of
it. I followed her inside and she opened the
can, put it in a bowl and set it on the floor. It
wasn’t bad, but I knew it would give me gas.
She also put a bowl of water next to the chili
and it tasted best of all after a long day in the
sun.

She left the door open to air out the musky
smell of cigarettes and sex, and I could leave
anytime after I finished, but I didn’t
particularly feel like going anywhere. That can
of chili was like a lead brick in my gut, so I put
my head down and closed my eyes for a
moment. It felt good to rest in a quiet spot
without any traffic sounds around, a little
confining but I was too tired for it to bother
me. I must’ve nodded off because again her
voice woke me.

“Okay, Pimpster, I’m going to shut this door
now.” She had her hand on the faded brass
knob. “Are you staying or going? I don’t want
you waking me up because you want to take
off night-crawling with your buddies.”

I’d been having a dream where I was chasing
this cat down an alley. It was a recurring
dream, and I’d gotten to the part where the
cat disappeared amongst the overflowing
dumpsters leaking restaurant grease and I had
to search him out with my nose, so I was
eager to get back to sleep, back to my dream,
and back after that cat. That cat was a mean
piece of work, and the natural order of things
drove me to take him down, so I just closed
my eyes and let her close the door.

She slept late and so did I, and as soon as she
opened that door, I went outside and got rid of
some of that canned chili and marked the trees
out in front of the old house. When I heard her
making noise in her kitchen, I went inside and
was treated to a bowl of scrambled eggs,
something I’d never had before, and they were
a big improvement on the chili. A while later
we walked back to the 7-11 and she got in a
car with some guy and they took off. I fell into
my routine of hustling the 7-11 customers for
some of their chips, though I wasn’t quite as
motivated since I’d just eaten a bunch of eggs,
and eventually I curled up and took a nap. The
cat had returned in my dream and I’d
discovered which dumpster he was hiding
behind, when the fat man from animal services
woke me by slipping a noose collar around my
neck, and I was tethered to the end of the long
pole he held firmly with both hands.

All I could think was that I was on my way
back into the system again and this time it
wouldn’t be so easy to get out. My puppy
cuteness was gone, and I had the physical and
emotional scars from living on the street. At
least I knew not to bite the rubber hand they
used to temperament test the dogs being
processed into the pound, even though its
rubber skin smelled just like a chew toy I’d had
in my first home as a puppy.

I was being led to the back of the truck when I
heard her shouting. “Hey, you! Asshole! Where
the fuck you think you’re going with my dog?”
The car she’d just gotten out of drove off
behind her and she was waiving her arms and
marching right at the fat man holding the
noose-pole.

“This isn’t your dog,” he said.

“Like hell he isn’t.”

“Well, he doesn’t have a license and you don’t
have him on a leash.”

“Look around, man. Do you think anyone gives
a damn about leashes and licenses around
here? Get real.”

Then a big man carrying an eighteen-pack
came out of the 7-11, stopped and stood very
still, staring at the fat man. When another dog
did that to me, they meant trouble. “If she
says he’s her dog, man, he’s her dog,” he said.

The fat man shifted his weight uneasily under
the intensity of his stare. “I’m going to cite you
for failure to license your dog and having him
off-leash. It’s a pretty hefty fine. Are you sure
this is still your dog?”

The big man with the beer set his eighteen-
pack down, squatted down next to me and
gave me a pat. Before the fat man knew what
to say, the big man had loosened the noose
and I was free. “There you go, boy,” he said
and thumped me on the rump.

“Sir, you can’t do that.”

The big man stood to his full height. “It’s
already done.” He tucked a few bills into the
fat man’s shirtfront pocket. “You look like you
could use a break. Why don’t you go on inside
and get yourself a couple of those chili dogs
they sell here.” He picked up his beer and
opened the door to a big car. “Come on,
babe,” he said to my friend. “Get your dog and
get in. I feel like having a party.”

As she hustled me onto the car seat in front of
her, she whispered to me, “You owe me one,
Pimpster.”

“Pimpster, huh?” the big man said and
chuckled. “That’s my kind of dog.”



Raud Kennedy is a writer and dog trainer in Portland, Oregon.
To learn about his most recent work, Gnawing the Bone, a
collection of dog fiction, visit
www.raudkennedy.com.