This true life encounter with a stray dog was originally published in Pets Across America.
By Randy Pearson
“Hey,” said my roommate Mark as he came home from work at eleven o’clock on a Thursday night, “did you know there’s a dog on the porch?”
Flicking on the outside light, I peered out the front window and saw it lounging near the front steps. Though probably still a puppy, at around three feet long and two feet tall, it had already filled out. “Huh. That’s odd,” I replied. “I wonder how long it’s been there.” We both stood at the window, staring out. “Any idea what breed it is?”
Mark shrugged at me. Neither of us were dog people, and I barely knew the names of any breeds. This mostly orange animal had white on its muzzle and on the tip of its tail, and had tall, pointy ears. “Kinda looks like one of them…” I paused, trying to entice my brain into recalling the breed name. It couldn’t. “…Uh, one of them, er, Marmaduke dogs, maybe?”
“A Great Dane? Well, maybe, but I’m thinking more like a German Shepherd.”
Not knowing any better, I agreed with him. As I peered out, the dog turned to look at me. It seemed healthy, but I perceived a bit of sadness in its eyes. Once I broke eye contact, I noticed something next to it on the porch. “Any idea what that thing is?”
With the porch light barely touching it, it appeared to be nothing more than a dark lump. “Nah. I saw it when I came in, but I wasn’t about to confront a stray in the middle of the night.”
Behind me, my cat Zoe screeched as if she was under attack. Clearly, even though she couldn’t see the animal outside, she knew of its proximity. Actually, as far as I knew, she had never even seen a dog, let alone smelled one. However, she knew something lurked outside and it freaked her out considerably. I picked her up, and she braced her limbs tightly against my chest. “Jeez Zoe, calm down. The evil dog can’t get you. See?” I held her near the window and she began struggling, mewing even louder. Knowing I’d get an incidental scratch on my face if I kept her in my arms much longer, I quickly released her. She scurried into the living room, still pathetically crying.
It had to be a neighbor’s dog, but I hadn’t seen it around before today. Unfortunately, it wore no tags or a collar, but it looked far too clean and healthy to be a stray.
Taking one last look outside, the dog still peered in at me. Having no idea what else to do, I went to bed.
When I woke up the next morning, I brewed a cup of coffee and casually looked out my window. I had forgotten all about the dog, but it came rushing back to me when I noticed that item on the edge of the porch. From my vantagepoint, it looked an awful lot like an animal skull of some sort. “Oh great,” I muttered to no one, “the thing brought me a dead and mostly devoured animal head. Lovely.” After checking several other windows, I did not see the dog in the vicinity, so I donned my shoes and jacket and wandered outside.
As I approached the thing, I quickly realized it was indeed a skull. But oddly enough, from this angle, it sure looked like … an alligator skull! This dog found an alligator in Michigan? Though it certainly seemed improbable, it had an alligator’s long, oval-shaped lower jaw and the sharp, pointy teeth. How bizarre! Where on Earth did this dog come from, I had to wonder?
Once I walked up next to it, I released a quick gasp. The top, which had been blocked from my view, still had the alligator skin and even the eyeballs. Then I saw some writing in black marker on the jaw, and once I noticed the chew marks on the jaw-joint, I realized it wasn’t a real skull. It seemed like the type of thing I saw in a gift shop in Florida while on vacation last year. I breathed a sigh of relief as I picked it up. “Well, the dog left me a peace offering.” I considered keeping the thing, but the more I looked at it, the more damage I saw from the dog’s gnawing, so I bagged it up and tossed it in the trash.
Once I took care of my present, I grabbed my newspaper from the porch and went inside. Thank goodness, the dog had gone away.
Later that morning, I heard barking outside. Looking out, I saw the dog standing on the sidewalk. Bouncing up and down playfully, it yapped at a pear-shaped woman with a gigantic purse hanging off her shoulder. She had her hands in the air, staggering backwards slowly while loudly whimpering. Poor woman, I thought. I had seen her around my neighborhood for years and though I had never spoken to her, I always got the impression she was a bit mentally challenged.
I briefly considered going out to help, but fortunately, I didn’t need to. The dog became bored and dashed away from the woman, back into my yard. It ran up to my porch and began sniffing the spot where the skull used to be. After sampling the scents all around the area, it plopped down on the same spot as last night, lowered its head, and closed its eyes.
Figuring I might need the visual documentation, I walked into the next room and got my camera. When I returned and pulled open the blinds, the dog jumped up and looked at me. “You are a pretty one, aren’t you girl?” I whispered. Before I could snap the shot, she turned to look at a car as it sped by. She never looked back at me, so I took a few side shots and called it good.
Over the next several hours and into the afternoon, she divided her time between my porch, my yard, and the neighbor’s yard to my right. I’d glance out the window periodically, and each time I’d find her in a different location. She spent a bit of her time lounging in the neighbor’s yard, including once when she chased a squirrel up his spruce tree.
For the most part, she was a peaceful, friendly dog. As people strolled by on the sidewalk, she would prance out to greet them. Most folks took to her, petting her and handing her food morsels from a pocket. The number of people who carried food with them both amazed and amused me. However, when she barked at another woman, power-walking past my house at around three-thirty that Friday, I figured I had to do something.
I got online and found the number to the Ingham County Animal Control. Picking up the phone, I felt kinda guilty doing this, assuming her owner would eventually drive by or come home and claim her. But as I hesitated, I heard a car screech to a halt directly out front. When I saw the dog dash back up to the porch as the car sped off, I breathed a sigh of relief and made the call.
Hanging up the phone, I remembered inviting a couple of friends over for the evening, and I called to warn them of the porch dog. “As far as I can tell, she’s not dangerous or anything. But just in case, I thought it best to warn you.”
Even though she spent all afternoon in and around my porch, by the time my friends arrived, she had vanished. We ate dinner, then as we headed out to see a movie, we saw her down the sidewalk barking at yet another woman. My friend Guy yelled, “Hey poochy, leave her alone!” and surprisingly, she did. The orange puppy took off running the opposite direction, disappearing from view.
Upon arrival at home that night, she was gone once again, and I had hoped that either her owners or the authorities had finally taken her off my hands.
When I awoke Saturday morning, I didn’t see the puppy, but I did immediately witness her wake of destruction. On the edge of the porch, where she had previously left the skull, sat my newspaper. Though still mostly intact, she had managed to chew through the plastic bag and had gnawed off one of the corners. Next to the paper sat several items, including cardboard boxes, a soiled doll, a metal ball that looked like it had come from the top of a daybed, and a couple of branches.
As I peered out, she dashed off my porch and ran across the street, directly to my neighbor’s porch. She scooped up their newspaper in her mouth and shot back to my porch, then proceeded to shred his paper into dozens of pieces. She sure looked to be enjoying herself as she shook her head violently from side to side, bits of newspaper raining down all around her.
All throughout the morning, she remained very active. She kept running over to the thrift store next to my house, prancing around customers and employees alike. I watched out the window as she jumped up on a large woman wearing a bright yellow smiley-face T-shirt. Her paws came to rest just below the lady’s shoulders. “No! Down!” she yelled, but I could tell from her beaming smile that she liked dogs. I turned and went back to my phone to call Animal Control again. Of course, it being a Saturday, no one answered. Was I stuck with this dog until Monday? And if so, would I have to suck it up and actually try to take care of her?
The thought made me nervous, but at the same time, it intrigued me a little bit. I had never been a dog person. Actually, I grew up without any pets, other than a few-month stint with a parakeet named Bob. Dad bought it as a gift for someone at work, and after his family declined, we ended up with him. Mom hated cleaning up after Bob, and Dad felt bad having a caged animal, so he used to let him fly around in the garage. Though I never knew for certain, I always suspected Mom opened the overhead door one day and let the bird fly free. We saw the brightly-colored bird in the neighborhood trees for a few days before disappearing forever.
As an adult, I’ve only had cats as pets. The idea of having a dog never appealed to me. All the work – the walks and the poop scooping, the dirty paw prints staining my carpet, the face licking – none of it sounded good to me. Indoor cats I could deal with.
However, looking out at this critter, she sure seemed to be a happy girl. It made me wonder.
A couple minutes later, I heard knocking on my door. I recognized the woman’s bright yellow smiley-face shirt from between the slats in my blinds. Both the woman and her shirt smiled broadly as she asked, “Is this your dog?” The pooch stood there obediently, her tail wagging furiously. “She’s adorable.”
“She is adorable, isn’t she? But no, she’s not mine. She seems to have adopted my porch as her home though, as you can see.” I pointed over to the dog’s debris field. “Is she bothering you?”
“Oh no, but she is a handful. She ran out into the street a little while ago, and I didn’t want to see her get hurt.”
“Yeah, I called the authorities already. Hopefully, they’ll get here soon.”
“Okay,” she said as she stepped away from my door. “Stay, girl! Stay!” The woman repeated herself several times as she vacated my property, but the puppy had no intention of complying, following her back to the thrift store parking lot.
About an hour later, I looked out and saw the black-and-white Ingham County Animal Control truck parked at the thrift store. As quickly as I could, I donned my shoes, grabbed the dog photo, and dashed out the door. A tall, attractive woman in a brown police uniform greeted me with a polite smile. She had one of those dog-catching devices in her right hand, a short stick with a loop.
“Hi,” I said with my own smile, “I’m the one that called you. Here’s a picture I took of the dog. She seems harmless enough.”
“Oh, you took a picture? This will help tremendously. Thank you.”
As the words came from her mouth, a voice emanated from my neighbor’s yard to my right. “Oh, here she is. Good girl!” I turned to see one of the thrift store employees standing a few feet away from the orange puppy. True to form, she hadn’t wandered far from my porch.
“Don’t scare her,” the policewoman told me as the dog trotted away from the thrift store woman and directly toward me. “No sudden movements.”
The dog trotted up next to me and stood still, staring intently at the policewoman. I reached down and slowly ran my hand along the dog’s back as the woman spoke softly and crept closer.
At that moment, it occurred to me that I hadn’t interacted with this dog at all until now. She hadn’t been around any of the times I left the house, and when she was outside, I felt too much trepidation to investigate. I hadn’t had many positive experiences with dogs. Mostly, my brain held on to the memories of big dogs jumping up on me and little ones incessantly licking my face. Plus, I had been bitten a couple of times as a child, giving me a healthy fear. Besides, my logical nature kept telling me that being friendly to this stray animal would make her stay.
But here and now, the puppy stood next to me, wagging its tail while I continued to pet her softly. As I kept her distracted, the cop gracefully walked up and put the loop around her neck. Just like that, the woman had control. As she led the dog to the back of the truck, she thanked me.
I went inside, feeling relieved but still slightly guilty. Ah well, I thought, she’s a good, healthy dog. Either her owners will come and claim her, or someone will adopt her. She’s far too pretty not to find a home.
I kept putting off a visit to the Ingham County Animal Control building, afraid of what I might find. What if she was still there? What if she wasn’t?
When I finally got up the courage, a week had already passed. On that Saturday, I found out she had already been adopted. Feeling much relief, I asked, “Who?”
Of course, they wouldn’t say any more, so I had no idea where she now called home.
Perhaps one day, I might wake up to find an orange-colored dog chewing up a newspaper on my porch. After all, they say dogs have a great navigation system, and for two days, she called my porch home.