by Carol Shillibeer
Halfway down the hill along the river, a dog barked at me from across the road. I stopped, turned to pay attention. Slim, not particularly aggressive, curious, the dog sat on the sidewalk, where the dim edges of light from two street lamps met. It is unusual in this area of the city to see a dog running loose. She was lanky, tall, a mixed-breed. Under the dim street lamp her coat, a light brown.
She barked again. Twice: sharp bites of air. Her tail did not move. I told her no, I am not a threat.
I resumed walking downhill. I kept speaking, a soothing, quiet voice. Good dog. It’s ok.
I kept walking with an even, calm gait.
Where I lived on the Reservation there are a lot of feral dogs. Many are more than willing to reestablish ties with human beings, but some are not. Some are dangerous, whether from old histories of their own, or from a sense of possession of space and food sources into which human beings fit only as a threat.
Her tail didn’t move, her body was tense but her lips had not pulled back to expose her teeth. I didn’t know if she just wasn’t sure which kind of human I was, or if she didn’t know if she could best me in some territorial dispute.
Normally, if you get out of an animal’s personal territory they’ll simply forget you exist and you can walk out in peace. But she didn’t stop. She came across the road, circled round me, got behind me, her body a little jerky from the tension.
When she got within twelve feet, I stopped and turned sideways, With my heavy gripped in my hand, I sighed. I do not like fighting if I can avoid it. I kept moving.
Good girl. Good dog.
I moved a few more feet down the hill; she followed. I spoke a little sharper. Mind your manners and I will mind mine. I will hit you if you come at me.
In this way we came within the block where my building sits on its earth shelf halfway up the steep river bank.
She had been creeping closer as we moved in tandem down the hill. I turned and faced her, my arm just slightly extended to allow for a strong swing. When she got to a place within four feet, she stopped and sat. She looked at me. Didn’t bark; didn’t move her tail. I lowered the bag and stared back.
Ok, so what? I stood there for a while, maybe as much as two minutes, her looking at me, me looking back. You want some food?
By this time I could see her clearly under the streetlamp. She had a collar, looked healthy and well fed. A house dog, probably, out for a night walk with an owner frantically calling. I kept up the conversation, walked to my front door, put down my bag, got out my keys and unlocked the door.
Wait a minute. I went in, put my stuff on the floor and got a bowl of cat kibble. I sat in the little plastic chair on the concrete pad in front of my ground floor apartment, then waited while the dog decided what she wanted to do.
At first she ignored the food. She went around the back of the building, checked out the woods which my living room windows overlook. I could hear her snuffling, stop, start, sniff. She came back to the front of the building, looked at the road that kept going down the hill, smelled the garbage cans, clicked back along the concrete sidewalk, her nails tat tat tatting up to where I waited. Then she lowered her head to the food dish. She lifted it again without eating, walked over to me and placed her head in my lap.
After a moment, I rubbed her ears, smoothed the brown hair down along the crown of her head. She stood there receiving attention. So what now? I can’t have a dog here. I have two cats who wouldn't like you at all.
I rubbed her ears. Come by now and then; I’ll leave food. I felt for her collar, her id tag, felt that and her rabies tag, snapped a picture with my phone. I patted her shoulder. As I went inside, I said be careful. She left, trotting down the hill, without eating the food.
The next day I came out, just after the light came, to drink my coffee. The food was gone. Maybe the dog ate it, but I think it was probably the skunk or badger, or some of the outside cats, or the local flock of starlings. They really like cat food.
A week or two later, walking home from town, I saw her—on a bright green leash being led by a woman in her early 30s. I waved. I think the woman thought I was waving at her.