Adventures of Cookie the Stray
Home at Last
In July I'll turn fifteen, Lord willing and the creek doesn't rise. I don't know the exact day I was born. The fourth is only a guess but it's easy to remember. I was a young pup, running with a pack of street dogs when a man found me and took me home. What a joy it was to be in a place where meals were served every day. Before that, I scrabbled for crumbs left by the bigger, stronger dogs in the pack.
The years have passed like a blur since those times of hunger and fear, but I remember the daily struggle. This is my story.
The lady’s hands were softer than the man’s but his touch was more down-to-business. He knew exactly where to scratch that would start my leg twitching with joy. His smell was different too, husky, bold. The lady had a fragrance like crushed flowers that cling to fur after a fine roll in a meadow. On my back in front of the man’s chair I tried to lock eyes to urge him to rub faster and harder. More nail.
It was a pleasant surprise to find myself here with two square meals a day. Treats came on a regular basis. Whenever the woman called Connie pulled the milk container out of the fridge, I sensed the familiar snap of the lid and came running into the kitchen. From time to time milk appeared in the bowl at my station near the cabinet by the sink. That was where I waited with barely concealed excitement as the lady prepared our meals. Life here was good; although I remember when life wasn't. I try not to think about that too often.
Sometimes my dreams take me back to those awful places with emptiness in my belly; lonely nights, the endless walking, the frightful cars speeding past. I have seen the gruesome remains of strays that didn’t make it safely across busy streets. Times are so much better now.
The hand rubbing my belly stopped with a rhythmic pat, pat, pat. That always signaled the end of the session. I took the cue and moved behind the curtain at the front window and promptly fell asleep.
Cookie plunged rapidly into a deep dream that began with her leaping straight off the deck, then, circling the neighborhood from the air. She often traveled this way in her dreams, inexplicably unbound by the laws of nature and physics. She had no wings and yet she flew. Often, she found the returning jolt upon reentering her body to be slightly nauseating. But true to her canine nature, she revealed no visible sign of this momentary weakness. The dizziness would pass quickly leaving her ready to resume the demanding duties of barking and begging.
Her earliest memories often replayed while she slept. There were the long days when she traveled along the winding dirt road littered with years of debris. Some of her first meals were scavenged from the endless mounds of trash bags and broken boxes along the way. In times of good fortune, a moldy crust of bread rewarded her keen sense of smell. Those rare finds among the mass of bottles and cans served to sustain both she and her sister Nicole during their arduous journey. Along the trail, competition was tough for the food they discovered. Living in the forest were opossums and squirrels, rodents, insects, birds and always, the predators seeking their next meal.
Her sister, Nicole, was smaller and more delicate than Cookie whose physique was like a miniature German shepherd. Nicole’s dad might have been a Chow from the fluffy blond hair and soft features she inherited. Nicole’s instinct for hunting was not as fine-tuned as Cookie’s which left most of the meal finding to Cookie while Nicole remained hidden in the nearby brush. Sometimes Nicole worked to flush out the small rodents and prey that Cookie would corner and catch for their meal. She was braver if birds were the opponent. Then, Nicole would dart around like a dervish, sounding her shrill bark that kept the vultures and crows from taking their catch. It was this demonstration of bravery that Cookie admired most in her litter mate whose small body was easy game for the talons of a large bird. They worked their way through the forest as a team, resting furtively, eating occasionally, on the alert, always.
Nicole and Cookie had fallen into a tired trance, rhythmically plodding forward, with Cookie taking the lead, her head hung close to the ground, her tail down as she marched endlessly onward. With the snap of a twig they both stopped abruptly sensing a presence in the clearing ahead.
Ahead, two dogs rested under a plastic pool wedged at an odd angle against the base of a large tree. The dog with thick fur looked like an enormous wolf with a tan mask on a heart-shaped forehead. His dark eyebrows above black ringed eyes gave him a scholarly look, like he was wearing glasses. His tan ears cocked quizzically over black fur that covered his back. When he stood up, Cookie saw broad shoulders, a deep barrel chest with a concave belly a tinge on the thin side.
Buddy’s traveling companion and new friend, Rover, was a veteran to these surroundings, having accepted the loss of his human owner long ago. They dozed in the cool afternoon shade of the pool remaining close to watch each other’s back. Buddy drifted in and out of a cool nap longing for the man who had been his, for the truck bed where he had ridden, and for the wind whipping by his face and ears. Times were tough here in the woods.
Their reverie was broken by the sharp crack of a twig along the trail. Both sets of ears came forward to full alert position as their bodies tensed. Buddy emitted a low growl that was more a vibration than an audible sound. Rover’s eyes opened soundlessly, his body a statue of pressurized tension, ready to pounce on the intruder.
The newcomers were a curiosity to Buddy and Rover. Their travels over the past weeks had drastically altered their puppy appearance. Their once soft puppy fur was studded with a bristly coat full of twigs and burrs. Their small, razor-sharp puppy teeth had long since fallen out, replaced with adult canine teeth. In their small jaws the adult teeth appeared comically out of proportion. Steady walking had worn away their puppy roundness. Firm wiry legs held up their gangly thin frames.
Buddy crawled from under the pool with the grace of a waking giant, moving closer to the newcomers. His past experience with other dogs came back to him in a flash of images. The old neighborhood with fenced yards allowed nose-to-nose contact with his former canine neighbors.
Both girls froze in mid-step as four sets of eyes locked on each other.
© 2017 Peg Cole