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The first time I see the kid I think there was something wrong with him because no one sits on the sidewalk in Parkdale unless there's something wrong with him. I'm no good with kids' ages but I guess he's maybe twelve. He must be waiting for the school bus. His nose is buried in a book, some fantasy thing like Harry Potter but not Harry Potter but just as many pages. Simone, who usually stays away from strangers, thinks he's curious as well because she walks right up to the boy and gives him a sniff.

The boy does that thing you do when a wet nose starts sniffing your ear and that's that shoulder shrug/head tilt thing to hide the ear being invaded. I pull Simone back half expecting the kid to make some noise of surprise or complaint but he doesn't even look up, just keeps reading.

I continue walking, every so often stealing a glance back. His mother comes out, makes him stand up, zips up his coat and the whole time, his eyes never leave the book. Something about the kid, his deep absorption in the book, his self-possessed nerdiness - I like that.

The next time I see the kid, he's wearing all black and at first I think he's discovered Goth fashions way too young, and not in a good way because he's looking kinda ninja and then I get it. It's Halloween and he is a ninja. He's reading again, this time a sci-fi novel. There's another kid standing beside him not in costume, being ignored. Simone gives both of them the once over from meters away and because they're not sitting down, walks a wide berth around them.

One morning, after walking Smitten, Elizabeth comes home and tells me she's just seen the book reading kid without a book. Instead, he'd been playing the recorder, that shrill, plastic tube with spit holes drilled along the length of it, and his sister was standing beside him, accompanying him as the rhythm section by shaking a big branch of leaves. Sometimes kids are awesome.

The last time I see the kid, he's sitting on the sidewalk again, bundled up in thick layers, his mother perhaps overcompensating for the cool though not yet cold weather knowing he sits on the ground a lot. He's reading a MAD magazine but it's like he's not that into it. He actually looks up and sees Simone and me and he turns away, looking almost embarrassed to have been caught reading such low brow literature.

Simone wants to stop and sniff him but I pull her away, not wanting to prolong the kid's embarrassment. I want to say something to him, something like, "Hey, reading MAD magazine is still way better than wearing out your brain cells playing Angry Birds," but I don't because that would be uncool and way too grown up.

I'm guessing on Wednesday mornings the woman must wait inside her house, looking out her window from behind the drawn curtain, impatient for the garbage truck to come by and pick up her trash. As soon as it does, she flits out her door and drags her bin back into her garage but not before inspecting the sidewalk in front of her yard for new stains. She hates that, all that filthy filthsome filth. She told me so once when she followed me home and started yelling at me for letting Rocky piss on her stretch of sidewalk (that was when Rocky was undergoing chemo and it made him piss everywhere and a lot - not that I told her that, not that I'd give her any ammunition).

Recently, while walking past her house with Simone, I see her out there after the garbage trucks have been by. She must've found a spot of stain on the sidewalk.

She has with her a jug of bleach and a container of CLR.

She pours out a good amount of the liquids. She scrubs with the same intensity as someone trying to scrub the imaginary blood off of one's hand. I want to say something to her, something like, "Hey, looneytunes. You want a spotless sidewalk but all you're doing is making it more toxic with those chemicals," but I don't because her OCD is punishment enough for her for being the nastiest neighbour on the block.

On a night walk, this is late, after midnight, maybe after one, I've got both Smitty and Simone, coming back from the last pee break of the evening before sleep. Someone gets out of a cab. I recognize her and nod and say hello from across the street. It takes a moment but then she recognizes me and says hello and walks over to my side of the street and stands there, expectantly, and then calls me back to her.

"How're ya doin?" she asks, slightly slurred.

"Good," I say. "How are you doing?"

"I heard about Stella," she says.

"Yeah," I say. It's late. It's not the conversation I want to have right now.

"What about the other one? The ... " she asks.

"Rocky's passed away too," I say. "In the winter."

She looks at me.

"Come here," she says.

I look at her, uncertain. Simone looks at her, uncertain. Smitten wants pets.

"Come here," she says loudly and opens her arms.

I step towards her. She gives me a big hug. A big, long hug. Then releases and I step back.

"Mine passed away too," she says. "He was fifteen. I had him for fifteen years."

"That's a good long time," I say. "You did well ..."

"He was a great dog," she says, getting louder, more emotional. Then, "Stella was a great dog too."

"Yeah, she was," I say but I'm trying to compensate for her increased volume by lowering mine and she doesn't hear me.

"She was a GREAT DOG, right?" even louder and the weather's still warm and I know some of the neighbours have got their windows open and some of them are starting to get woken up because if I were in bed, I'd be woken up.

"I think so," I say but she doesn't get the placement of the accent.

"You THINK so? What do you mean you THINK so? She was a great dog! Don't stand there and tell me you fucking THINK so. What the fuck is wrong with you?" I look at her, surprised by her mood swing.

"What the FUCK is wrong with you? Tell me she's great. Say it! FUCKIN SAY IT!"

As Cesar Milan would say, she's just gone into the red zone.

I remember the times I've met the woman before and small alarms go off. I take a step back and say, "Stella was great," which sounds unnatural because I'm forcing it.

"Tell me she was GREAT!" the woman says, still loud but not as loud before.

"She was great," I say and I back away. I raise my hand in a static wave, "I gotta go now. It's late," which also sounds lame.

The woman stands there, looking at me. She's deciding what to say next but she says nothing. I'm several steps away now. I turn my back to her and keep walking. I hear nothing else and when I turn around again, she's walking down the block in the other direction.

Back at home, I take the leashes off the dogs. We sit on the couch and as I'm petting Smitty and Simone, I'm thinking: Stella was great. Maybe the woman was right. Maybe I should've yelled it out to the night.

1 Comment to “While walking the dogs, three people”

  1. Biscuit says:

    1. Stella _was_ great, and you yelled it out with everything you ever posted about her. Rocky, too.

    2. Crazy lady is crazy but at least she's an excellent judge of dog character.

    3. I like that kid.

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A request

The reason for this blog is to help get specific dogs adopted from TAS but equally important is to try to normalize the idea of shelter dogs being just as good and just as desirable as any other dogs including those which are regularly merchandised by backyard breeders, puppy millers and those few remaining pet store owners who still feel a need to sell live animals. The single greatest stigma shelter animals still face is the belief that shelter animals are substandard animals. Anyone who has had enough experience with shelter animals knows this is untrue but the general public hasn't had the same experiences you've had. They see a nice dog photo in a glossy magazine and too many of them would never think of associating that dog with a dog from a shelter. After all, no one abandons perfectly good dogs, right? Unfortunately, as we all know, perfectly good dogs are abandoned all the time.

The public still too often associates shelter dogs with images of beat up, sick, dirty, severely traumatized animals and while we definitely sometimes see victims such as these, they are certainly not the majority and, regardless, even the most abused animals can very often be saved and made whole again.

Pound Dogs sometimes discusses the sad histories some of the dogs have suffered. For the most part, though, it tries to present the dogs not as victims but as great potential family members. The goal is to raise the profiles of animals in adoption centers so that a potential pet owner sees them as the best choice, not just as the charity choice.

So, here's the favour I'm asking. Whenever you see a dog picture on these pages you think is decent enough, I'd like you to consider sharing it on Facebook or any other social media sites you're using (I know many of you do this already and thank you for that). And when you share it, please mention that the dog in the photo is a shelter dog like so many other shelter dogs waiting for a home. If we can get even five percent of the pet buying public to see shelter dogs differently, to see how beautiful they are and how wonderful they are, and to consider shelter dogs as their first choice for a new family member, we can end the suffering of homeless pets in this country.