Excerpts from Three Stray Dogs
Wally lagged behind Bertha and Harriet. Every now and then, the cat turned around to make sure Wally kept up. Despite their bickering, Bertha and Harriet displayed the camaraderie of long lost friends.
Narrow alleys snaked in between long rows of brick apartment buildings. Thick steel gates blocked entry into the courtyards forcing children to play on the sidewalk. Cautious parents kept an eye out for trouble as they sat talking to one another on brick stoops at the building’s entrances.
The barriers were a mere inconvenience for Harriet. She slid underneath the gates, scampered down the steps to scour the courtyards for Tippy. With every try, she came up empty handed. Harriet knew almost every stray cat and dog by name. Not a one had seen Tippy.
“Follow me,” Harriet said, “there’s more strays a few blocks away. Maybe they know something.”
“How do you know everyone?” Wally said, as he finally caught up with the two.
“The cats and I mouse hunt together. We rummage through all the vacant buildings,” Harriet said. “I grace the friendly dogs with my presence when time permits.”
“Listen to Miss Thing,” Bertha said. “Should I bow down now or later?”
“Watch it shorty,” Harriet said.
“What about Tippy?” Wally asked, indifferent to the backbiting.
The animals pressed on, continuing to search for Tippy. Several blocks later, they passed a large vacant lot trashed with garbage ranging from empty cardboard boxes to crushed bottles to broken appliances. Wally’s limp became more pronounced. He barked at Harriet and Bertha, “Please, let’s stop.”
“Good thinking, a break suits me fine,” Harriet said with a yawn. “A cat in my leadership role needs ample rest.”
“What brings you around the gas station?” Wally asked. “You cats generally avoid dogs.”
“I’m not just any cat,” Harriet said, tossing her head back like royalty. “Remember that. As to how I got here, it’s like this.”
Harriet spared no details explaining her long journey from the isolated woods of Wyoming to the hectic jam packed streets of the Bronx. A car accident had seriously roughed up Candace, her owner, and it may have taken the woman’s life. Ralph, Candace’s brother, took the cat to live with him while his sister was in the intensive care unit on the edge between life and death. Harriet suspected Ralph wanted Candace’s money. Ralph was the opposite of his sister. Chronically unemployed, the degenerate dipstick with a nasty temper had a drinking habit too. One night in a rage after finding an eviction notice on the front door, Ralph shoved Harriet into a box and sped down an isolated road. The door flew open, Ralph jumped out and hurled the box with Harriet still inside down a steep embankment. As he peeled away, Ralph opened the window and yelled that he hated cats. Harriet wandered into the woods, concerned Ralph might return with the tire iron he once threatened her with. She’d roamed the woods for over a year, eking out a living from the land.
“Wyoming? How’d you get to the Bronx?” Wally asked.
“I know this story already,” Bertha said, showing no interest in listening to Harriet recall her string of adventures for the umpteenth time.
“Show respect while I finish a daring tale,” Harriet said, arching her back.
Bertha moved aside and said, “Wake me when you’re done.” She curled into a ball and closed her eyes.
Harriet flashed her teeth at Bertha, turned aside and said, “OK Wally, where was I?”
“Ralph dumped you,” Wally said.
Harriet’s hackles rose. “Don’t remind me about that two timing fish face.” She calmed down and continued. “Wyoming is far away from here with lots of woods, more snow, but not nearly as many people. One time I helped a sorry-looking lost horse find her way home. Oh yeah, and then there was this little scruffy dog I helped. He surely wouldn’t have survived the harsh winter without me.”
“How’d you get to the Bronx? Hurry so we can look for Tippy,” Wally said.
“Don’t rush me. I came across this quaint town so I went through my usual routine, checking out homes for something to eat and protection from the cold. Wyoming has the fiercest winters. Only strong cats of my caliber survive. One evening this teenage girl sees me eating food she left for the barn cats. She smiles and tries to pet me. I can’t let just anyone touch me so I ran inside the barn with the other cats.”
“You still haven’t said how you got to the Bronx?”
“Be patient. I’m getting to that,” Harriet said.
Bertha opened her eyes and stared at Harriet.
“I see you over there, you misplaced mongrel,” Harriet said. “The best part is yet to come. Leave us alone and go back to sleep.”
The saga continued. Because the teenager handed chicken scraps out nightly, Harriet began to hang around the ranch. She hid in the barn, even though she disliked associating with barn cats. They were beneath her. The girl shifted her routine and started to leave food on the back porch all of which Harriet promptly chowed down.
“Wait,” Bertha said, “did she tell you about the time the girl left out cat food? Harriet was so insulted. I never thought I’d hear the end of it.”
“Here here, if you’d been fed chicken then someone dumped dog food into your dish I’d expect you to grumble too. Do something dog-like and entertain yourself.”
Bertha rolled over and closed her eyes.
One night, Harriet noticed food inside a cage. She thought nothing of it and followed the trail of goodies. Homemade chicken baked with breadcrumbs was a welcome break from mice, weasels, birds, and other prey. Something unexpected happened, though. Wham, the cage door snapped shut and the great Harriet was trapped. The girl, who had been visiting her grandparents in Wyoming, was fond of Harriet. She had return plans to the Bronx and wanted Harriet to go with her.
“In a rare moment of weakness, the great Harriet was tricked. I was probably weak with fever or something. Smart cats like me never fall for such deceit. The story doesn’t end there.”
“How much longer is the story?”
“Not much. It’s worth waiting for. The girl flies me back to New York to live with her. The girl’s parents stop their car in front of a big building in some place called Co-op City and the kid is ready to bring me inside. Yikes, I see big apartment buildings and figured I’d never get out. I should’ve been grateful you know, but I wanted Candace and my leisurely Wyoming life. Lucky for me the door to the cat carrier was slightly open so I bolted. I’ve been on the run ever since. I’m not happy here, but after a four-hour plane ride, it looks like I’ll never get back to Wyoming. And I’ll never know what happened to my Candace.”
Bertha sauntered over. “The great Harriet’s story time is over. Time to look for Tippy. I still say you should’ve given that girl a chance. I’d live in Co-Op City if someone wanted me to. Better than eating garbage off the streets and living like we do.”
“Sausage face is right, let’s move it. Stick with me, Wally, I have more to say,” Harriet said. “You might learn something, I’ll tell you about Wyoming.”