Collective Property – Keslie Hahn
The old neighborhood dog is dead. Legally she belonged to one family, but she really belonged to all of us, trotting around with whoever was walking the neighborhood. She was a squat, short-legged dog with shaggy fur the color of dull red clay and ears that folded up like pocket squares. She kept a regular schedule of stops for treats. If it started to rain, she begged at the nearest door until someone let her in. She wasn’t picky. She got more dog biscuits than were good for her and made a fat meal for the coyotes.
This new neighborhood dog is the opposite. She lives up and down one street in the neighborhood, pacing from drainage ditch to shrub to flowerbed. This new dog would tower over the old dog. She is lean and white except for a coffee-toned head and saddle, and her long jowls tremble with every howl. She refuses to be taken in, cared for, cleaned, even though three or four families would happily oblige. She fears men. She barks at city trucks. She threatens inflatable pool toys. She is ours.
When she first came to us, her body was loose and vacant and trailed by a litter of pups. Animal control got the puppies, and they darted her a few times, but she always slunk away and hid before the drugs took full effect, before they could take her, fix her, and adopt her out again.
We simmer with both the worry and the hope that she will have another litter of puppies. Another litter of puppies could be caught, divided, pampered in the same way we want to pamper their mother.
We check for her when we drive or walk by to make sure she’s healthy, warm enough in winter, cool enough in summer. We love and pity her. We desire and cherish her. We offer her safety, food, protection; we offer these freely, but she takes only enough to suit her, only enough for her to feel like she is free, as though she could leave us as suddenly and completely as she came: dumped, forever mistrustful of the rest of us, the good ones.
We are dog people. Our hearts reach out to this dog. We devise a trap.
We lull her in with a woman, one we know she does not fear. We catch her with a noose; we drag her into a fenced yard. She pulls and pulls and pulls. She bites our hands. She escapes. She will not come to the woman again.
We herd her with our bodies. We encircle her and push her toward the driveway, to the half-open gate, the gate she cannot dig under or jump over when it is closed. She snaps at us, feints, rushes, breaks free. She plunges into an overgrown lot, to wherever she hides from animal control and their darts.
We give up. We put out a dog house for her, outside the gate, and a food bowl we fill regularly. We line the dog house with ratty blankets. We take turns giving her treats. We put up signs: no scraps. And she lies obediently by the fence while we sit to meals, check her silhouette in the dying light, shake our heads and tell ourselves that we would give her everything.