The stray lived in a small town on the East Coast. He was a mix of several breeds, but you could never call him a mutt. He had a regal look, some people would call him the wolf-dog because he was large with a long black and brown coat. Most people guessed he had German Shepherd and Collie in him. For years the town people just called him “Stray”.
I was eighteen years old when I first met the stray. I was spending the summer with my sister and her husband before I went to college. They owned a gas station and I worked there to get some extra money for school. I was at the gas station the day I met Stray. I was on the side of the building filling up a bucket with water to wash the cars windshields with. He startled me when he came around the corner. I could understand why some people called him wolf-dog. He was large with no collar but I could tell he had been brushed recently. He looked at me and started walking toward me. I backed up a little. I had always liked dogs but I was unsure of this one. When I backed up he went over to the faucet, had a drink and trotted down the street. When my sister arrived at the station I told her what had happened. She was a top mechanic in the town. She laughed and said she should have told me that Stray came around almost everyday to get a drink of water from the faucet. He would then sometimes visit for a while. She said for the five years that she had lived here Stray rarely missed a day. The townspeople told her that Stray just showed up as a pup about seven years ago. He doesn’t belong to anyone but the whole town takes care of him. People would feed him, brush him, and the local vet would check him out and keep him up to date on all his shots. It’s like the whole town is his adopted family. Several people have tried to take him into their homes but he would always go back to roaming the town. My sister told me that Stray had a regular route about town and would go off at night and sleep. No one ever knew where he slept.
After a few days at the station I began to look forward to Stray’s visits. He would go to the water faucet and sit there until I turned it on. He would take his drink and then roam about town or he would sit in the station with me for a while. The townspeople must have worked with him over the years because he would sit when told, lie down when told and shake hands. He would make a great companion for someone if he would only stay with them. I had been working at the station for a month when I decided to follow Stray and see where he went everyday. It was my day off but I went to the station to give Stray his drink. Stray showed up, got his drink and trotted off to town. I followed at a distance. His first stop was right through the front door of the local market. He went to the meat department and sat by the service door. Moments later the butcher put down a bowl of ground meat. Stray ate up and headed out. Before leaving the store he stopped at the cashier. He sat and she gave him a dog biscuit. Stray went out the door and up the street. I followed.
Next stop was the bait and tackle shop. Stray waited outside until a person entered the shop and Stray went through the open door. He headed straight to a water bowl that was on the floor. He took a drink and then laid next to some men sitting around a table. One of the men reached down and patted Stray’s head. Thirty minutes later Stray got up and went to the door. He sat and barked. One of the men got up and opened the door for him.
Up the street went Stray. He went right to the school yard. School was out for the summer but there were some boys playing ball in the yard. Stray trotted in, stopped the game until all the boys petted him and then went on his way. This time he crossed the street and went to a small nursing home. He went to the back where several of the residents were sitting outside. To my amazement they all took treats out of their pockets or purses and Stray went to each one to get his treat. He stayed here for almost two hours, going back and forth to these elderly people getting pats on the head and kisses. You could see that the residents of this nursing home really enjoyed Stray’s visit. Stray was off again, down the street to the local diner. He went around back and sat by the back door. After a few minutes he barked twice. A waitress came out with a bowl of ice cream. Stray ate the ice cream while the waitress sat on the steps. When Stray was finished he went and sat by the waitress. She hugged him and talked to him for about thirty minutes. You could tell the waitress was crying when she talked to Stray. The waitress got up, picked up the empty bowl and went back into the diner. I would find out later that the waitress’ husband had left her two years ago and since then when she was working and Stray would come around she would talk to him. People felt that if it weren’t for Stray the waitress might have done something desperate.
Stray went up the street and ducked behind some buildings. I tried to catch up to him. When I turned the corner he was gone. I looked around the area for a few minutes but couldn’t find him. I had this strange feeling he was out there some where watching me. I really wanted to find out where he settled in every night but I guess Stray didn’t want me to know. The next day I told my sister what had happened. She told me I was not the first to try and find out where Stray stayed at night. My attempt was the same as the others, unsuccessful.
The next day Stray came for his drink of water and looked at me in a funny way. He stayed for a short time and started to leave. He took a few steps, turned, looked at me and I could swear he was smiling. It was like he was saying, aren’t you going to try and follow me again. I just waved my arm and told him to get going. As he trotted off I had to chuckle to myself. Stray was smarter then some people I have met. For the next two weeks Stray’s visits at the station were lasting longer and longer. I felt that he really liked me and enjoyed my company. I knew in three weeks I would be leaving for college and I told my sister that I wouldn’t mind taking Stray with me. So for the next couple of days when Stray came for his drink I would put a leash on him and take him home with me. He didn’t seem to mind coming home. He would eat, we would play together, and he would lay down next me while I sat in a chair and read. I tried very hard to make him feel at home. The first night he kept going to the door and scratched at it. I let him out, and the next day he would be back at the station for his drink and visit. I did this for several days but every night he would scratch at the door and want to leave. I realized that it was just not meant to be that Stray had one family. The whole town was his family and that’s the way he wanted it.
The day I left for college I went to the station and gave Stray his drink and said goodbye. Four years later I graduated college and started a career. I would call my sister often and most of the conversation centered on Stray. She told me he had gotten older and slowed down a lot but still roamed the town. I hadn’t seen him since that day I left. I told my sister that I would be coming out to visit her soon. But I think she knew down deep that I was really coming to visit Stray”.
Stories by Frank Rescigno. All
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