Once upon a time there was a mongrel dog by the name of Packard. His name came from the side of the cardboard box he slept in, and he only used it because it sounded better than Hewlett. Packard scrounged around the back streets, looking for scraps and getting into trouble. His life was not as romantic as that of the tramp in Lady and the Tramp, as it mostly consisted of eating garbage and avoiding getting chewed on by packs of other dogs.
Packard was always hungry and he’d eat pretty much anything. So one day when he was sleeping he watched a parade of little white mice with some interest. He’d seen mice before, but these were white lab mice all walking along in a line, looking about as if they were on a sightseeing tour. Beggars cannot be choosers, and to Packard they were a full meal walking by, so I am afraid he ate them. Later on in the day a number of loud cars came by, driving slowly. Packard feared cars, so he crouched back in his cardboard box so they couldn’t see him. He didn’t feel well, and wondered if the mice had gotten him sick or something. In fact, he wondered quite a few things that he hadn’t wondered before. For example, he questioned what he was doing in this cardboard box, and why the only meals he could obtain were from garbage.
That night Packard went to his familiar haunts. But rather than wait for the garbage to come out and lunge for it with the other dogs skulking in the shadows, Packard settled himself by the restaurant back door. When the waiter came out, carrying the garbage, Packard nipped in behind him. He walked casually down the hall, smelling as he did so. A cook was coming out of the cooler, so Packard flattened himself against the wall and slid in before the door closed.
Inside the cooler was so much meat that for a moment Packard could hardly think clearly. He selected a large sausage, a generous meal but not too big to carry. Then he pushed on the cooler door, walked out, and walked to the back door. It also was a push bar, so he stood up and pushed. Outside in the alley the dogs were fighting with each other over the garbage. Packard stayed in the shadows and walked back to his box.
The next day Packard felt really good. A whole sausage was probably more than he’d had in a week before. He got up and decided to walk down to the waterfront. On the way, Packard spotted several dogs being walked by their owners. From the look of them, being an owned dog was a better way to live. Packard glanced at himself in a shop window and was horrified. Who would want to own him, in the state he was in?
Packard dove into the river and paddled around to get clean, but he felt dirtier than before. He found a fountain and rolled in it, but it still wasn’t good. Then he found a sprinkler system, one of those annoying ones that are turned up too high, and rinsed himself thoroughly.
Then Packard went to the park. He looked at all the owned dogs and took note of the way they behaved. Evidently he was supposed to not listen, to bark at strangers, and to make his business in the wrong places. All he need do was slobber on his owner from time to time or look sheepish if caught. It didn’t look too hard.
Packard saw a slow moving van approaching him. He knew from his former life, if that was what he could call it, that this van was slow-moving death from which no stray ever returned. So Packard walked over to an elderly gentleman reading his paper and lay down next to him.
The dog catcher got out of the van and walked up to the old man. “No collar, no license? Who do you think you are, buddy?” The elderly gentleman had no idea what he was talking about. “This dog? But this isn’t my dog!” Packard stood on his hind legs and licked the man in the mouth the way he’s seen the other owned dogs doing. The man spluttered while the dog catcher wrote out his ticket for non-licensing.
When the dog catcher left, the old man told Packard he couldn’t have a dog because he lived in an apartment that didn’t allow dogs. Packard could understand only that the man was sad but firm. So he licked the man once more, and trotted over to a family.
The children of the family were admiring the other dogs while their mother sat primly texting her friends. Packard got right in their faces and rolled with them, laughing. These humans wanted a dog. The mother shrieked and tried to beat Packard off, so he did his best sheepish look and rolled on his back in submission. The mother tried to shoo him away while the kids went down on their knees to scratch his belly. Packard rolled and smiled and looked as adoring as he could at the mother.
But mothers like this are hard to crack. Packard saw that she was not going to be moved. He felt something new, something different from fighting or running. If he’d had a word for it, it would have been determination.
Packard played with the children until the mother pulled them away and made her way to the bus stop to catch the 10:30 bus home. Packard followed at a discreet distance, watching. When they boarded the bus, he started following. Busses are faster than people, but not faster than dogs with a good meal in them. Especially when that dog is smart enough to lie down and rest between sprints to the next bus stop.
For eighteen blocks, Packard followed the bus, until he saw the children and their mother get off the bus and enter an apartment building. The door was a pull one, so Packard waited until someone came out and then slid in. The inner door was impossible, and he knew that he couldn’t stay in this confined space. A delivery man came in and pushed a button on the wall. The inner door buzzed, and the delivery man let himself in, blocking Packard with his leg. Packard thought about biting him, but thought better of it. He stood on his hind legs and pressed the buttons. Many voices sounded in little tinny sounds, but Packard just sat down. Sure enough, someone came down and, ignoring Packard, held open the inner door while he looked outside. Packard slid inside.
Humans would have been at a loss, but Packard had the children’s scent. He trotted up to the third floor, and whined outside the children’s door. When no one came, Packard turned around and thumped on the door with his thick, stubby tail. He also made a sound in the back of his throat, that was half-whine, half-singing.
The mother came to the door. Packard sat, tail thumping the floor, when she opened the door. In her surprise, the mother opened the door too widely and let the children see who was there. Even her iron control was bested by a flurry of child stampede. Packard let the children pet him and nuzzle him, then rolled to his feet. With one eye to the reproachful mother, he barked softly and pushed the children inside with his nose. When he followed them in, he even did a little extra scrape of his paws on the mat.
It was a near thing, and Packard wondered if he would need to repeat his door experiment, but the next morning when he had the children lined up to go out neatly and before the time the mother had expected, he got his first smile from the mother. In the coming weeks, she came to rely on Packard, who made sure to never cross her kitchen boundaries.
“He’s not an ordinary dog.” She confided with her minister. “It’s like he’s watching me and learning.” And Packard was. For his next trick, he’s learning to talk. But that’s another story.
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