The second installment of ISCP member Rowena’s story about adopting a Romanian street dog.

Arrival.

We arrive everyday. Outside. Cauta inhaling the air. We begin without knowing where or when we will arrive. My pattern of knowing where I am going beforehand is useless here. We find our way.

We arrive in front of a man who sits on the corner. Cauta’s curiosity at his cigarette initiates a smile on a beaten face. His eyes pools of sadness, but a smile that would not have been there if Cauta had not arrived.

We arrive round another corner. To all our surprise two dogs and an owner. All stand stock still. Cauta’s one good ear rising and tail softly waving, as an unsure flag. I offer ‘He’s friendly’. The owner counters ‘These aren’t. They’ll attack.’ A deft parting of ways. Our path across the street, theirs round the corner.

Small presents. When a bus pulls up to let off its elderly group of passengers. Cauta stands still, interested but calm. No bounding forward. Smiles play on faces. A murmur of ‘bless him’.

The vulnerable young man who approaches nervously, wanting to touch the dog but unsure. To my surprise Cauta lies still and allows his darting fingers. His joy at the ‘good dog’ and smile breaking through his weathered face. My astonishment at how Cauta moulds into these encounters.

There are not always smiles though. There is fear and scolding written on others faces. Cauta is a big dog and assumptions are made. My shame as he lurches off in the other direction, flops his paws on a car bonnet to see the person inside, won’t leave the moulding bone or bites his own lead when he disagrees with the choice I have made. ‘Strong dog’, others comment as they walk past.

I struggle with myself and what I communicate to him.

I am hyper aware of the lack of choice he and other domesticated dogs have in this world. They need to fit in with our social laws, customs, what we deem appropriate. We decide almost every detail of their lives, what they eat, where and when they go out, who they meet, even down to whether they breathe or not. We decide life and death. The responsibility can weigh heavy.

I try to give him little choices, we walk, but he often decides where. He chooses which path to turn down. But I decide when it is time to go home. Our dogs exist in our constructed framework, sometimes I feel the adaptations they make are huge, and not always acknowledged.

I come to know the dynamics within that we call a ‘walk’. The marching forward as if on a very important mission, to… no one knows where. The sudden doubling back, sometimes taking me by surprise, catching me momentarily off balance. As if he has bookmarked something and needs absolutely immediately to read it. The circle round a tree, and inevitably round me, and the lead. Untangling ourselves again. The lean away as if magnetised toward other dogs. His urgency to meet, and forlorn sitting if they pass by. The relief when he is walking just beside me, and the uptake of treats to encourage this.

Looking at him sometimes it seems he is bouncing along to some silent music only he can hear, head bobbing as he trundles past the shops. I follow, sometimes feeling as if an accessory, sometimes more involved, but always there. (Whether he likes it or not!)

I become interested in his focus on the minutiae of things. His attention to the borderland. The edge of the pavement. That liminal space which is neither one or another but a space to play. I become drawn to the edges of things, the borders. He highlights doorways, crossings, what lies between. I follow and new vistas open up. Areas I would have no idea existed, unless he had bought me here.

We continue.