Streets Bill

By Tim Johnson, 2020 Write Now Finalist

I had been living on the street as long as I remember. Dodging the law, eating when I could, living off the kindness of strangers. I could move with the best of them. Fast, sleek and sure footed. After a few near misses I've become weary of traffic. So, streets are a hazard and a blessing. That's how I came to be known as Streets Bill.

It was time for me to move on. This side of town I was getting too much attention. The law was after me and the meals were few. Someone had gotten tired of cleaning up tipped over garbage cans and reported me to the cops, so animal control was on my tail, literally. So, one night I started a journey to find new territory. Somewhere I would be welcome and find a warm place before the days get cold. I would just follow my nose. If I smelled food I would go in that direction.

It's not easy to disregard your best sense when it can pick out the smallest of morsels of food. Add a stomach that won't stop growling and the destination so far away, where ever it is. When I smelled possible food, I have to ignore it and not react. I've always been a react first kind of guy. Bark first, growl if you have to, but always reserve the teeth. Intimidation is the best weapon any of us have. When you play your last card, the game is up.

The sun went down and I started my trek. I'd head towards the river. If I followed the river, I could make good time and keep control off my back. So off I went with my nose deciding my path. No trash cans, no discarded hamburgers, no chasing of fat squirrels in Upper City Park. Follow the river, look for my new home, after the bend in the river a new path. It's made of concrete and steel over the water, across I go. Stronger and stronger the smells get me going faster and faster until I see it. A building with the most wonderful aromas. Meat, milk, sugar and fats leaping into my nose. I think it's called Memorial Union because it brings together the most delicious smells a dog could ever smell and I'll never forget them.

A cautious circle around the memorial I go. My nose is telling me the food is there! I see wide doorways and steps. Dumpsters with locks keep me focused on the doors. Finally, I find one propped open. I go down the hallway to a paradise of smells, later I would find out it's a food court. I go unnoticed, these people and more concerned with their hands. Staring at them with strings going into puny ears. I see meat, I see chips, I see everything I had eaten on the street. Except this was still wrapped and smelling delicious. So slowly I reach up and grab a cookie with my mouth. But that lifted my stealth cloak. I heard, "hey one of the therapy dogs is taking a cookie!"

I know the sound of animal control and it usually starts with a shout. So out of the food court I go and around the corner to stairs with only one way to go. The second-floor smells even better, I push through swinging doors into what smelled like heaven, but it was the catering kitchen. Nobody was staring at their hands. They were stirring smells in bowls, heating meats over stoves and placing things on plates. A black coonhound is not something they see in the kitchen every day. I stopped in my tracks and heard, "what's a therapy dog doing in here. Get him out now!" More shouting, someone tried to grab me from behind, I sprinted across the kitchen and through more swinging doors. Now I had several people after me. More stairs I see and up I go. A long hallway with control after me the whole way. My paws slip on the slick floor, I skid around a dark corner. I'm winded and scared. But I see one more stairway, this one ends with a ladder. A ladder? Now I have no choice but to climb. I stand on my hind legs and reach up. I put my front feet on the rungs. I pull and push, my weight pulling me down and making the metal treads cut into my feet. But up I go, up I must go, being caught by control means the end. Lockup and certain death. I pull and push on this ladder that is both freedom and pain. I get to the top and there is another door. I push on it and luckily it lets go and I'm on the roof. I sprint to the edge.

My lungs are burning and my feet bleeding. My nose had led me to what I desired but now I was trapped on the roof. The people behind me had caught up and stopped in their tracks. This "therapy dog" was now in full view. Dirty, skinny and with a worn-out collar staring back at them with nowhere to go but still defiant. From the crowd out steps a small woman. Long blonde hair in a hair net with a catering uniform too big for a woman her size. Blue-eyes that saw into my soul. Her voice soft and reassuring made me drop my guard. She approached me with her belt as a leash. I hadn't felt a leash for a very long time, it brought back memories both good and bad. I let her slip the belt around my neck.

These days I sleep on the foot of her bed. Lily saved me that day. Now I'm a well-fed lapdog too big for a lap. I've traded freedom for caring and love. She is my purpose, I'm companionship during the day and stand guard at night. Streets Bill had found his home.

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