May 8, 2007

SEATTLE, Washington – Footsteps gallump behind me. I spin, wary even here in sleepy Ballard. A golden lab and a drop-kick-pooch sprint down the street, leashless and exuberant.

The larger one dogs my heels. I stop various people on the sidewalk. "Would you drag this animal north with you? He's following me and I'm headed into thick traffic."

Total Seattle frost. No one wants to get involved. May you all choke on your soy lattes.

The lab bolts across four lanes on Market Street. Brakes squeal. Drivers curse. Eyeballs rolling like poached eggs, the dog doubles back. I hook fingers through his collar and scream, "he's not mine," at the presumptive dressers-down.

I'm meeting my college roommate and a handful of her girlfriends. As I approach, all tip their heads at the same time, absorbing the wayward, huffing animal. The effect is total Ethel Merman, like they're all about to dive sideways into a pool and begin synchronized swimming.

"You brought your dog?"

"Random dog. Stray dog. Accidental dog."

The shelter is about to close. The field officers don't work on Saturday nights. "Animals don't keep office hours," I hiss.

A gift shop clerk donates some balloon twine, so we secure the lab to a slender tree outside Madame K's, the brothel-themed pizzeria. I scrawl a "lost" notice. Soon the waitress is cooing and cuddling the refugee, fattened on crusts. Everyone stops to pet the beast. He's quite a charmer, all wheaty sun-shot fur and big doggy smile.

"Take my number. If his owner doesn't surface, I want him."

Forget "stray of the week" in the paper. If the shelter really wants to shift animals, it should flaunt them in a pub-rich thoroughfare ...

Our waitress dashes into the back room. "The owner's cruising Ballard in a Mercedes, apparently. But he hasn't found the dog, since he's on the sidewalk." Then the next bulletin: "he's HERE."

The owner buys a bottle of wine for the table. We toast the happy ending of the shaggy dog story.

"Are you single?" his buddy asks, point blank.

"No, I have a boyfriend."

"Oh." Whisper, whisper, poke. "Um, well, can he have your phone number anyway? For the probation officer?"

The owner jerks up his cuff, displaying an ankle bracelet. House arrest. OK. So that's who buys those three-bedroom townhouses with redwood hot tubs for half a mil. Suddenly my gentrifying neighborhood makes more sense...

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