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My Little Stray: One of 70 Million

Adriana wanders along the fence line. Her nose skims the grass, tail swaying, paws leaving paths through the dew. Occasionally, she’ll stop, investigate, then move on. When she comes inside, her pink nails will be clumped with red clay.

Lately, she’s been digging for worms. I think it’s a diversion until she sees a mole moving underground. But right now it’s so hot in Tennessee not even the moles are burrowing. It’s so hot that Ade won’t stay outside for longer than twenty minutes. When the weather is nice, she’ll hunt for hours. She’ll hunt until I call her inside, and even then she comes in with reluctance.

Ade is six years old now. It’s hard to believe that she was born with seven littermates on a street in Springfield. But, Ade comes from a long line of strays. Her mother was feral, and according to local legend so was her grandmother. About five months after Ade was born, her mother delivered another litter of eleven puppies, meaning one stray produced nineteen more in under six months. Even though I witnessed it happen, it still shocks me.

Did you know some calculate 70 million strays live in the US? I imagine that number is pretty rough since tallying them would be close to impossible. Most strays live in the shadows. They hide from us, which doesn’t make counting them easy.

For obvious reasons, it’s much easier to compute the amount of strays surrendered to shelters. The Humane Society says over six million end up in shelters every year. If that estimate of 70 million is even close to actual numbers, then it means about 60 million strays are born and die without ever having a home. That’s the entire population of Spain.

Whatever the number, for these street dogs it’s truly about survival of the fittest. And even then, when do you see an old stray running around? The ones who do survive puppyhood probably don’t make it to old age very often.

I think about this sometimes when I’m watching Adriana because she would never have survived as a stray. She has no backbone and never did, not even as a puppy. For instance, if our other dogs take away her chew or Kong while she’s still working on it, she lets them without complaint. Ade doesn’t know how to stand her ground, which is good for pack harmony but not for the streets. She’s too gentle to survive in the wild.

The doggie door slaps shut, and Ade’s paws tap down the hallway. Her tags create a jingle that’s unique to her. It’s like her calling card. She stops at my office door. We make eye contact, and a wave of tenderness washes over me. How lucky am I to have found this little stray dog?

I know what she wants, but regretfully I shake my head. It’s still too hot to walk again. We have to wait for the shadows to grow longer, for the cicadas to get louder. She waves her tail once then twice, telling me she understands. Her paws tap back down the hallway. Then, she leaps onto the couch. This little dog –  born a stray – will spend the next few hours napping in the AC. And I can’t help but think she’s exactly where she’s suppose to be.

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