Ritual for Finding the Owner of a Stray Dog

Put the cat in the spare bedroom, the one you made your husband sleep in before he wandered off. Close the door. Tear a slip of paper so the edges curl, and write a note on it. The note says "I'm going for a walk. This would be a good time for you to lick yourself all over and take a nap." Slide the piece of paper under the door.

Go outside and let the dog see you standing in front of the door. Listen for crows. The direction the crows come from is the direction the dog's home is.

Get down on all fours and sniff each other's heinies. If the dog growls, drop to the ground and show the dog your neck all stretched out. Let the stranger be the alpha dog, you've got nothing to prove, and your husband will think it's safe to come home now.

If no crows come, tie the dog to a tree with a red thread. If the dog breaks free, the distance he's travelled is measured in blocks, not miles. Your husband is still in the same city.Dump a bowl of buttons out on the floor. Sort them by color. The color with the largest number, that's how far the dog's home is, in blocks or miles. For a boy dog who hasn't been fixed, or a husband under forty, double the number.

The total number of buttons, all the colors, that's how many Lost Dog flyers to put up.

Give the dog a bowl of water. Use the bowl the buttons were in. When the dog finishes drinking, see what color his eyes are. If his eyes are brown, the units are airline flights, and your husband's in another state, or possibly South America. If the dog has no tail, the units are football fields.

Ask to shake hands. If he raises his right forepaw, look for an owner who's left handed. If he won't shake hands, your husband's found another woman.

Throw a stick for him, see if he'll fetch. If he fetches, the last time he saw home it was daytime. If he won't fetch, check him for fleas. If he has fleas, don't sleep with your husband when he comes home until he's been to the clinic.

If the dog's still there at dusk, light a candle and put it on the window sill. The candle will help draw the owner to you. Or your husband, but only if there's a stray dog involved. If you're Jewish, it's okay to use a menorah. Don't worry, God will forgive you.

Draw a picture of the dog by candle light. Give the dog the old blanket in the garage that you use for moving furniture. In the morning, wrap the candle drippings in the picture you drew and make a paper ball out of them. Let the cat play with the paper ball.

You've waited long enough, and you can't really keep a dog because you need the spare bedroom for your cousin who's coming to visit from Pittsburgh, and she's allergic to cats. So check the dog's collar, and call the number that's there. If there's no collar, put up the flyers.

Your wandering husband will show up three days after the dog's owner. If you take the dog to the pound, you'll never see your husband again. If the dog runs away before his owner comes, you really don't want that husband back, he's exactly the kind of rascal you're better off without. Now you know.

Let the cat out of the spare bedroom. Keep the paper ball with the candle drippings for the nights when it hurts so bad you feel like another woman licked the sparkle off your diamond. Watching the cat play with that paper ball will keep you from putting your head in the oven until your cousin gets there.

If the dog's owner never shows up, and you decide to keep the dog, it doesn't mean anything, the dog is just a dog.

Don't worry about the cat, she'll work it out with the dog. Cats are smart, and cats have claws, and they know how to catch mice. There's another man out there for you, and this time you won't make him sleep in the spare bedroom. Capiche?

About the author:

Stevan Allred's mother spelled his name funny because she wanted to piss off her mother. Orthographically sensitized from birth by this, Stevan went on to win many grade school spelling bees. He was awarded an Oregon Literary Fellowship in 2004. His essay "Only Rock'n'Roll" is part of the collection I Wanna Be Sedated/30 Writers On Parenting Teenagers (Seal Press, 2005).