An Autobiography of a Stray
It’s been over seven years since a dog first came into my life, but sometimes it’s hard to remember what life was like before Sadie. As I’ve watched her grow from a mischievous puppy into a happy, loving companion, I think about how lucky she and I were to find each other, and how different her life could have been. Sadie’s mother (later named Magnolia), was a pregnant stray dog when she was spotted on a highway median in Florida by the vacationing acquaintance of a friend of mine. The woman who found her does lots of rescue work with cats and dogs, so she brought Magnolia back to New York, and then gave her to my friend who handled the adoptions of Magnolia and her litter. I adopted Sadie and it was love at first sight! But over the years, I’ve often wondered how Magnolia had managed to survive before her rescue, and what kind of trials and tribulations she had faced alone in the world. Had she gone hungry for long periods of time? Had she been injured or mistreated? Would she have been able to keep her puppies alive, fed and sheltered, and out of harm’s way?
My new book, A Dog’s Life: The Autobiography of a Stray, tells the story of Squirrel, who along with her brother Bone, is born in a wheelbarrow in an old, abandoned shed. Squirrel’s mother is a stray who uses all her skills to keep her newborn puppies safe from injury and predators. As they grow, Mother teaches them how to hunt in the woods and forage through garbage for food, and most of all, how to be wary of humans. Squirrel’s first memories are of love, warmth and companionship, but all that ends one day when Mother fails to return to the shed. Without their protector, Squirrel and Bone set off from the only home they’ve ever known to make their way in the wild.
As a writer, it was an interesting challenge for me to tell a tale from a dog’s perspective. I looked at life through Squirrel’s eyes, and imagined her loneliness at the loss of her family, her strength in the face of physical challenges, her skills for survival in a difficult world, and the different human interactions she experiences on her journeys through the years.
Now when I sit by a warm fire with Sadie curled up at my feet, I think about my good fortune (and Sadie’s!) that the right person came along in time to save Magnolia and her puppies from an uncertain future in the wild. As Magnolia discovered (and Squirrel comes to learn), there are caring people who are dedicated to helping animals in need. We have a very active rescue organization in my area, and I’ve volunteered as a foster caregiver for many years now. This means that I often have a mother cat and her litter of kittens living with me until permanent homes can be found. It can get crazy at times, but I love it.
I’ve recently returned from a trip to Chicago and San Francisco, where I met with kids at schools and bookstores and talked about A Dog’s Life. One thing I learned is that there are a lot of animal lovers out there. And if you witnessed the happy, enthusiastic, tail-wagging greeting I got from Sadie upon my arrival home, you’d know that the feelings are definitely reciprocated!
Best wishes from Ann and a woof from Sadie!