Survival is the most important thing when you’re alone, with no one else to depend on, whether you’re a homeless person or a stray dog.

I’m an old dog now, content to curl up in my bed by the fire with the old woman in her chair nearby. I feel the warmth on my nose, my tail and my paws, and I remember when I wasn’t warm or well-fed or comfortable. Times when I lived in the woods or in empty doorways, or barns or sheds. Times when I ate from garbage cans or hunted in the woods.

I remember my mother, my brother Bone and my brave friend Moon. I remember other dogs, too, packs of hungry wild dogs who gave me many of the scars I have. And I remember humans, kind humans with gentle hands, cruel humans who threw rocks and chased me, careless, uncaring humans who threw me away. And now this final human, the old woman who cares for me now. We are companions, two old ladies together, warm and comfortable together. And lying here by the fire, I decide it’s time for me to tell my story, the story of a stray, the story of a dog who had to learn to survive on her own.

I was born in an old wheelbarrow in an unused gardening shed in the back of a big house where people lived only in the summer. I had four brothers and sisters, but two were born dead, and another was born crippled, and Mother threw him out of the wheelbarrow. But Bone and I were born strong and when Mother knew we would survive, she gave us our dog names — Bone and Squirrel.

When we were old enough, Mother taught us to hunt and forage for food. She also taught us to avoid humans, because they could be very dangerous. The day I saw a man kill Mine, a fox who lived under the big shed with her kits, I knew she was right.

And then one morning, Mother was gone. Bone and I were alone. We stayed in the old shed for a while, and then one morning Bone decided to leave. I liked the shed, the garbage pile, and the cats and mice that shared the shed. But with Mother gone, Bone was my whole world. I followed him away from our first home. We walked for a long time until the trees thinned and we came to a field and then a highway, with cars rushing back and forth so fast they were blurred. And when there was a gap in the traffic, we could see a paper bag smelling wonderfully of chicken on the other side of the road. Bone was about to dash across when a car suddenly screeched to a stop near us and a man and a woman jumped out and picked us up. Their names were George and Marcy, and they took us home with them.

But we weren’t used to living with humans in a house, and when we messed on the floor, barked at night, and snapped because we were scared, George decided to get rid of us. The next morning, he took us to what I learned later was a mall, threw us out of the window, and drove off. Bone scraped his nose on the pavement, and when I landed hard on my shoulder, I heard a small snap. I tried to get up, but my right front leg wouldn’t work. Bone walked toward me, but two women ran toward us, knelt down, horrified that we’d been thrown away.

One picked up Bone, commented on how cute he was and said she was going to keep him. She didn’t take me because I wasn’t as cute and she didn’t want two dogs. The two women walked away, leaving me alone. I never saw Bone again, although I looked for him everywhere. From then on, except for Moon, I was Squirrel alone.