Dogs of the East End, pt. 1

In a couple days, Astro and I will attend Lord Byron’s 14th birthday party. We attended his 13th and, despite Astro scarfing another dog’s treats, we were invited back.

Like Astro, Lord Byron is a dog. Flor met him and his owner, Christina, two years ago at a nearby park. By rights Flor should be Astro’s chaperone, but she’ll be working, so the responsibility again falls to me.

I’d bring Bowie and Charlie, aka dogs B and C, but each has issues. Bowie is crotchety and puts on a convincing show of ferocity, even though she has practically no teeth and is harmless. Charlie is anxious around everyone and everything and nips whoever and whatever is handy.

This is how my golden-years days begin: After seeing Flor off to the salt mines, I walk our dogs. Astro, 6, is a male shepherd mix tripod who was run over by a truck and lost a hind leg when he was a pup; Charlie, 8, is a blind male terrier mix and Hurricane Harvey orphan; and Bowie, female, is a mystery, age and breed undetermined, but vets guess north of 13 and Google guesses Indian Pariah Street Dog. That sounds right. She was in the worst shape of the three when we got her. That’s her above, in 2017.

There are oodles of dogs where we live, in the working-class suburbs of Galveston’s East End Historical District. Residential lots here are small, so dogs can’t get much exercise unless they’re walked. In this neighborhood, most of them are. We encounter lots of dogs and their stewards each morning. Galveston, ideal for walking, is also ideal for walking dogs.

There aren’t many strays in our neighborhood, and yet, despite the many “Please pick up after your dog” signs (and one hand-lettered one, “THIS YARD IS NOT YOUR DOG’S TOILET!!”), every day I see dogshit on our walks. My good turn for the day is to pick up other dogs’ leavings. It feels both proper and unwholesome.

If anyone were clocking me, he would discover that I spend more time on our walks standing still than walking. That’s because Astro and Bowie stop every few meters to take in the smells of other dogs. Watching their nose flaps dilate and contract, each dog locked on a private rapture, is a vicarious pleasure. They close their mouths as they smell, forcing the scents into their nostrils and trapping them there. When they’ve had their fill, they’ll resume panting, the scents still present for them. Humans go sightseeing; dogs go smellsniffing.

For whatever reason, Charlie, the blind one, has little interest in smells. His superpower is hearing. He’s the first to note someone or something coming, and he barks himself silly either to let us know there’s danger ahead or to warn the danger he’s not to be trifled with. It’s annoying, but impressive all the same.

I’ve had only one unpleasant interaction with someone who took offense at Charlie’s barking. We were walking down an alley at 7:30am. Charlie heard a dog inside a house and started yapping. A shirtless man came out on his balcony. “What the hell is going on out here? What is this world coming to that you have to make all that noise?” He went on like this for some time, and since he was on a roll, I let him continue. When he was through, I said, “I apologize. I will find a different route.” “Perfectly fine, no problem at all,” he replied, confusingly.

There’s so much more to say about the dogs of the East End. There’s the sad upper-deck dog, the dog made of wood, dogless front porches, and Astro’s brave experiment dog-paddling in the Gulf with one hind leg. But all that and more will have to wait until part two.

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