Response Crafting

Feeding Strays

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Most of the dogs on Santorini are not entirely stray – a sharp contrast to many of the towns we’ve seen. The residents put collars on the dogs, let them lie inside the doorway of their shops, and offer them food. The exception is one little black dog we nicknamed “Little Girl.” She has a small frame, maybe 25 or 30 pounds, and is all but skin and bones, which, under a short coat, would be revealed to every passerby. As it is, her weight is disguised by long silky fur – like that of a border collie – all over her body.The first night we see her, we pause to pet her sleeping figure. We both run our fingertips over the small ribs; press our palms gently against her side, her back. We feel the definition of a protruding spine. And a hollow place where a belly should be. She is warm to the touch but gives no response to our hands or our gentle words.

Never have I seen a dog refrain from so much as single tail twitch in response to human affection.
She was virtually lifeless – a dog form of sharp, small angles rather than curves.

The second night, we planned ahead, and collected a small baggie of dog food from a dispenser we’d spotted. We find “Little Girl” curled up in the same tiny ball form, this time hunkered down away from the crowd, in the shadows against a wall. We approach her, and I pour a small pile of food out in front of her I feel skeptical, given her demeanor the night before, and prepare myself for the possibility that she might refuse it.

She lifts her head, though – slowly – and sniffs at the food. She leans and takes just one piece into her mouth. She chews it slowly.
One more piece, and chews slowly.
Over and over, first only one piece at a time and gradually several together. I pour more out as she eats, always scooping it closer to her muzzle so she doesn’t have to stretch to eat it. Each time I put my palm to the ground, against the food, my hand only an inch or two from her mouth, she pauses and waits for me. Not once does she growl or snip; never does she give any indication of fear that I may take the food back. If it crosses her mind, it doesn’t show. If she fears it, she’s already acquiesced to the possibility.

She’s quiet and patient.
Each time I put my hand down, however, I do so only to add more food. And push it closer.
She eats it, more quickly now – taking mouthfuls and chewing at the pace of a normal dog.

And its not until two-thirds of the way through our baggie, when perhaps she sense a filling belly, that she pauses after swallowing.
And then she looks directly at us.
Her expression is deliberate – neither cowering nor begging.
She instead simply looks at us and regards our figures, for the first time, in the shadows.
This is the first I’ve seen her eyes, and am startled that they are not the dark espresso of most dogs, but a light golden brown; a gentle, brilliant color.
When she looks at us, she is for a moment absolutely still, and I think all that matters in the entire world is communicated between our brown eyes.

My heart melts seeing her expression.
She likely knows we’ve never met.
I assure her that it’s okay.

And then, just like that, she turns back to eating, still delicately.
I pour the rest of the food out for her.

We watch as she transforms back into a dog, re-adopting the typical mechanics and characteristics. She stretches a paw forward to braces herself as she eats. She thumps her tail once, tilts her head.

And, with a bit of kibble still left, she suddenly stands, chewing and swallowing her last bite, sniffs the ground and then approaches us – not to be pet, but rather, to our delight, to stretch, very doglike – first reaching her front paws forward while leaning back on her hind quarters, then repeating the motion the other way.

We coo at her like she’s our dog – “good girl!” – and she sways her tail in response.
All this from a dog who didn’t so much as twitch 24 hours ago.

She leaves those last few bites of kibble – as though to say, “I may be hungry, but I’m still a lady” – and jumps down onto the sidewalk, trotting across it to sit in front of a restaurant patio, at which one or two patrons have watched the whole thing, eyeing us with the same expression – the chin resting in the heel of the palm, eyes gentle, and mind in a different place – we had just given her for 15 minutes.

Her gait is dainty, her position poised, as she sits in front of the restaurant. I would like to imagine that, now that she’s made herself known by emerging from the shadows, she will likely garner herself enough scraps to survive.

Indeed, the next night, we collect another bag of dog food, searching for her. We see her, for the first time, no longer curled tightly against the shadows of a wall, but trotting, gaily, along the sidewalk. And though she’s happy to greet us, wagging her tail at our “Little Girl” calls though I doubt she actually recognizes them and diverging from her path to greet us, she is uninterested in the food this time around.

“Good.” I observe. “Maybe she’s done better for herself.”
She doesn’t linger long, but allows herself to be pet, briefly.
Then she leaps over a low wall, with the mannerisms of a fox, pausing just a moment on the other side before trotting off into the dark.

I think, for a moment, that perhaps we fabricated an image from the two nights before. I know, however, that the ribs, still sharply defined beneath her coat, don’t lie. As she regards us, wagging her tail, I feel satisfied with my effort, confident that it made a difference, however small, to her.

I wish, suddenly, there was a way to make her know it was mutual.


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