Photo: Meg Salley

The Shepherdmutt also likes to walk in water. Photo: Meg Salley

I see the kid just as the dog and I exit a brief bit of shade on our late-August walk. His brown eyes look me over, and there’s no one around, really. He’s like 8, 9 — 10 years old, maybe; and fitted out in back-school plaid shorts, a t-shirt. All of it, including a blue book bag, combining into some sort of odd Miami Dolphins color scheme.

“Can I pet your dog?” he asks, politely.

“Sure,” I say, taking off my shades and tightening my grip on the lease. “He likes to be petted, loves kids…”

He lazily pats the old shepherd mutt on the head, the dog panting approvingly in the heat. “I had four dogs,” the kid says, breaking the silence. “They all died at the same time.”

Stunned, and maybe irritated, I muster an “I’m sorry, that must have been hard.” Then he begins to tell the story. I couldn’t get a word in, even if I had one.

“One was cut with a big knife when he was born because he had a disease,” the kids says, matter-of –factly.

“What’s your name, I ask?”

“Azeez” he says. I didn’t ask him how to spell it. He didn’t ask me my name.

“Other dog was shot in the throat, and I guess the other two were killed with a knife, too.”

“Were they pit bulls?” Azeez seems to anticipate the question; and his brow shows more intensity. “No,” he says, “they were nice dogs, about this high.”

The boy puts his hand flat in the air about an inch above Gus’ matted fur. “I’m very sorry to hear about your dogs,” I say again, backing away, unsure what to think, but sad for the kid, — at least sad that he feels the need to repeat this to a stranger, even if it didn’t happen.

“Gus here, he needs to get water,” I mumble.

“And you want to know what?”

I turn and look in his direction.

“The last dog, he, he came limping back to our house, after he was shot,” explains Azeez.

I’m moving down the hill but the kid isn’t letting it go. I turn to say goodbye.

“Did you see that, did you have to watch that happen to your dogs Azeez?” I ask him; not knowing whether that seemed to be what I thought he really wanted to say all along.

But Azeez does not answer — nor does he look away. He stands there and watches us disappear into the heat waves of late August.

Gary Mays is a veteran freelance writer, editor and investigative reporter who has worked for The Chicago Tribune, The Wisconsin (Madison) State Journal, and other, smaller but no-less- important publications.

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