I used to live in a tiny duplex in a residential neighborhood of Denver. The back yard faced an alley filled with graffiti-tagged dumpsters and discarded furniture that didn’t stay discarded for long, once the dumpster divers made their rounds. I usually lived in apartments, so renting a house with a yard was something of a novelty for me. The summer I lived there, I worked long hours, was single and didn’t have much to do at the end of the day. So I would spend evenings out on my back porch, drinking a beer and watching the arc of the neighbor’s sprinkler through the chicken wire fence or the comings and goings of the occasional straggler taking a shortcut through the alley.

One evening, at dusk, as I leaned back on my porch chair and watched the stillness of the alley, a large black shape lumbered past my back gate. I got up and peeked through the fence to see a huge shaggy black dog sniffing around the dumpster. It was one of the ugliest dogs I had ever seen and it was in bad shape–obviously a stray. Its coat was matted and it looked beat up and half-starved. It paused and looked at me for a moment, then cautiously trotted over. It sniffed me through the fence and slowly wagged its low hanging tail. I liked dogs, but I wasn’t looking to adopt one at that point in my life. I simply worked too much to take on the responsibility. But I opened the gate just enough to let him into my back yard. He accepted the invitation and sniffed around the grass while I took some leftover chicken and rice out of the fridge and put it in a bowl for him. When I set it down on the porch, he stuck his nose in the bowl and gulped it right down.

I watched the dog perk up a bit and trot around the yard checking out the sights and sounds of this particular corner of the world. Then he dropped to the grass and rolled around on his back, clearly contented. I went inside and called a friend who was interested in adopting a dog and told her to come over. When I came out, the dog was gone. The back gate was still ajar and so he had simply gone on his way. I ran to the alley, but it was empty. I was reminded of a saying I liked, “All who wander are not lost.”

Sometimes, at one point or another, we are all strays in this world. And perhaps all we need to help us get by is random acts of kindness until our luck rights itself again. At least, that’s what I hoped for the mangy wanderer who visited me that summer’s night.

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