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Cattle Dog and the Poopacabra

Just because we were back home and didn't have a car-house anymore didn't mean the adventure had to end. I hoped.

After Mom had showered, slept in our own bed, and made a few meals in a kitchen with a roof over it, I asked, "Do people have adventures in My Hometown?"

Mom looked up from her laptop. "Not really. People only come here for business trips. But we have something better. We know about the trails that visitors don't know about. How about we go to that place in the East Bay that's always too hot and crowded?"

"You mean it?" I wiggled. "I thought we couldn't go there because there's never, ever parking. Will we drive all the way to the top? Or will we run from here?"

"I bet if we got there before 5 in the morning on a weekday we could find parking. I've never been there on a weekday because there would be too much traffic to get back in time for work. But now we can do whatever we want!"

"Even wake up super early and sit in traffic?" I wagged. "You promise?"

The next morning —which was really night— the car rolled into the car-kennel and settled into the last open spot. "Are you kidding?" Mom asked the cars on either side of us. "It's 4:30 in the morning on a Tuesday. Who the smell is out this early?"

"We're out this early," I pointed out. Mom just shook her head.

We dismounted and I sniffed the air. It was full of the warm, ripe smell of excitement and the ground was covered in poo. I couldn't tear my nose from the ground.

I could hardly tear my nose from the ground as I followed Mom from dried-out poo flake to dried-out poo flake across the car kennel. Between the smells of old grass and shoe rubber, there was a hint of something marvelous that I couldn't quite place.

Larger piles of crusty poo sat outside the people potty. I sniffed one of them carefully, but the hot smell of people poo drowned out everything else. When Mom was done, we walked over to the trail, where fresh gobs of it dotted the ground.

Mom took a step to start running, but I was busy investigating a pile that still had the faint whiff of the butt that it came from. She pulled on the leash impatiently, but I pulled her to heel.

"Mom!" I said urgently, trying to hold my tail still so it wouldn't scramble the clues hanging in the air. "A cow's been here!"

"Yeah, I know," Mom said, like it wasn't the most exciting thing in the world. "Come on, we've got to hurry if we want to get to the top by sunrise."

I switched from dog-tective to running coach mode. "If you want to get to the top as fast as possible, you should run the whole way," I coached.

"Are you kidding?" said Mom, who fancies herself an expert at being in a hurry. "You've been here before. It's way too steep for that."

I looked into the pool of light that spilled from Mom's forehead, but I couldn't remember when I'd been here before. Cows poop lots of places.

"Tell you what," I said. "When you're tired and want to walk, count down from fiddy before you stop running." I didn't know how much fiddy was, but by the way people talked about it, it was a medium-sized number – big enough that you couldn't swallow it in one bite, but not so big that it took up whole towns, or days, or paychecks.

The light lit up even more cow patties as Mom shook her head. "It gets really steep near the top."

"Okay, if it's really steep, you can count down from threety." That number didn't sound too big, either. It had three in it after all, less than one for each leg. Mom only had two legs, of course, but coaches know how to push your limits to make you stronger. "If you go too slow, I'll put you in the penalty box. Any time you move so slow that I can stop to sniff cow poo, you'll have to wait till I'm done."

“Deal,” Mom didn’t-say. Instead she whined and pulled on the leash like she wanted to chase a squirrel each time I anchored her for her laziness penalty.

"Ugh! Oscar, come on!" Mom yanked at the leash again. "It's too steep here for me to run with you pulling like that."

"Rules are rules," I snorted. "Being tied up like you're outside a Starbucks is how you learn patience."

Now that the streetlights were gone, I ignored the light on Mom's head and used my nose to find my way through the darkness. Mom chugged behind me, puffing when it was her turn to run and huffing when it was my turn to sniff.

I was starting to think I'd made a mistake letting Mom run so much. I missed so many cow pies that may never give up their secrets! Every time I tried to snatch a quick sniff, the leash pulled me back and Mom grumbled something about not making it harder than it already was. When Mom could run no more and it was my turn to sniff, she cheated, pulling me away before I was done and muttering something about beating the sun to the top.

Just off-trail, whiffs of even bigger and fresher cow pies pulled my nose to and fro. Every so often, a bell tinkled mysteriously somewhere in the darkness. It seemed like it was all leading to some fantastic surprise, but what? If only I could smell beyond the circle of the spotlight, but Mom held me back like a grunting, snorting anchor.

The trail flattened enough that Mom didn't need to zig and zag to chop up the steepness, and the very trail itself narrowed around us until the whole thing fit into the spotlight's circle. Smack in the center of the trail was the freshest splatter of cow plop I'd ever seen. I crept into its stink cloud with my head low, trying to hoover up all of its secrets.

A tug on the leash yanked my nose away. "Gross, Oscar! Don't lick it!" Mom started to run away from my treasure, but suddenly the pressure on my collar stopped. Mom jerked to a stop with a surprised sniff.

I looked up from my cow pie toward where the spotlight was pointing. Two dots glowed in the darkness just outside the ring of light.

"Oh my dog! It's the shoopacabra!" I barked. "Let's get him!" I leaned hard into the leash and ordered him to run, using the only word in his native language that I knew. "Shoo-shoo! Shoo-shoo! You'd better start running or I'm gonna getcha!"

The dots moved and flickered. Behind them, something bulky shifted in the darkness. It was bigger than I thought. At least as big as a refrigerator, maybe even the size of a rhinoceros. Just wait till I told them about this at the dog park!

"Shoo! Shoo-shoo to you!" I barked again.

"Oscar, cut it out. You're not helping." Mom shook her head around to make the light move. "Shoo! Get outta here! Shoo!" she shouted, trying the new language for herself.

"Moooooooooooooo," corrected the shoopacabra.

I thought my heart would explode from joy. "That's not a shoopacabra at all!" I screamed. "IT'S A REAL, LIVE COW!!!!!"

I never met my birth father, but Mom says that Dog created my bloodline because He knew that cows needed barking at. I channeled the instincts passed down from my ancestors and summoned a mighty woof that shook the darkness.

The glowing dots blinked out as the inky blob turned. "And don't let me catch you back here again," I shouted at his pie-maker as he lumbered away. Suddenly, a bunny streaked through the spotlight and sprinted into the darkness in the other direction.

Oh the choices!

When I looked back to where the cow had been, I couldn't make out its hulking shadow. On the other side, the bunny's cottontail had already disappeared into the blackness. I took off up the trail in search of more fantastical creatures, dragging Mom protesting behind me.

Up ahead, the call of another creature carried through the darkness. It sounded a bit like yowling cats or squawking birds, but with more of a melody. A rhythmic clicking and the stomping of many hooves accompanied the song. It got louder and louder as the first light of day leaked into the morning.

As we came closer, I started to make out the creature's features in the fresh light. It wasn't one creature at all, but many all together in a clump. The castanet-clicking came from long poles that they tapped on the ground as they moved, and the yowling came from deep in their throats.

Mom's hackles went up as we caught up to the troupe and their song got louder. "We just can't get away from people!" she muttered. "Even at 5:30 in the morning on a Tuesday miles from the road."

"Stop being such a grouch," I coached. "Isn't this nice? It's sunrise. It's not too cold. And these nice people are singing flamenco for us."

"Um, I'm pretty sure that's Cantonese."

"Ayyeeeeeyyyyyeeee," mewled a woman with a voice like a teakettle.

"Are you sure it's not flamenco?"

The Teakettle's dancing partner noticed me closing in like a speeding train and smiled. She put her hand on the Teakettle's shoulder and they both stepped aside. The ululating stopped as the crowd parted to let us through.

I smiled back them as we marched through the gap, basking in the "good mornings," and "go aheads," and "what a strong dogs."

Mom's tight fake smile cracked a little almost showing a real one underneath. "Thank you. Gorgeous morning, isn't it?" she said like she didn't really mean it. "We won't take long at the top, promise. See you soon."

We scrambled up the last pile of rocks to the top. Here, there was no more running. We had to plan each step and Mom used all four of her feet to climb from one step to the next. When we reached the tippy-top-most rock, Mom told me to sit while she crawled around taking pictures of me against the sunrise. Behind her, a flamenco dancer popped his head over a rock. She looked back grouchily and stood up quickly.

Mom doesn't like people to see her taking pictures. I could never tell if it was because she didn't want them ruining my picture or because she was jealous of anyone who stole my attention away from her. Maybe she just didn't like anyone to see her crawling around in the dirt like Gollum.

"Do you want me to take a picture of you together?" the man asked.

"No thanks." Mom clipped the leash back on my collar and signaled for me to get down. "I take pictures of the dog so I don't have to be in them." She smiled as she slithered around him back toward the trail. He probably thought that her smug smile was friendly, but I knew she was just glad we'd beat him to the top. "All yours!" she called over her shoulder before dropping over the edge and leaving the leftover sunrise to him.

When we hopped off the last scrambling rock back onto the trail, I adjusted my collar from its running coach setting to life coach mode. "I have another challenge for you," I said.

"Ooh! I love challenges. They make it fun for me to work on my problem behaviors that are otherwise difficult for me to manage," Mom didn't-say.

"What if you smile and greet every person we met on the way back?" I challenged.

Mom stole a look at a runner in the distance; the kind of runner who wears a packpack on a 6-mile run. "Eew, strangers," her face said.

"You don't have to sniff their butt or anything, just try to look at their eyes and wish them a good morning."

Mom didn't not-accept the challenge.

"But you have to do it for everyone," I warned. "Even the ones that are using the trail wrong." I couldn't think of a penalty that would work on a downhill, so it was good that she didn't object. "Ready? On your mark... Get set... go!"

I ran behind Mom to keep score. Before she could catch the eye of the next guy on the trail, he stopped to take a picture. In the middle of the trail. Mom's jaw bubbled as she gritted her teeth. I pulled ahead to give her a hint.

The man looked down from his witch. "Oh hi, buddy. Are you having a good run?"

"We sure are! Aren't we, Mom?"

Mom bared her teeth and held up a talk-to-the-hand as she ran by. "G'morning," she breathed.

"Have a good day!" I panted over my shoulder as the leash pulled me away.

With the sun up, I realized that all the cow plop wasn't coming from one giant cow, but many normal cows dotting the hillside. As Mom racked up points with each person we passed, I tried to beat her score with cow-barking. But with so many people, it was hard to keep up. The cows were also less friendly in return than the people were. Or, most of them anyway.

The next lady was concentrating so hard on the ground that she didn't even see us coming. She was probably still trying to solve the mystery of who-dung-it, but she'd never figure it out if she didn't look where she was going. I wagged my tail enthusiastically to try to catch her attention, while Mom tried X-ray vision to find the lady's eyes under the beak of her hat.

"Morning," Mom said to the hat. The lady charged on. Rude! said Mom's thought bubble.

"She must not be a dog person," I said. "Still counts."

Now that we were closer to the bottom of the hill, the people became so thick that Mom couldn't say hello to all of them. I couldn't count high enough to keep score anymore anyway. I ran beside her soaking up the compliments about what a good boy and how good a runner I was.

Suddenly, there was a hitch in Mom's stride. The smile fell off her face and she made a yuck nose in her throat. I looked where her eyes were pointing. A thick gaggle of ladies was blocking the whole trail from one side to the other. They flapped their arms as they burbled at each other, threatening to chop down anyone who tried to get around.

"Sheesh. It's like they think they're the only ones here," Mom grumbled. She ducked her head and charged.

"Excuse me," Mom said in a voice loud enough to get a cow's attention. The squawking and flapping continued as if she wasn't there.

Mom's eyes cut to the tall grass on one side, but it was the kind that was so tall and thick that it might as well have been a bush. Her eyes cut to the other side. Same. Her eyes focused on a tiny crack between two ladies, each of which was gobbling at someone on the opposite side. Mom aimed straight for gap and ran on.

"Comin' through!" I announced.

One of the ladies noticed my handsomeness. In her surprise, she stepped into the gap Mom was aiming for. I stopped in front of her shins and gave her my butt to scratch.

"Excuse..." Mom started to say. She gave up and stopped running.

"Oooooh! How cute!" the lady said, alerting the rest of the flock of something worth interrupting their conversation.

"Hi, I'm Oscar and this is my butt!" I showed her where she should scratch.

"Did you run all that way up that hill, good boy?"

"Hi. Good morning. Excuse me." Mom seemed to be smiling, but her eyes pointed straight at me so that none of the ladies could catch them and try talking to her.

"Oooh! Look at his little tail!" a lady with a Starbucks cup the size of a tree trunk swooned.

I ran among them, collecting compliments until every one of them had patted my shapely butt, my handsome head, or both.

When I finally looked back at Mom, her smile was more than polite, it was proud. All the ladies may beg to pat me, but at the end of the run, I was going home with her.

"Cute dog," said the only lady who noticed Mom.

Mom beamed. "Thanks for noticing."

She was still smiling when we got back to the car.

"See? Didn't it feel better to share your morning with other happy people rather than judging them?" I asked. "Making friends is almost as fun as barking at cows!"

Mom looked at her wrist and her smile bunched into a pout. "I didn't keep my heart rate high enough. Too many people in the way."

"You must be doing it wrong," I said. "My heart is soaring."

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