First they unearth a dinner fork, twisted and filthy. Then a tiny perfume bottle, followed by a glass salt shaker, caked with dirt and corrosion. Each item, duly turned over to us, we receive with bemusement: what next? The work crew is repairing the pond they put in here a few years ago. It’s crummy weather, raw and threatening rain.
Another round of shoveling uncovers a dog ID tag. It’s rusted around the edges, and the surface is scratched, but it’s perfectly readable: —Skipper— I belong to George Galos. That is not the name of the family we bought our house from, some eighteen years ago. No street address, but just the name of our small town on the next line, and the old-style state abbreviation, Ill. On the last line, the quaint Ph. before a seven-digit number. The same exchange as ours today; we’re still pretty much a one-exchange town.
Next we’ll dig up the dog, the pond guys joke. It is not said callously, and I laugh. But I think of Slate, the cat we buried six years ago in another corner of the yard, with only a plain stone to mark the spot.
I take the metal disk into the house, rinse it, and press it into a paper towel. This was the tag they thought would protect Skipper, adding it to the jangly mix that made him legal. Today, he would probably be microchipped. I read it again, can’t resist its direct address: Skipper to me. Did the tag fall off his collar one day as he raced across the field? Or was the dog really buried here, along with his ID tag—a grave marker of sorts? Not what I would do, I think, remembering the collar that hung for years on a hook in the back hallway of my childhood home. I’d have saved the tag as a memento.
I start to search for Skipper’s master, first in the slim local book, and then in the thicker directories of these ever-expanding suburbs. Flipping to the Gs in our last, fattest phone book, I pause to consider my quest: tracking down the owner of a dogless ID tag. Even if a local listing turned up the right name, if the phone number were still good, I realize I would not call. I don’t want anyone to claim him.
The tag now lies under the glass top of the coffee table, along with assorted seashells, old coins and keys, the wine cork from a special night. On our walks in the neighborhood, we’ve laughed about how we know more of the dogs’ names than the humans’. And now we have another one. Skipper.
After a career in technical writing, Sherry Stratton has focused on the subjects closest to her heart. Her work has been published in the anthology Songs of Ourselves: America’s Interior Landscape (2015) and in Bird’s Thumb, Portage, Snowy Egret, and elsewhere. Sherry is copy editor for Fifth Wednesday Journal. She lives at the edge of a forest preserve in northeastern Illinois.