Broadway, Bellingham—Few houses in my neighborhood have driveways. Our house does, but we share it with the house next door. We drive up a short and narrow hill that opens out in front of two detached garages. Backing down is harder.
Most homes around here have garages at the back of their property, approachable only by a rear alley. I love these alleys, but I’d have to walk them even if I didn’t, because my dog, Alice, loves them more. Bellingham calls itself the City of Subdued Excitement, but Alice thinks its alleys rock.
Alice is a nose-to-the-ground dog. Like every other dog, she hunts for other animals’ markings—we call that pee-mail—so she can neutralize it with her own. She likes to eat things off the ground, too. Our vet calls this “dietary indiscretion.” In our neighborhood garbage and recycling trucks pick up in alleys, and there are always things left on the ground that didn’t quite make it from the can to the truck. Some of what draws her is human trash. The rest you don't want to know about. I watch her pretty closely, but once in a while she gobbles something up before I can stop her, and we have to put plain yogurt in her food for a few days, and sometimes medicine, until her digestion calms down.
Then there are the backyard chicken coops and the occasional plastic swimming pool that serves as a duck pond. If Alice doesn’t spot the birds herself, I point them out to her, and she applies her nose to a back fence long enough to make an inspection.
Collies always look like they’re a day or two away from speaking English, but Alice, at least, never quite gets there, so we have to guess what she’s thinking. I wonder if she knows that chicken meat, her favorite thing, comes from animals like the ones she’s staring at. I don’t think so. Otherwise she’d get excited, bark, something.
Cats love alleys, too. The term alley cat implies uncertain parentage, I guess, because with so many cats in alleys, stuff happens. Alice isn’t as polite to cats as she is to chickens, but only if they run away. She yanks me forward and makes high-pitched yipping sounds well after the cat is out of sight. Sometimes this sets the dogs in the backyards we’re strolling past barking, too. I’ll see a curtain move in a back window, an annoyed human face searching for troublemakers.
Some cats don't run, don't even put their backs up. Alice sniffs. The cats study. We’ve run into two or three cats that walk toward Alice with a take no prisoners look on their faces. Alice has a cat of her own, Katie, who isn’t very nice to her. She wants no part of cats with attitude. We walk carefully around them, or turn around and walk the other way.
Dogs, too. Backyard dogs in Bellingham aren’t, generally speaking, watch dogs. Some growl and bark at us, but most come to the fence, whine, and wag their tails. Alice does likewise. On days when I can’t take her to an off-leash park, she gets in a little socializing, the odd chat or two, in nearby alleys.
Sometimes I chat as well, with fellow humans. People are different over back fences than in front yards. . . .