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September 30, 2011

Urban Dog Tico describes his favorite meal.

I live in Washington, D.C., with a starving black lab named Tico. I don't think he's starving, but he remains convinced.  Luckily for Tico, what he thinks I fail to feed him, my neighborhood sidewalks provide in abundance.

Tico has three rules for eating on the streets of the nation’s capital: 1) does it look like food, 2) does it smell like food, or 3) does it taste like food. Any one of the three will suffice, he’s not picky. Once he spots potential food, he has a foolproof plan for getting to the forbidden street morsel, and I’m proof of the fool. He pretends not to care about the cracker on the curb or the chicken wing in the street, but he’s just playing possum. Inevitably I think he’s finally realized he’s not starving for street slop, so I let my guard down and he lunges for the grotesque leftovers, nearly separating my shoulder in the process. Which is just as well for him – despite my doubts about his deductive abilities, he knows I can’t pry bones from his gullet with a useless arm.

While Tico enjoys half-eaten chicken bones and sidewalk lo mein, he’s always on the lookout for his favorite urban meal, Gutter Pizza with a splash of fresh Dumpster Tea. He’ll eat any slice marinating in the gutter, and will happily lap up the rankest effluvia dripping from random garbage cans, but he does have favorites. The pizza in the gutter in front of Stoney’s tavern on P Street, NW, soaks overnight in an earthy gravy, giving even the stalest slice a rich, nutty flavor and pungent aroma with overtones of rotten feta. And his favorite drink is close at hand, oozing from the dumpsters in the alley behind Logan Tavern. Although the ingredients change hourly, it usually has a base of fish juice, beef consommé, grease of unidentifiable origins and a spritz of beer. Tasty and nutritious. Or so Tico maintains.

Sometimes I don’t know why my dog’s street-eating bothers me. I mean, theoretically I don’t have to buy him as much food, and I suppose he does a nice job composting the city’s leftovers. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that the Connecticut Avenue Buffet isn’t good for his digestion, that in addition to the threat of bone shards imbedding in his stomach, he might develop a new kind of virus – the TicoFluenza. But when he looks up at me with the most joyful, slaphappy expression about what he’s just eaten, I have a difficult time stopping him from doing it again. So I pick my battles. I’m okay with the occasional Gutter Pizza and Dumpster Tea, but when my separated arms allow, I excavate chicken bones, dead birds, dead rats and dead squirrels from his mouth.

Live squirrels are a different matter altogether. I know I should have a greater appreciation for these foragers whose successful adaptation to the human environment is only surpassed by pigeons and cockroaches. But this is hardly good company. Setting aside the harmless ones in the woods, the squirrel mafia that runs Logan Circle is a ruthless gang. They should be the envy of all the Cosa Nostra. They know where Jimmy Hoffa is buried. It’s not enough that their racketeering operation extorts all the nuts from the trees, but they resort to ordinary thievery. Their fluffy presence robs Tico of any ability to control himself. It turns him from fun-loving garbage eater into Dogzilla, and he drags me across the circle while he howls and whines like a drunken ambulance. They even convince him that he can climb trees, or at least that it would be a good idea to try. Luckily for me, the sight of my desperate dog impotently scurrying up a giant oak eases the pain of putting my shoulder back in its socket. To get Tico’s obsessive mind off Squirrel Capone, I offer to take him to Stoney’s and Logan Tavern for some Gutter Pizza and Dumpster Tea. Fulfilled is the life of the urban dog.