We noticed the pack of dogs this morning as we were feeding horses. They immediately caught Sam's attention, and he watched them go by. They were obviously related; all had the same blocky head and long lank bodies. They were dirty and thin, and walked without much interest in their surroundings. Sam sat still, only shouting a warning when two coyotes came out of the desert and followed the last dog. The dog looked at Sam, then caught movement and spun to bark at the coyotes. They circled away, disappearing back into the desert.
"Who are they?" Sam asked, coming to stand next to me.
"They are strays," I answered, looking for the coyotes. They wouldn't give up that easily. They would try again.
"Strays?" Sam tasted the word, tried to comprehend its meaning. He had never seen that life before. This was new and strange to him. "Do they have anyone?"
"Like you?" I ruffled his hair, "No."
He was silent then, trying to grasp what he was seeing, trying to understand. He watched the dogs disappear over the rise in the road. He stayed there, long after they were gone, watching where they had last been. I went back to feeding the horses, but kept on eye on him. He was deep in thought.
He rejoined me as I was feeding Maggie. I put her bucket down, and gave him a hug, "What's the matter, Sam?"
"They didn't have collars on." He said simply.
"No, they didn't," I replied.
I realized this summed it up for him. These dogs were so different from him because they had no one, and he equated belonging to someone with wearing a collar. I fingered the blue bone that hung from his collar, with his name and my phone number etched on it. He put his paw on my hand, and looked at me. I knew what he was saying, what he wanted to say. I took his paw, "I love you too, little man."