SEWER DOGS by Harris Tobias

People flush every imaginable thing down the drain. Among sewer workers there are stories of the most bizarre things turning up in the tunnels and drains beneath the city. There’s the body parts story; that’s almost routine. Occasionally and entire body is found.There are many stories of pets getting flushed into the sewers and surviving, even breeding in the dark. There’s the story of the Volkswagen, but that’s almost certainly mythical. It’s the creature stories that are most likely true. Every sewer worker has seen some strange wildlife down under the streets. Just ask them, they’ll tell you.

One of the most universal wildlife stories is the one about the ‘sewer dog’. Sewer workers in every big city and several not so big have reported for many many years hearing a dog barking, whimpering and howling in the wet and putrid environs of the sewer. Sound can travel a long way in the sewer and while many a worker will profess to having heard the dog, no one has ever actually confessed to having seen it. But that hasn’t diminished the strength in the belief of the sewer dog’s reality indeed, if anything, this belief is more firmly planted than ever.

In Chicago sewer workers carry dog biscuits for good luck. In Minneapolis they throw a handful of kibble down the hole before they enter. In New Orleans they call their dog ‘Drano’ and call to it as they work. In some sewers, so the story goes, the dog is a black lab, a friendly soul swept down a storm drain as a puppy and doomed to prowl the maze of drains looking for food, love and a way out. In other stories, Drano is a fierce, feral creature, half wolf half dog, born and raised in the sewers, the offspring of generations of sewer dogs.

There are several things that all these sewer dog stories have in common. One is the reaction of the workers to that mournful echoing howl. When the dog howls in the usually dark and silent tunnels, all work stops and hairs rise on the backs of the necks of even the toughest old sewer rat. Another point the stories have in common is pride. The tough survivor is the universal mascot of sewer workers everywhere. There are the ‘Drain Dogs’ of Atlanta, the ‘Sewer Hounds of Portland’ and the ‘Pipe Pups’ of Cincinnati to name a few. It is estimated to be over 175 dog related crew names working in cities around the world.

If there is any truth in this dog story it is a sad one. Drains and sewers are no place for a dog. Dark, wet and filled with vermin there is not much a dog would want except for the abundant source of food the rats provide. But life is, if nothing else, persistent and adaptable and, just maybe, in a sewer somewhere a dog has adapted to so alien and inhospitable an environment. And maybe that dog calls out in its frustration and pain for a human companion. Or, more likely, the poor beast is so psychologically twisted and warped by its existence that it has become something else. No longer man’s best friend, it probably wouldn’t be the kind of dog you’d want to know.


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Harris Tobias was raised by robots disguised as New Yorkers. Despite an awkward childhood he learned to read and write. To date Mr. Tobias has published two detective novels, The Greer Agency and A Felony of Birds, to critical acclaim. In addition he has published short stories in Down in the Dirt Magazine, Literal Translations, Electric Flash and Ray Gun Revival. He currently lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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One Response to SEWER DOGS by Harris Tobias

  1. I hope to never run into one of these!

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