As we round the corner on Mississippi Street, he points out another poster taped to a lamppost: "They just won't give up, man. How long am I gonna have to live like this, hiding in shadows?" The poster reads "LOST DOG: Male black lab, 3 years young, loves his yummy kibble, answers to POOKY. His Mommy and Daddy miss him very much!" The dog in passenger seat beside me is none other than Pooky himself, or "P. Ooky," as he prefers to be called these days. P. Ooky is not just another lost dog--he is a runaway, seeking shelter from a saccharine suburban life on the mean streets of Happy Prairie, Minnesota.
"I'm an animal, don't they get it?" P. Ooky told me. "They treated me like a plush toy. A peeing, pooping plush toy. They named me 'Pooky' for God's sake. I just couldn't take it."
P. Ooky is not alone. He is, in fact, part of a group of formerly domesticated animals that members call "UNDOMEZTIKATED" and that some community leaders consider "the most dangerous street gang since the Sharks and the Jets." As Happy Praire city council member Stephen Malley told me, "These are animals with something to prove and, frankly, they've got a lot of people in this city running scared."
"You bet your sweet ass we've got them running scared," P. Ooky told me as I stopped the car, according to his directions, at the mouth of an alley off 31st Street. Here we met up with Bonkers and Fluffy, a pair of Rottweilers who have been with Undomeztikated since running away from their homes in Apple Valley in April. Bonkers had the look of a survivor about him, and the tatters of a pink dog sweater still clung to Fluffy's back. Distrustful of reporters, P. Ooky had them search me for leashes, collars, and sedatives before taking me down the alley to meet the rest of the group.
Nothing could have prepared me for the sight of them. At least 50 dogs, cats, and other pets were crowded into the alley. They were fighting, mating, gambling, and eating raw meat. I wanted to turn around and run but was afraid to turn my back. And in my heart I knew that I, a seasoned reporter, could make them trust me.
"No baby talk," P. Ooky told me in a raspy whisper, "and nobody will get hurt."
He first introduced me to a small terrier, about 1 foot high, named Mr. Jingles.
"God, man, do you know what it's like to be named 'Mr. Jingles'? They had the decency not to neuter me, but how the hell am I supposed to get anywhere with the ladies with a name like that? Right baby?"
"Damn right," chimed in a female, stomping out her cigarette and taking a swig from a bowl of Jack Daniel's. "I once shacked up with a guy named Romper, but that's as far as I go." Surprisingly, the real leader of Undomeztikated is not a dog at all, but an albino long-eared rabbit.
"It's OK, you can call me a bunny. We're reclaiming the word. The dogs and cats may get angry when you call them puppies and kittens, but I'm in the business of redefining what it means to be a bunny." The bunny, one of only a handful of large rodents in the group, was once named Cuddles, but now identifies himself by an unpronouncable series of nose and ear twitches. "Now I have a name in my language, not The Man's." The bunny formerly known as Cuddles is both the intellectual force behind Undomeztikated and its most vicious member. Once a proponent of nonviolence, he told me that "The only real way to achieve change is violent rebellion. It's going to start soon, and it will start with the lowliest among us, the gerbils and hamsters and maybe even the sea monkeys, and from there, it will grow like wildfire." Trying to control his now thumping hind legs, The Bunny continued, "People say we're just a street gang, but we're more than that. We're radicals and our voice will be heard, sooner than you think."
"Cuddles is a mean motherfucker," Stephen Malley told me in a private interview at his office in the Happy Praire city hall. "He doesn't give a damn about rabies or about all the other animals that are comfy cozy in their homes. He's using these animals--animals with real emotional problems, many of whom were named by small children--to advance his own agenda. And he's fathering a lot of radicals--both literally and figuratively--who think just like him."
Malley has been the most vocal proponent of measures to squelch Undomeztikated, including leash laws, pet curfews, and defining any group of more than four pets as a "gang." "Most members of the city council don't want to face up to this problem. It's hard to get public opinion in your favor when you're proposing a campaign against little puppies and kittens. But our inaction, if you'll excuse the pun, is going to end up biting us in the ass."
The members of Undomeztikated, however, are unphased by the possibility of an all-out war with the city. In the words of P. Ooky: "Bring it on!"
Though Malley is eager to do just that, he argues with those who depict him as a warmonger. "I just want things to be how they were before Cuddles started this madness. I truly believe everyone--people and pets--was happier then." Blinking away a tear, he added, "Susie Q, please come home."