Shana Ross

Winner, 2022
The Anne C. Barnhill Prize for Creative Nonfiction

Story with Dog

Here is a story my father loved to tell, unprovoked and often. When he was just home from his tour, he was invited into the house of a friend, a friend with a dog. The dog was a giant Doberman who disliked my father immediately. The beast kept his body between his master and this intruder, my father, at all times. His legs were stiff.  His eyes never broke their line. His lips toyed with curling all the way up, a prelude to a growl. Teeth were shown, but not fully. My father’s friend laughed it off, because he was a fool – which, as it happens, is a description of all my father’s acquaintances.  

But my father, never a fool, already knew what would have to happen. The friend went to the bathroom, leaving the dog alone, my father sitting on the couch with his beer. 

In some tellings the dog approaches slowly, and sometimes he charges. Offense is the upper hand, so my father punches the dog in the side of his face, aiming for the cheekbone below the eye socket, careful to hit nose and not teeth. He means business. The blow lands mighty. No warning, no hesitation. The dog, surprised, looks him in the eyes, and so my father pops him another, hard, hard, so hard he hopes he won’t kill the bastard, because my father suspects the friendship will not survive if the dog dies. By the time the friend comes back to the living room, the dog is clear about the hierarchy of the universe – who is in charge, who leads the pack.  

The dog now follows my father around. My father and his friend dine on a bucket of chicken. The dog begs. My father is pleased by the begging, is pleased to oblige with bones and gristle. The friend, a fool and now a greater one, never realizes he’s no longer the master in his own house. This too, pleases my father.

All the times I heard this story:  As a child, soft like a bunny, possible to pet to death.  As a teenager, become a crab for the protective shell.  As a lizard, aware of claws in my tail and finally ready to drop a chunk of myself to get free. How shamefully long it took me to forgive the dog who knew danger from the moment it walked in. Who took it in the face and decided to survive.  


Shana Ross has done time in both a co-ed percussion fraternity and the PTA. She arrived this March in Edmonton, Alberta, after 25 years in New England. Qui transtulit sustinet. Her work has appeared in Chautauqua Journal, Phantom Kangaroo, Gone Lawn, Cutbank Literary Journal, Laurel Review and more. She was awarded first place in the 2021 Bacopa Literary Review Poetry competition, received a 2019 Parent-Writer Fellowship to Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing, and serves as an editor for Luna Station Quarterly. Her first chapbook, Heavy Little Things (Finishing Line Press) is now available. She holds both a BA and MBA from Yale and rarely tweets. Twitter: @shanakatzross