My family used to have a sweet, gentle Norwegian elkhound named Sonja. She didn't tend to stray; nevertheless, we kept her on a leash whenever we let her out in the yard or took her for a walk.

Once, after we had been gone for the day, we returned home to find that Sonja had somehow gotten loose. A neighbor boy had caught our pet, and he had snapped her by the collar onto her exercise line in the backyard.But this dog, though a gray elkhound, wasn't Sonja; it was a somewhat larger male dog. Our own pet was safely inside the house, now barking wildly.

We released the confused canine stranger - who took off for home - and we calmed our riled-up Sonja - who must have heard and scented the other dog tied up in "her" yard. We thanked our young neighbor for his good intentions, but also explained to him about girl dogs and boy dogs.

That's a true story, yet something very similar happened to a reader in Salt Lake City.

This reader came home once from work to find a strange dog inside her house, scratching eagerly at a door leading outside. The woman's son said he had let the dog come in when he opened the door for his own pet "Duke," thinking the other dog belonged to a friend of his mother's who was boarding it with them while out of town.

The reader had made no such arrangement, and she had never seen the dog before in her life. She sent me her story after reading a similar item in the "Life in These United States" section of a recent Reader's Digest.

The major difference between her version and the Digest's, which was sent in by a reader in Arizona, is that in the magazine's version the rescued pet is a cat. This story too is a first-person report of something that presumably really happened.

In this variation, a couple with their home up for sale have a beautiful Persian cat who goes into heat just when real-estate agents are beginning to show their house.

While the owners are at work, they post a note to the realtors on the front door: "Please do not let cat out."

Returning home, the owners find a neighbor's male cat inside their house consorting with their purebred kitty. There's a second note on the door:

"Another agent must have let your big tomcat out, because he was waiting at the door when I showed your home. I let him back in."

In all three instances, the families must have told and retold their stories of the Stupid Pet Rescue, starting it on its way towards legendhood.

Another story about a bungled pet rescue appeared recently on a computerized bulletin board, nowadays a common medium for the circulation of urban legends.

The story was supposed to have happened in Fairbanks, Alaska, to a friend of the person who had added it to the "net."

-Jan Harold Brunvand is the author of "The Mexican Pet," a collection of urban folklore. Send your questions and urban legends to Prof. Brunvand in care of this newspaper, the Deseret News Today Section, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, Ut. 84110.