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The dog Kashtanka belongs to a drunken carpenter who takes her out one day, but on the way home loses her in the confusion of a military parade. The story is told by an omniscient narrator who privileges Kashtanka's point of view, so we follow the dog's subsequent adventures largely from her eyes.
After spending a frightening night in the street, Kashtanka is rescued by a kind man who feeds her and takes her into his home, which turns out to be a strange menagerie. The rescuer happens to run a traveling animal show, in which the star performers are a goose named Ivan Ivanitch and a cat by the name of Fyodor Timofeyitch. Kashtanka's new master renames her "Auntie" and sets about training her to perform in his act.
"Auntie" thoroughly enjoys her new surroundings. Her master is kind, there is plenty of food and love; and "Auntie" gets along well with the other animals. However, one day the carpenter and his son attend the show and see "Auntie" performing. They instantly recognize her and call out, "Kashtanka!" Kashtanka drops her "Auntie" persona and follows them home, as the pleasures of her interlude with her new master rapidly fade from memory.