Street performer and his canine companions intend to entertain

Each day thousands of people see Roy Sosna, his dogs and his tricked-out shopping cart. Some think of him as just another homeless man, but Sosna prefers to think of himself as a performer.

“I call what I do street corner entertainment,” Sosna said. “I try to make people laugh.”

Sosna said people have thanked him for coming out to his street corner, usually on the corner of Tropicana Avenue and Pecos Road.

“If they’re having a bad day at work or home, they’ll see the dogs in their outfits, and they crack up, and they’ll have a better day,” Sosna said. “That’s half the reason I go out here, to see the happy faces on people and their double takes.”

Sosna, 28, has been homeless on and off from the time he was 16. For the last four years, he has shared his life with his pit bull Stranger, and that relationship has changed his life for the better.

“People love Stranger. He’s like the neighborhood dog,” Sosna said. “A lot of people help him out, which helps me out.”

Sosna’s entrance into street corner entertainment started out accidentally. One day on a whim he put a pair of sunglasses on Stranger, who seemed to enjoy them. From that point on he started putting more elaborate outfits on him and started theming Stranger and his cart for holidays.

“Around Veterans Day the cart looks like a military vehicle,” Sosna said. “I get everything out of Dumpsters and decorate the cart and get outfits for my dogs there.”

Last year, Sosna acquired a Chihuahua named Pepe, and for the holidays he has outfitted the dogs as “Sancho Claus and The Blue-Nosed Reindeer.”

Sosna holds up signs in both Spanish and English as he’s aware of the neighborhood demographics and doesn’t want to let a language barrier get in the way of his performance. He said Stranger listens to him better in Spanish.

“I speak a little Spanish,” Sosna said., “enough to get by and to make Spanish speakers laugh.”

Sosna said Stranger is happiest when he’s holding something in his mouth and Sosna works this into the costumes.

“If I’ve got him dressed as a construction worker, he’ll have a Fisher-Price tool in his mouth,” Sosna said. “He likes to hold bottles or really just about anything. He loves his skateboard, and if I say, ‘Skate or die,’ he’ll go pick it up.”

The skateboard, really just the deck of a skateboard, is a frequent prop for Stranger. The words “Homeless Hungry” are painted on it.

Sosna still has family members in town but hasn’t seen them in a long time, in part because of distance and in part because of a certain amount of estrangement.

“My stepmother and I don’t get along,” he said.

It’s possible that animosity stems from incidents such as the one in 1997 when a 14-year-old Roy Sosna discovered a practice bomb while looking for crawdads in a wash. The 30-pound bent and rusted bomb was possibly a stray from Nellis Air Force Base. Sosna brought the gunpowder- and sulfur-packed bomb home, leading to the police calling in the bomb squad and evacuating the area.

He has lived in the valley most of his life with a brief sojourn to Maryland.

“Some friends went out there, and I came along,” Sosna said. They got into some trouble, so I came back here.”

He hasn’t remained free of trouble here. In June, he was arrested for hitchhiking and marijuana possession.

Street performances, seen as panhandling, don’t always win law enforcement support.

“I’m an independent contractor,” Sosna said. “I never know how much money I’m going to make or if I’m going to make any or if the cops are going to stop me.”

He has tried to circumnavigate the police at times by dressing Stranger as a police officer.

“Sometimes that makes them laugh, and they’ll let me slide a little more,” Sosna said.

Sosna spends most of his time on the street, although he’s been lucky enough lately to find fans of the dogs who lend him indoor accommodations some nights. When he can’t do that, he sleeps in the tunnels under the city during the summer, trying to stay cool.

“In the winter I’m upstairs,” Sosna said, “If the weather’s bad, I go to what I call studios, Dumpster bins.”

The Dumpsters keep out the worst of the weather during the valley’s infrequent rains.

“I’m trying to go legit,” Sosna said. “I’m tired of living on the street, but I’ve got no proof of income.”

When Sosna has worked a more traditional job, he always has been paid under the table. So he has no job history, which hinders in the search for a regular job and apartment rental.

“I want to get into advertising,” Sosna said. “I could decorate the cart with a company logo or have Stranger hold their product.”

When he can, Sosna brings in one of his homeless friends to help with either handling Stranger or collecting money.

“I’ve known Roy and Stranger since Stranger was 5 months old,” said Rick Ethelredge, who was helping Sosna on a recent afternoon. “I’ve only been on the streets myself since February. I’ve got a bachelor’s degree in computer science. It’s kind of obsolete now.”

Ethelredge said he came to Las Vegas to care for his sick mother, who died of cancer in February, not coincidentally when he ended up on the streets.

Ethelredge said that to protect Sosna’s cart, he sometimes sleeps under it, which is currently decorated for Christmas with giant candy canes and wrapping. The cart also sports two spinning rims and a faux grill made from a food rack. It’s the third one Sosna has built from salvaged materials.

“The other two were stolen,” Ethelredge said. “We figure it was scrappers.”

Sosna agreed.

“No one around here would take ‘El Perro Loco’s cart,” Sosna said referring to Stranger. “Everyone loves him.”

Sosna has big dreams, but for now he’s just working his corner and getting by.

“I’m hoping to get off the street and get the dogs famous,” Sosna said. “If I got rich I’d still be hitting the corner, but with a better ride and better stuff and not for the money, just for the joy.”

Contact Sunrise/Whitney View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 380-4532.

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