Archive | June 2011

Three Stray Dogs

The sun slowly dipped behind the lofty brick apartment buildings of Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Sunday afternoon crowds who browsed in the upscale boutiques or noshed on bagels in cozy cafes along Broadway thinned considerably. Another glorious autumn day in New York City was drawing to an end.

When floppy-eared Tippy’s fourteen-year old owner, Shanita, casually secured her dog’s leash to a curbside parking meter, Tippy yelped. Shanita and mother Roz looked at Tippy and grinned.

“Don’t worry doggie dear, we’ll be right out,” Shanita said.  “We have to buy dinner. Mom is too tuckered out to cook.”

“That’s right,” Roz said, yawning. “I’m not used to all this exercise, but I promised Shanita I’d walk with you two to get in shape.”

Before she left, Shanita stroked Tippy’s furry head and said, “We’ll all head home soon, I promise. I’m tuckered out and I bet you are too.”

Tippy rested outside the Fairway Market near West 74th Street and Broadway, highly popular among New Yorkers for its array of fresh produce, imported cheeses, and crispy breads.  Their Sunday afternoon hike through nearby Central Park drained the brown and gold spotted dog. All four paws ached. Tippy was also hungry. Hours had passed since Shanita grabbed a can of Alpo beef dinner from the kitchen cupboard and scooped it in Tippy’s dish. Sometimes Shanita added curly noodles and steamed carrots to make the dog’s mealtime special.

A sudden whiff of unfamiliar human sweat wiggled Tippy’s nose. Her hackles rose. A mystery man with ice-cold eyes nonchalantly unhooked her leash and led her towards a double-parked cargo van. Tippy yapped, but no one paid attention as the man yanked on her leash. Although scared, Tippy didn’t bite the young man wearing faded jeans and an oversized college sweatshirt. Vicious behavior was not in her nature. The boyish-looking stranger shoved the dog in the van’s rear and quickly hopped into the passenger seat.

“Move it, barf bag.” The driver pulled away and blended into the flow of traffic along the busy thoroughfare. “Hey Ronnie, it’s almost dark. Get on Riverside Drive. Look for other dogs tied to parking meters. If there ain’t none, head to the Bronx.  Always strays running around up there.”

“We gotta be careful, Joe,” Ronnie said. His shifty brown eyes flickered as he glanced into the rearview mirror. “If we get nabbed, it’s back to Riker’s Island. I gotta be crazy listening to you. We’re both on parole.”

“Listen up. You think anyone cares about stolen pets?” Joe smiled a devilish grin as he counted a few crinkled dollar bills.  “Stealing them leashed dogs, like the one we just got, is less work than chasing strays.”

Ronnie’s cheeks reddened. “I don’t like this. We could get caught.”

“Shut up and drive. No one asked for your opinion,” Joe said. “That Connecticut lab pays cash. No questions asked. Good for us and good for them.”

“You better be right about this,” Ronnie said, sweat trickling down the back of his neck. “After tonight, I’m gonna look for a real job. I don’t like stealing dogs, especially when they belonged to somebody.”

“Nobody hires ex-cons. That’s why we swipe animals. Hey man, we’re cleaning up the streets.” Joe sneered. “Since when do you care about other people? Remember when you tore up some old lady’s bed before you ripped off her stuff. Said the witch would really have something to worry about besides her missing pearls.”

“I promised my mother I’d do better,” Ronnie said.

“So you lied,” Joe said.

 

The second Shanita and her mother Roz sauntered out of the Fairway market, each lugging an over-stuffed shopping bag, she noticed the empty spot where Tippy should have been sitting.  Gasping, Shanita grabbed her mother’s arm, dropping her shopping bag and spilling groceries all over the curb. Tears ran down her cheeks.

“Mom, Tippy’s gone. We have to find her.”

Knees shaking, Shanita stumbled on her way to the curb but straightened herself quickly. She looked up and down Broadway, but there was no sign of her dog with the white-tipped tail.  Frantically, she started to call out for her dog. “Tippy, Tippy, where are you?” A few people on the street stared at her but most paid her no mind as she flew into a panic.

Roz stepped back to collect their spilled groceries. She stuffed the apples, salad fixings, and loaf of Italian bread into the plastic bag and rushed to her daughter’s side.

“Let’s ask around. Maybe someone has seen her,” Roz said.  She handed her sobbing daughter a tissue.

“Where could she be? We were only inside for a few minutes,” Shanita said in between sniffles. “It’s all my fault. I should’ve stayed outside with her.”

Again, Shanita called out, “Tippy, Tippy.”

“Who thought we had to worry on the Upper West Side? I figured she’d be safe around here,” Roz said.

Shanita yelled out Tippy’s name so many times her mother finally convinced her it was a moot point to keep calling. The dog was nowhere around.

“Let’s look around the neighborhood,” Shanita said. “Maybe she’s still here.”

“Good idea,” Roz said.

Mother and daughter separated. Shanita asked passersby and Roz checked in with storeowners for clues to Tippy’s whereabouts.  Ten stores and three blocks later, they regrouped near a Burger King and compared findings. There were no sightings of anyone walking a dog matching Tippy’s description.

A bearded young man leaving the fast food store caught Shanita’s eye. Despite cool weather, he wore shorts and sandals.  After listening to Shanita describe her dog, he grimaced and said, “I heard some dude’s been stealing dogs up and down the West Side recently. A few months ago someone got caught selling stolen dogs to a surgical company in Connecticut that works on dogs. I hope they catch the no good swine.”

Shanita almost gagged. “A research lab? My Tippy involved in medical experimentation? No, that can’t happen.”

“Hey kid, I’m just telling you what I heard. Check with the cops. Other people I know reported their missing pets.”

Nudging her daughter’s arm, Roz said, “Honey, I’ll hail a cab for the ride uptown. We’ll go home and make missing dog signs. Tomorrow morning I’ll come back and spread them all over this neighborhood.”

Shanita’s lip quivered. “No Mom, let’s rent a car and drive up to Connecticut. See if they got our dog.”

“Calm down baby. It’s late and it’s Sunday. We don’t even know if Tippy is in Connecticut,” Roz said. “She could still be around here.”

“Aren’t you forgetting? How can you put up missing dog signs?  Tomorrow is Monday. You have work.”

“I don’t go in until noon.”

 

Huddled in back of the Army green van sat a scrappy-looking dog, about the size and coloring of a Collie, but with a multi-colored face of a Beagle. The skinny dog trembled as he stared at Tippy and asked, “Will you hurt me?”

“Of course not, but I want out of here.”

“Take me with you,” the dog said.

Desperate to return to the safety and comfort of her beloved owner, Tippy’s mind worked double-time for a way out. As the van sputtered along run down streets in the South Bronx, she said, “What’s your name?”
“Wally. And yours?”

“Tippy. We’ll talk later but first I need to figure an escape.” Whimpering, the dog stared at the rear door. It was sealed tight with no windows. “Sooner or later they have to stop and open the door.”

“Yeah. Go on. I’m listening.”

“Make a run for it,” Tippy said. “Bite or scratch if you have to. Anything to get away.”

Wally chewed on his front paw. “What if they have a bat or something? We could get hurt.”

“I’d rather be dead than go with them. Somehow, I’m finding my way home. Shanita and her mom Roz loved me and I adored them.  I have to get away.”

Wally’s curly tail slowly waggled back and forth. “What about me? I have no one.”

Because Shanita doted on Tippy all the time and lavished her with love, Wally’s lonely life tugged at her heart but there was no time for sympathy. “We’ll talk later.”

The driver’s sudden swerve and decrease in speed knocked Tippy off balance. She sailed across the cold floor and banged into the partition locking them in the back. Her nails clicked against the metal as she fought to regain her footing. “Get ready. When I give the word, run as fast and as hard as you can.”

Wally remained huddled in a corner. He frowned as he peeked at his hind leg and replied, “I was hit by a car. My leg didn’t heal so good.”

“Run anyway,” Tippy said, as she stole a glance at the rear door. “Stick with me. I’ll protect you.” For a small dog she possessed the determination of a Great Dane.

The driver slammed on the brakes and the van screeched to a halt. Nothing happened right away so the two dogs waited. Both dogs listened to the men who had moved outside the van.

Ronnie spotted two scraggly stray dogs crouched down by a boarded up storefront. He called out, “Here doggie doggie. Come to papa.”

“Yo stupid, toss some meat snacks at them,” Joe said. “They look hungry.”

“Quit calling me stupid,” Ronnie said.

“Oh did I hurt your feelings?” Joe said with a wicked grin.  “Good, they ate the snacks. Rip open the bag and spread dried food on the ground. Surprise the morons while they’re eating. If they resist, whack’em with this bat. This lab doesn’t care if we deliver dead or alive.”

“Open the door and get ready,” Ronnie said. “I got the leashes. But Joe, don’t do nothing to hurt them.”

As soon as Tippy inhaled cool, fresh air, she gave Wally the go ahead. “Hurry. Follow me.” Tippy drew on every bit of strength she had left and lunged past the men, knocking both to the ground.

“What the heck is this,” Ronnie said as the dog’s surprise move knocked him off balance. Stumbling, he landed on the pavement. The bat slipped out of his hand and rolled into the litter-strewn gutter. Joe stood and watched all four dogs flee down the block.

“Wait till I get my hands on them,” Joe said, ramming his hand against the van. He watched Ronnie tend to a scratched knee. “Get up you fool. Our money is running away. The heck with your leg. We have to catch them.”

The men jumped into the van and took off. As the two unsuspecting strays barreled across a different street in the opposite direction, Joe said, “Ah, forget about them. We’ve got a better chance of nailing the other two. I’m ready to strangle them.”

Limping along, Wally dragged his back leg, but he held his own. He panted and struggled but he kept up with Tippy.

Hearing the van rumble around the corner, Tippy made a snap decision. No way Wally could charge through the neighborhood at her speed and elude their captors. She suspected the men wouldn’t leave them alone.

“Follow me.” Tippy led shuffling Wally through the charred remains of an apartment building gutted by fire. Broken glass dangled from decaying first floor window frames. “You go first.  Be careful squeezing in.”

“OK,” Wally said. To avoid cutting himself, he sandwiched his skinny body through a rupture in the brick building.

“That should buy us a little time.” Tippy met Wally’s gaze as she slipped inside behind him. “I hope they’ll decide this building is too unsafe and leave us alone.”

“Whatever happens, don’t let them get me,” Wally said. Hollow eyes pleaded for comfort.

A few seconds passed and Tippy poked her head out a cracked window. When brakes squealed to a halt, her ears flattened against her head. The doors flew open and Joe and Ronnie sprinted towards the building.

“They went in there,” Joe said as he shoved Ronnie in the back. “Look, I see that brown and white mutt looking at us. Go in and get them.”

“Why me?” Ronnie turned up his nose. “The place is probably full of rats or who knows what else. You go.”

Shards of glass and blackened appliances littered the entrance to the darkened building. Joe kicked his boot against splintered wooden boards covering the basement windows. “I’m coming in and I’m mad.”

“No you’re not,” Ronnie said, flanked by Joe. He eyed the rubble scattered in the lobby. “This building looks too dangerous. I told you, I’m through swiping dogs and cats.”

Anger clouded Joe’s eyes. “Where’s my bat? Soon as I cream one of ‘em, we can go.” He searched for a way inside the decrepit building. “I won’t be outsmarted by some stray mutt.”

Spinning around, Ronnie stepped away. “Stay if you want. I don’t like the Bronx after dark. I’m outta here.”

An engine started. The clattering sound slowly disappeared.  Then there was silence. The two dogs snuggled close. Both panted heavily. After what seemed like an endless wait, Tippy finally pushed her head outside.

“Looks like they’re gone,” Tippy said, checkking right then left.

“Gone nothing. They could be sitting on the corner waiting for us to come out,” Wally said.

“Good thinking. Let’s stay put for a while,” Tippy said.  All the commotion made her mouth as dusty as stale kibble. “I’m so thirsty.”

No way could Wally dress up his distaste for street life.  “I drink from puddles. Summertime without water nearly does a stray in.” He nodded at a nearby pool of dirty water and scampered towards it. “Lucky for us this building leaks. Rain water got in and formed puddles.”

Reluctantly, Tippy followed, yet the very idea disgusted her. Shanita, Tippy thought, would shudder if she knew her dog was drinking dirty water. The rancid taste almost caused Tippy to choke. For the moment, though, her thirst was quenched and she was temporarily safe along with her new companion Wally.

A few minutes slipped by.

“Wait here while I run to the corner,” Tippy said. “If they’re gone, I’ll bark and you come outside.”

“Be careful. I don’t like those men. They’ll hit me again.”

“Not with me around,” Tippy said, even though she herself barely weighed 25 pounds. Despite the bravado, she wondered how or if she could defend both Wally and herself against two sleazy men armed with baseball bats?

A lot of streetlamps were out. Only the full moon shed some light on the empty, barren streets. The only sound was a surge of cold wind blowing an empty hamburger wrapper across the cracked sidewalk.

For added protection, Tippy crept underneath parked cars to reach the corner. If the men were out there, she hoped they wouldn’t notice her. Thoughts of the cozy life she shared with Shanita temporarily warmed her. If she couldn’t find her way home, how would she survive the upcoming winter without protection, food, and water, even with Wally for company?

 

 

 

 

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Another chapter from Where is She

Sunrays skimmed off the living room wall and bounced onto Homer’s face. The drowsy dog yawned. Once he opened his eyes, he lifted his head off the sofa. He poked his head over the edge and said, “Harriet, you awake?”

“Thanks to you, I am now.”

“If we’re smart, we should leave before Mrs. Greene gets here,” Homer said.

Harriet scooted out from underneath the couch. “The great Harriet will find Penny, wherever she is. Because crabby cakes is coming, we can’t wait for Candace.”

Homer knocked a pillow off the sofa as he slid down. “Getting out the house might be hard. Penny was always so careful to lock everything.”

“Maybe she missed something,” Harriet said. “Double-check the doors. I’ll look at the windows.”

“What about my breakfast?”

“I’ll take one more swing through the kitchen in the highly unlikely event I missed something,” Harriet said. “Meet me inside to see if any doors are open.”

Harriet scooted through the hallway and into the kitchen where she jumped on top of the small two-seat table. From there, Harriet made her way to the top of the refrigerator where she struck gold. “Hey dog breath, hurry up. I found a loaf of bread. You must’ve distracted me so I missed it.”

“Why is it my fault?” Homer said as he rushed into the kitchen. “You’re always dumping on me.”

She moved behind the loaf and tipped it with her paw. The bread and the cat landed in front of Homer. Wasting no time, the pair ripped open the plastic wrapping with their paws. Homer shoved himself in front of Harriet and wolfed down a few slices.

“Not so fast you big beast,” Harriet said. “Save some for me. After all, I found it.”

“Sorry, I’m just so hungry.”

Harriet licked crumbs from her paws. “Ready to get out of here before trouble comes?”

Harriet sized up the first of two small windows in Penny’s bedroom, searching for a crack to start clawing her way out.  There were no openings or gaps so Harriet moved on to the next one but that too was shut. She tried the windows in the spare bedroom, the kitchen, the living room, and even the bathroom.  Cold air seeped in through the frames but there was no way she could open the windows on her own.

Homer, meanwhile, inspected both the front and back doors for a possible way out. Seeing nothing but sealed doors made him gloomy. As if his tail carried the weight of a barrel full of dog bones, Homer dragged himself through the hallway in search of his feline friend when he spotted a door and yelled, “Harriet, come quick. I found a door. Maybe you can open it.”

Harriet tore through the house, crashing into Homer by the door leading to the basement. “For a dog, you’re helpful. That could be our way out.”

Shortly after 10:00 a.m., Fluffy, the hospital social worker, left for an early afternoon appointment with Mack Conner, director of the Great Western Homeless Shelter in Cheyenne. Despite a local police search, nothing turned up to identify Jane Doe so Fluffy expanded her reach. During the one-hour drive, Fluffy eyed storm clouds hovering above. Even with snow tires, her aging station wagon was no match for the predicted six inches expected to fall by early evening. When Fluffy paid off the chunk of money she borrowed for graduate school, she planned to buy a new car, one suitable for the harsh and unpredictable Wyoming winters.

Fluffy arrived at the rundown one story red brick building, tucked into a seedy area on the outskirts of the capital city. Mack, a stocky old man wearing gray wool trousers and a thick navy sweater, welcomed Fluffy to his office.

“Please, come in,” he said, gesturing for his guest to sit in his tiny cubicle.

As she unbuttoned her parka, Fluffy accepted Mack’s offer of hot coffee and said, “Pleasure to meet you. Thanks for seeing me on such short notice. We’re striking out inLaramieso that’s why I’m broadening my search toCheyenne.”

“I hope we can identify your patient.” Mack sat behind his shabby steel desk piled with files, unopened mail and reports. “Refresh me with details once more, please.”

Fluffy reached into her briefcase for Jane Doe’s file and handed copies to Mack. “She’s in her early 20s. White, short brown hair, green eyes, freckles. Trim build.”

“Woman? I misunderstood. I thought you said your patient was a man. Most of the homeless people who pass through here are men,” Mack said, shaking his head. “If a young woman came through here lately I would’ve remembered. Just a second.” Mack buzzed a co-worker on the intercom and said, “Come to my office, please.IvinsonHospitalinLaramiehas a comatose Jane Doe. Social worker brought some fliers. Take a look and ask the other employees. See if anyone knows anything and report back to me.”

The ends of Fluffy’s lips curled downward. “Oh, I’m sorry.  I thought I said our patient was a young woman.”

“I was probably busy and never wrote down what you said.” Mack raised his eyes. “Your patient must be from out of town. Local people aren’t foolish enough to jog along the road in the dark. You check with the university?”

“That was my first thought, but it doesn’t look like she was enrolled or worked there.”

“You’ve got yourself one heck of a mystery,” Mack said.

“Do you have records from the past year I could look through?” Fluffy asked.

“Yep.” He pointed to a registry book and folders jammed with papers. “Take a look.”

“That might turn up something,” Fluffy said, glancing at the smile on Mack’s leathery face. “What about other places where homeless people gather? I’d like to ask questions, see if anyone knows anything.”

“Many go to Arizona or Californiawhere it’s warmer,” Mack said. “Those who stay usually eat at St. Steven’s Church around the corner. I called Father Gerard and told him we’d be coming by for a chat.”

As Mack watched Fluffy slide into her coat, his eyebrows bunched up. “Hold on. I just remembered something. A woman fromFt.Collinscalled me about a month ago, looking for her 19-year old daughter. Police said it looked like the young woman left on her own and they won’t investigate.”

“How can I get in touch with the mother?”

Mack opened a file cabinet behind his desk and grabbed a manila file. “I kept this flier. Never used it, but maybe it’ll help you.”

Fluffy studied the woman’s picture. “Jane Doe’s face was badly cut and bruised so it’s hard to tell. Could be her.”

“Give her the mother a call,” Mack said.” He pointed to the phone.

An answering machine picked up and Fluffy left a brief message without going into details. She left her phone numbers at work, home as well as her cell.

On their way out, a shelter employee caught up with Mack and said, “I’ve poked around, but nobody remembers a woman like that coming in here recently.”

Harriet nudged the thin door leading to the basement with her paw, leaping back when it moved slightly. “I’ll check things out. Be right back.” She scooted down the narrow stairs and returned in a jiffy. “We’re in luck, bone bag. There’s three windows and a door. Maybe I can pry one of them open.”

Choked with fear, Homer’s legs shook like jelly. He panted like a dog staring down an angry bear. “Wait, I’ve never gone down stairs before.”

“Don’t play games now.”

“When I lived inNew York, I only went downstairs once and that’s when Penny hid me from her mother. She carried me.”

“That was then and this is now. The great Harriet can do many things but carry you is not one of them,” Harriet said. “Downstairs is the only way out.”

Homer waffled for a few seconds then slowly took a step down. “Harriet look, I didn’t fall.”

“Quit acting like a dorky dog and keep going until you get to the bottom.”

Following his friend, Homer took one step at a time until reaching the cold basement floor.

“There’s our freedom,” Harriet said, staring at a small window high up inside the cement wall. “It looks partly open. Don’t you feel the draft?” The cat leaped onto the ledge and pushed the window with her head and front paw. “See how easy it is. I can get outside.”

“What about me?” Homer’s voice sagged. “I can’t jump that far.”

Harriet eased down, settling next to Homer. Out of character, she licked his long, floppy ears. “The great Harriet will figure out something. I won’t leave you, certainly not with Mrs. Meanie on the way.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This entry was posted on June 29, 2011. 1 Comment

1st installment of Animal Writes

Biscuit Needs a Home

 

As shelter worker Buddy Kimbrough barged into the kennel, the dogs erupted in a chorus of barking. At his side was a scraggly brown and gold mutt, the size of a Beagle. Buddy led the dog down the narrow aisle and left her inside a cage.

“You sure are cute. Too bad you don’t have an ID tag. We’d call your owners,” Buddy said. “Maybe they’re already looking for you.”

The dog with the matted fur slurped up water. Then, she looked around and noticed her feline neighbor, a skinny gray cat with a bushy tail.

“Hi, my name is Biscuit, what’s yours?”

“If you’re talking to me, the name is Harriet, greatest cat in all ofPhoenix. Don’t forget that.”

“What brings you here?” Biscuit said. “I’m lost. The cops found me and brought me here. What about you?”

“My story may take a while. I’m not just any cat.”

“Why is a special lady like you in here?”

“Be patient, dog face.” Harriet licked her paws. “I’m getting to that. My owner Candace trusted me with her driver. He was supposed to take me to the vet for my shots.”

“What happened?”

“What happened you ask?” Harriet puffed out her chest. “I’ll tell you what happened. The driver stopped at a park, opened the window and grabbed his cell phone. Then he took a walk.”

“Where’d he go?”

“How should I know?” Harriet said. “While I sat panting in the back seat because of this wretched heat, some punk kids noticed me and poked me with a big stick. So the great Harriet jumped out and ran away.”

“And you got lost.”

“Let’s just say I wasn’t familiar with the territory,” Harriet said. “I’m sure my owner was furious with the driver when she found out. I bet she fired him.”

“How’d you get here?”

“Hold your dog bones, I’m getting to that,” Harriet said. “There’s a lovely community not far from the park. I found a back porch and fell asleep. When a lady opened the door, I was about to scamper away but she begged me to stay for breakfast. The great Harriet never misses a meal so I had no choice.”

“My owner threw me out,” Biscuit said. “All she did was yell at her two kids and me. One night she put me in a box, taped it shut and drove me to a far away neighborhood. She tossed the box out and sped away. I’ve been on my own ever since.”

“Look, people are coming,” Harriet said. “Sit up and act sweet. Maybe someone will want you.”

“What about you?”

“Candace will come for me, I’m sure. Who wouldn’t miss a gorgeous cat like me?”

“If she doesn’t?”

“Watch what you say dog breath. Of course my Candace will come.”

Your job is to finish the story. Does Candace return for Harriet? Does Biscuit get adopted? Why do they come to the shelter and not a mall pet store?

 

 

Private volunteer

I wrote this after listening to “Private Dancer.”

All the pets come in these places,

You don’t look at their faces

You don’t think of them as pets,

You don’t think of them at all

You keep your mind on the job

You don’t want to know them

You don’t ask their names

Or why they came

 

All the pets come in these places

You don’t ask if they had a favorite toy

You don’t ask where they slept at night

You don’t ask much at all

You keep your heart tucked into your pocket

That’s the only way to survive

 

I’m their private volunteer

I don’t do it for money

I do it for love

I hope these dogs and cats find good homes

With people who care

I’m their private volunteer

I do it for them

Because they deserve so much more

Than life behind bars

I’m their private volunteer

I make their life better

While they wait for that forever home

This entry was posted on June 26, 2011. 1 Comment

Rocky Mountain Blues

In 1991, my hospital social work job bordered a grungy crime infested Denver neighborhood. Strolling around at lunch was risky so I reserved noon hours for errands. I drove to Petsmart because my three happy hounds were low on kibble and snacks. At a red light by Triangle Park, a local denizen for homeless people, scrubby dogs milled among the crowd. Since I just stocked up, I handed dog food to a woman wearing tattered clothes and smudge-stained glasses.

“Thanks, this is a big help,” she said. “We feed the dogs from our food.”

“That’s kind of you to share,” I said. “What’s your name?”

“Pat Meyers.”

“How do you find food?” I asked surveying the bleak houses and gutted streets.

Stringy-haired Pat gestured towards a church and frowned. “You listen to a sermon but the dinner is free. We deal with it for the food. Another church serves lunch.”

“I’ll bring more dog food soon,” I said. Then I noticed a multi-colored cat tied to a bench with a flimsy piece of string. “And cat food.”

“That’s Tasha, she’s mine.”

I glanced at my watch. “Time to go but I’ll be back.”

That started my six month relationship with a group of Denver’s cast off citizens who hung around Triangle Park.

Earlier promises of a hectic, fulfilling social work job fell flat at the hospital. Most days I read the now defunct Rocky Mountain News in the bathroom, toyed with the blood pressure machines, or called out of state friends. The tedium drained me so I diverted my attention to Pat and the crowd at Triangle Park. If the hospital didn’t need me, maybe the homeless did.

I asked how she became homeless in middle age. Substance abuse didn’t seem a factor.

“I hurt my back as a nurse’s aide,” she said as she munched on a day old donut, compliments of a Safeway manager who dropped them off every morning on his way to work. “Social services are scarce in Phoenix so I hitchhiked to Denver. I knew people here.”

“Couldn’t you qualify for Workmen’s Compensation?”

“It didn’t work out that way,” Pat said.

“Why not?”

Pat muttered a nebulous response then changed the subject to her vagabond life. Cheap motel rooms lasted until her money dried up. Then she stayed with friends and acquaintances and eventually wore out her welcome. Out of options, she slept on the streets. Like homeless people everywhere, Pat stored her belongings in bags and lugged them with her in a shopping cart.

“What about shelters?” I asked. A New York City law required that overnight shelter be provided to all homeless who wanted a bed but no such protection existed in Denver. The city was more sympathetic to homeless families with children, seniors, and disabled. Able-bodied adults had few options. Limited public transportation made access to an open bed daunting. Most homeless didn’t own cars. If Pat was interested, I would’ve helped her but she always shook off my offers.

“Shelters aren’t safe,” Pat said. “I’d rather sleep outside.”

“That’s dangerous,” I said. Triangle Park abutted the high crime neighborhood of Five Points. “Homeless people are often targets of abuse. Watch yourself.”

“We sleep together. I have the dogs for protection,” Pat said, gesturing towards her pets.

Three neighborhood strays – two shaggy dogs, Baby Bear and Poncho, and Tasha the cat – were hardly protection from local goons. The pets were lovable but mild.

As an animal shelter volunteer, the intact condition of the animals concerned me. Unaltered puppies and kittens would soon be on the way. I had to get them fixed as soon as I felt comfortable broaching the subject with Pat.

I visited Triangle Park often and delivered dog and cat food. From my employer, I pilfered medical supplies such as band-aids and aspirin. Pharmaceutical sales reps plied doctors with free lunches to persuade them to write prescriptions for their company’s products. If no one was around, I wrapped left over sandwiches and brought them toTrianglePark.

Snowflakes trickled down late one afternoon in theMileHighCity. Cardboard gray skies suggested a big one would soon wallop the city. I stopped by with lunch for Pat and her friends. A pharmaceutical rep was overly generous with turkey sandwiches, potato and macaroni salads, and vanilla cookies for desert.

As she wolfed down a wholesome lunch, Pat steered me towards an abusive neighbor, a young thug with a long rap sheet who lived in a decrepit house not far from Triangle Park. The brute collected stray dogs, some with recently delivered puppies, and according to Pat, beat them when he staggered home drunk.

“He leaves for work around 8:00 a.m.,” Pat said. “Please help those dogs. I have nowhere to keep them.”

“When does he get home?” I asked, checking my watch. It was 2:30 p.m.

“I heard at 6:00 p.m.”

“Where are the dogs?” I asked.

“In a wobbly shack in the side yard,” Pat said. “You can see if from the street. Want me to show you?”

“I think I can find it.”

“Watch it, he’s dangerous,” Pat said.

Jeez, what was I getting myself into, I thought.

I cruised down his block, careful because the streets were slick with snow. An outhouse type structure sat in his yard. As rolled down my window, I heard tiny yelps. On a whim, I hopped over the fence, opened the door and found a brown hairy dog with eight squirming puppies stuffed inside. Mom’s friendly manners relieved some anxiety. If she was overly protective, I was in deep trouble. She could’ve ripped my hand off. Sweating profusely despite the cold, I cradled two puppies at a time in my arms then placed them in my car, all the while praying the terminator didn’t come home or that a nosy neighbor didn’t alert the police. I was stealing from private property. Finally, I rushed back for mom and threw a leash around her neck. I led her into the back seat and nearly collapsed behind the wheel. I couldn’t peel away because of the snow. Once I was about four or five blocks away, I stopped panting. I wiped my brow with my sleeve. Slowly, I drove mom and puppies to a shelter about 30 miles away, neglecting to say I stole them from a creep. That could potentially embroil the shelter in a legal battle with the owner on the slim chance he found his brood there. Instead, I made up a whopper. I found them in a garbage dump. No one asked why I was in a trash heap nor did I volunteer much information. It only mattered the animals were safe. I hoped he would not collect dogs again. By the way, I called in sick that day.

Bill, Pat’s greasy boyfriend who she met on the street, was sometimes at her side. Other times he was nowhere to be found. Pat said he was searching for supplies they needed. He was probably stealing or panhandling. I tried liking him but saw him as a leech. I didn’t trust him either. Spending time around Triangle Park, however, gave me a purpose, even if I had to sometimes interact with Bill.

That fall, the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus hosted a seminar on pet overpopulation, which I attended. So did KMGH reporter Julie Hayden. At the end, I introduced myself to the pretty young blonde.

“Would you be interested in a story about homeless people and their pets?” I asked.

“I tried before but I could never get anyone to cooperate,” Julie said.

“I befriended homeless people with pets atTrianglePark,” I said. “Would you interview them?”

“Give me a call and we’ll come out.”

The next day, I tracked down Pat. I sold her on the idea of talking to Julie Hayden. Bill hedged but finally backed down. He seemed more concerned about getting a cold brew than his girlfriend talking to a reporter.

“I’ll call Julie and tell her you said yes.”

Several days later, a television crew showed up at Triangle Park. The segment aired during the lunch hour news and Pat’s life was never the same. Neither was mine.

Calls flooded the KMGH switchboard. Concerned citizens offered free dog and cat food. Some wanted to adopt the animals. A few wanted to sweep Pat and her pets off the streets with free or low-cost housing.

Viewers who recognized Triangle Park drove by with winter clothing for Pat, blankets, bags of pet food, hot coffee, sandwiches, and moral support. Bill stayed out of sight but later on helped himself to the goodies.

All the publicity caught the attention of the Rocky Mountain News. The paper dispatched a reporter to interview Pat. A prominent colored picture of rosy-cheeked Pat, bundled up in a parka, hat, scarf, and gloves in a makeshift shelter on Larimer Street, surrounded by her three pets, appeared on the front page of the Rocky Mountain News soon after. Public reaction was swift and tender. Even more Good Samaritans located Pat’s campsite and supplied her with goods and offers of help. Pat’s stubborn streak persisted and she wrote to the Rocky Mountain News on 11/1/91, “If we go into a home somewhere, we might be warm but we wouldn’t have as much freedom. Out here, we’re free.”

Free yet frigid. Mother Nature brutalized the Mile High city with temperatures plummeting into the single digits. Winter became even more treacherous when snow dumped on the streets and roads. I had a heck of a hard time commuting fromBouldertoDenverin those wintry conditions. I dreaded to think how Pat and her pets survived in a flimsy cardboard box.

Pat’s rugged life turned around when former news reporter Wendy Bergen stepped in. Once a rising star on KCNC, Bergen left in disgrace after staging a pit-bull fight and then lying about it. Her promising journalism career was in tatters. As part of her plea, Bergen performed community service with Step 13, a multi-service center for substance abusers. Step 13 operated a series of apartment buildings so its clients lived in affordable housing while they underwent treatment. Bergen convinced the agency to rent an apartment to Pat at a reduced rate. Obviously the icy temperatures and blustery winds prodded Pat into accepting the new digs.

Along with her pets, Pat moved into a $220 a month buffet apartment on Pearl Street, near the state capitol on Colfax Avenue.

Pat wrote to the editor of the Rocky Mountain News and thanked everyone involved. I felt slighted. She never mentioned me or Phyllis Schwartz, another woman who read about Pat’s plight in the Rocky Mountain News. Her soft spot for animals lured her into Pat’s crazy life. On lunch hours, Phyllis drove to Triangle Park and handed out pet food, sandwiches, toiletries, and sometimes small amounts of cash. She also gave Pat her home telephone number.

Phyllis and Pat nurtured a relationship, although it was mostly one-sided. Phyllis chipped in for Pat’s first month’s rent. I covered the second month. Pat said she’d be OK afterwards. She would look for a job.

“Now seems like a good time to talk about spaying and neutering the animals,” I said to Phyllis during one of our many talks.

“Good idea,” Phyllis said. “Do you need money?”

“I called Harrison Memorial, the animal hospital for low income people. If I paid for the vaccinations they’d cover the operations.”

“That’s great,” Phyllis said. “When will you talk to her?”

“Tomorrow. I hope Bill isn’t around. Men sometimes don’t like the idea of male dogs being neutered. They sometimes associate it with their own castration.”

“Let me know how it goes.”

Harrison Memorial, a top notch animal hospital that served only low-income pet owners, vaccinated the pets on 11/5/91. On 12/7 the pets were fixed. No matter where Pat ended up, at least there would be no puppies or kittens.

Since this would be Pat’s first holiday indoors in quite some time, I wanted to make it festive and joyful. I drove Pat and her dogs to Petsmart for photos with Santa. Tasha the cat stayed home. Scrooge Bill decided to hang out with his beer buddies so I didn’t see him that day.

Pat chuckled when Baby Bear and Poncho posed with Santa.

“Aren’t they cute?” Pat said, as Santa held one dog on each side.

“This Christmas will be warm and toasty,” I said. “Let’s buy them a stocking when we’re done. They deserve a treat. We’ll get a kitty toy for Tasha.”

“How can I ever thank you?”

“I’m glad to see you’re off the streets and into a home,” I said.

Phyllis chipped in and bought a small artificial tree and decorations. On a lunch hour the pair trimmed the tree together. We both treated Pat to several new outfits and other essentials, like shampoo, soap, underwear, etc. Pat had plenty of leftover dog and cat food from the generous Denver residents who responded to the press coverage. Pat’s apartment, although not very homey, had a touch of holiday warmth.

“What’re doing on Christmas day?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Pat said. “Bill said we should eat somewhere.”

“There are places inDenverthat serve free dinners. Want me to give you a list?” I asked.

“We’ll probably hang around Triangle Park. Bill will find us a place to eat.”

“Merry Christmas and have a nice holiday,” I said, gently hugging her. “After New Year’s we need to talk about the rent. I can’t afford to pay any more. My budget is tight.”

“Yeah, OK. I understand.”

“What happened with Social Security Disability?” I asked.

“I didn’t apply.”

“Have you looked for a job?”

“No,” she said.

Waiting for the car engine to warm up, I mulled over thoughts about Pat. She had more benefits and gifts heaped upon her than most homeless people. Why hadn’t she at least sought employment? Not even part-time? I made connections withDenver’s homeless providers. Social workers would help because of me. In spite of her fall from grace, Wendy Bergen still had enough clout to keep Pat at Step 13 for a while. Honestly, though, Pat seemed content in a cardboard heap on Larimer Street than in a heated apartment. Were we shoving our values down her throat?

As winter stopped choking Denver and sunshine fell on our shoulders, Pat called me with a decision. “I’m moving out,” she said. “Down to the Platte River with Bill. He built us a shack.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” she said. “I’ll need my stuff back.” I stored several of her bags in my storage locker. Every tenant in our apartment complex had a storage unit and I offered Pat free space.

“When can we meet?”
“Thursday afternoon,” I said.  “What about the animals?”

“They’re coming with me.”

In all my years of volunteer work and paid social service work, I’d always helped people get off the street. This would be the first time I ever moved a formerly homeless person back onto the street. I felt totally off balance.

I drove down an isolated alley near the Platte River, across abandoned railroad tracks and there Pat waited for me. We hauled her suitcases down a rutted embankment to her shack among about a dozen others. It even had a cracked beat up phone attached to the wall. Poncho and Baby Bear were chained outside next to a make-shift dog house. Grubby blankets and food bowls were available. Tasha the cat rested on a pillow in the shack. Bill wasn’t around and I didn’t care.

I hugged Pat. “I guess this is it.” I slipped a twenty dollar bill into her hand. “Call me if an emergency comes up.” I hoped it wouldn’t.

“Thanks for all your help.”

“Be safe. Life can be tough out here.” I patted both dogs, blew a kiss towards the cat and left. I fretted about leaving my car too long in such a marginal area. Vandals might find an old Subaru appealing. Nothing was amiss however. I pulled away and never saw Pat again.

Several years later, I called Phyllis. The homeless area that skirted the Platte River had grown since we talked but the city bulldozed it. The motley collection of shacks and tents would’ve been visible from the new Colorado Rockies baseball stadium. Again Pat became the media darling and the city found her new lodging. Phyllis lost track of Pat and the next time I called her phone number was disconnected. I always hoped that Pat regained her confidence to become self sufficient but it seems I’ll never know. I could’ve ignored Pat and the dogs that autumn day in 1991 but the experience gave me insight into the complicated lives of homeless human beings. I’m glad I cared enough to get involved.

I became disabled on 1/6/94 from a pedestrian car accident. The loss of income plunged me into poverty. Maybe one day I’ll be that lady on the streets with my two dogs. I hope someone will care enough to help me.

Another cat on 40th place story

“Meow,” Jerry the three month old kitten said as a female worker scrambled into the cattery. “Meow.”

“Hi Jerry,” Rachel said, stroking the cream colored kitten’s head. “Can’t play now. Maybe later. Lots of work to do.”

“Meow,” Jerry said, watching Rachel scoop poop from litter boxes. “Meow.”

“Don’t be so sad,” Harriet the cat said, as she jumped off the windowsill and landed next to Jerry. “Employees are busy in the morning. They clean up after us cats so it looks spiffy for visitors. We want people to give us good homes.”

“I miss my mom,” Jerry said, with droopy eyes.

“Where is she?”

“We got separated in the alleys. A nice man brought me here but he left mom. I guess he forgot her.”

“I’m sorry little one,” Harriet said, cuddling up against Jerry. “Be a big boy. Stick with the great Harriet. I’ll protect you. At least you won’t go hungry. There’s always a big bowl of kibble for us cats.”

“I don’t like living among so many cats,” Jerry said. “Some of them are so bossy.”

“What, you don’t like your own kind? You’d rather live with those yapping dogs on the other side? Listen, I hear the big mouths now.”

“There was a stray dog in our alley,” Jerry said. “He didn’t bother us. I felt sorry because of his bum leg. And he was always so hungry. Mom stalked mice and birds so we could eat. That boney dog didn’t know what to do.”

“A lot of us older cats resent you kits because youngsters get adopted quicker. We old timers linger. So don’t take a grudge personally. Come, I’ll introduce you to my friends.”

“In a minute,” Jerry said. “Looks like Rachel is almost done. She always hands out fishy snacks before she leaves. She says cats are special.”

“Smart woman that Rachel,” Harriet said. “Of course cats are special. That’s why I’m the great Harriet.”

Rachel petted Jerry while he gobbled down his treats. The kitten brushed up against her hands and then plopped himself on her lap making it impossible for her to leave. Jerry basked in the affection.

Opening time was minutes away. Litter boxes still had to be cleaned and dirty towels run through the machine. So Jerry wandered around until he found Harriet sacked out on a pillow, sound asleep. Waking her might annoy the great cat so Jerry snuggled next to Harriet and dozed off. Then Harriet rolled over. As she stretched, her paw smacked Jerry’s head. “Jerry, what’re you doing here?”

“You said to stick by you,” Jerry said.

“I didn’t mean it literally. Now that you’re here let’s get something to eat. The great Harriet is famished.”

The two cats ambled to one of the many food bowls scattered throughout the cattery. Along the way Harriet introduced Jerry to the other cats and gloated on her long list of accomplishments.

“Must we listen to the same saga every time a new cat comes in?” Goldie the cat asked.

“Go suck on a mouse Goldie,” Harriet said.

“You’ve been here a while,” Jerry said. “Why doesn’t anyone want you?”

“Their loss, my boy,” Harriet said. “As I’m sure you noticed, I’m dignified, smart and refined. The other cats look up to me. That’s why I’m the great Harriet.”

“I hope to be an important cat like you.”

“Of course you do. You’ll go far in life.”

The pair found an unattended food bowl and started to eat. “You know why I’m here,” Jerry said. “What happened to you?”

“It’s a long story,” Harriet said.

“We’ve got plenty of time. It’s a shelter, not like we can go anywhere.”

“The great Harriet needs food to keep up her strength. Then I’ll tell you. Be prepared for a fascinating story.”

Harriet didn’t want to upset the youngster with her sad story about her owner’s tragic death and her subsequent abandonment so she whipped up a substitute tale.

“The great Harriet was a bad cat,” she said. “I’m nosy by nature as many cats are. So when I saw an open window, rare in my house, I slipped out to wander the neighborhood. I didn’t plan to stay out long and worry my poor Candice. She’d have been beside herself to see I was gone. I just wanted to see if any other cats were around. Sometimes I felt like a little feline company. I was an only cat.”

As Harriet sniffed for signs of cats, she ran into a big fat hairy dog named Dizzy. At first the great Harriet was scared although she’d never admit fear, especially to a dog. But she stood her ground and faced the beast.

“What happened?” Jerry asked licking his whiskers.

“I held out my sharpened claws, ready to defend myself, but the doofus was lost. The pool cleaner left the back gate open and Dizzy decides to go for a walk,” Harriet said. “He asked my help getting home. I felt sorry for the sobbing heap of bones so I said yes.”

“So you found his home?”

“Be patient, I’m getting to that,” Harriet said. “I told him I’d always been an indoor cat and wasn’t familiar with the area. He starts heaving so I say stop that for crying out loud. I hate it when big dogs cry.”

Harriet and Dizzy strolled the neighborhood until something tickled the dog’s memory. He said his owner took him for daily walks. Harriet thought he’d be home in no time. And so would she.

“Did it work?” Jerry asked.

“After tramping up and down block after block, my paws were nearly scratched raw. Dizzy finally sees his house and says that’s where I live,” Harriet said. “He tries to kiss me but I don’t want dog slobber on me. I tell him to go home, I’ll be fine.”

Irked that the dog didn’t say thanks Harriet assumed he was so excited that he forgot. She decided to forgive him. Darkness fell over the Fountain Hills neighborhood where she lived. Out much longer than expected, Harriet headed home. Scampering over a fence, she climbed up a tree and jumped onto a roof. She darted across a yard, through a field and stopped when she got to busy street. Nothing looked or smelled familiar.

“Sounds like you were lost,” Jerry said.

“All because of that poop-faced dog. Yes I was lost.”

“Harriet, you were being nice,” Jerry said.

“If my Candice had remembered to put on my new collar and ID tag, I might be home. Instead, I ended up here.”

“I’m glad I found you,” Jerry said. “I’m scared and need a friend.”

“Don’t get too mushy. I’m not that kind of cat.”

“I won’t tell anyone but you’re special even if you have a reputation to uphold.”

The end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I learned the truth at the animal shelter

I learned the truth at the animal shelter. None of us cats are show queens, although a few gorgeous felines with perfect bodies are among us. I guess bad luck happens to us all.

Years in the alleys ravaged my face. I’m not much to look at although as a kitten I was a knockout with a body to die for. Times got tough so my owners showed me the door. At first, I was confused. I missed my litter-box, scratching post and comfy bed. My body weakened without fishie flavored meals. Cars and trucks whizzed by the streets so sleep was impossible. I was also scared I’d get hit. Miscreants threw stones sometimes so I was always on the run. I hid under parked cars, under people’s porches or wherever I thought was safe.

Then I found a community of cats scraping by in the alleys. I hung out with the gang because there’s safety in numbers. Food was scarce so we cats clawed at each other over every scrap and morsel. Hunger gnawing in our bellies turned us into beasts. We created so much of a ruckus that one day neighbors rallied and brought us to the shelter.

I watch people pass by my cage. No one ever takes me out. I invent wonderful homes inside my head, places with big windows where I watch birds and rest on cozy pillows. I picture a place where I’m in charge and a missus or mister dotes over me. Someone rubs my belly every day. When my dreams are punctured by the cold reality of shelter life, I wonder what will happen to me and my friends. We’re nice cats. We once had names. We were somebody’s pets.

I learned another truth at the shelter. Rescue groups work to save us. Volunteers surprise us with treats. To them, it doesn’t matter if we’re ugly duckling cats. It doesn’t matter where we came from; only where we’re going.

Adopt a homeless cat today. Learn the truth that they’re beautiful loving creatures in need of homes.