The Christmas Pitbull. A True Story.
It was the week before Christmas and very cold. It was already dark. The radio said the wind chill was 15 below, but luckily the heat was blasting in my car. , I was on my way home from Newark, driving down the obstacle course on Bloomfield Avenue of double parked cars, slow buses and jay-walking pedestrian traffic. With luck, I'd be home in ten minutes. I was making all the traffic lights when my luck changed and the light turned red.
Under The Payphone Stuck at the light, I glanced over my right shoulder and saw a brown dog sitting underneath the payphone in front of a bodega. It had no leash or collar, but seemed very patient, as if it were waiting for someone to come out of the store.
Maybe it was a dog owned by one of the old men who sat in aluminum lawn chairs in front of the bodega (granted, in nicer weather). Those old men would sit out on the concrete, drinking coffee or playing cards - with their dogs at their feet. When I saw them, I would always think to myself that those dogs were remarkably well-trained. They sat at the feet of their masters with no leashes or collars, waiting for the next command.
The light changed to green - but I was going nowhere.........
Xmas Gridlock In Newark Horns blared, traffic was snarled, and there was a large flatbed truck in the intersection. Gridlock. Christmas carols played on the radio. The light changed again - to red. @#$%)*!#!!
I looked back over at the dog. Remarkably, it was still there - sitting under the light of the payphone. Wow - that's one really well-trained dog. We had a dog, Cleo, a rescued Greyhound. Sweet, tall, elegant and reasonable well trained - but no way would she do a Sit/Stay as long as this dog. The light had changed to green -AGAIN - but still traffic didn't move. I kept looking at the dog - something didn't seem quite right.
Ain't My Dog, Lady Now the dog seems unsure - looking up and down the street. Where was the owner, I wondered? It was way too cold for this dog to sit outside on the concrete for this long. I decided to act and pulled into Meineke parking lot next to the bodega. A mechanic walked over. Is that your dog, I asked? No, ain't my dog, lady, he says. Now - the dog sees me approach and starts running back down Bloomfield Avenue toward downtown Newark. I follow - and strangely, as I pass the entrance of the bodega, I realize it's closed - no one is inside after all.
Damn - I can't leave this dog out here in this cold - with no owner in sight. I decide the least I can do is take it to the shelter. Jumping back into the car, I push my way out into traffic -trying to follow this dog. After about three blocks it has disappeared. Oh well - I tried.
Making Kissy Noises Back on track, I pull an illegal Ubie and point the car toward home. Magically, the dog appears again - now between two parked cars. I pull over and jump out, calling to the dog - it backs away from me - frightened. People stare at me. A woman pulls her child into a store, calling to me - It's a Pitbull! I'm focused on the dog and tune her out.
Something is wrong. I can see that "it" is a she, and "she" is a new, nursing mother, very heavy with milk. No puppies are in sight. Her nose is bloody and her red brown coat has bald patches. Her tail is bald except for a few stripes of hair. She has a dried, crusty black substance stuck to her legs and thighs. It turns out to be tar - caked with dirt.
To The Shelter We Will Go Ok, baby, let's get in the car and go to the shelter. I opened the side rear door, and the brown dog tried to make it up onto the seat. She turned her head and looked up at me, both paws on the rear seat. Her eyes say, Can you help me up? I reached under her rear and gave her a boost into the car, ran around to the driver's door and jumped in. She stinks to high heaven of I-don't-know-what. I hope she's not going to bite me.
What's A Pitbull? Cell phone - where's my freaking cell phone. Pitbull - what is a Pitbull? Dialed 411 for the shelter in my town (not sticking around in Newark) - got the voice mail. Closed at 5 PM. Next I called the shelter's emergency number - the recording says they only take emergencies until 5:30 PM. Are they freaking kidding me???? Next, I call my vet - please be open....... Thankfully they answer the phone. Hey - I've got a strange, bleeding, nursing dog in my car, I say, and the shelter is closed. Bring the dog right in, says the receptionist- they're open for another 15 minutes.
At Essex Animal Hospital, we're the last ones in the waiting room. The vet techs take pity on this dog and bring her a bowl of food. She sucks it down like she hasn't eaten in a week. Every rib is showing. They bring another bowl of food and that one is gone in a flash, too.
Finally, the door to the examining room opens. Dr. Ann says, Who have we here? I don't know, I say -just found her on the street down in Newark. And how's Cleo? she asks. Cleo is fine I say. (I picked Ann and her hubby as vets since they own Greyhounds, too.)
Dr. Ann examines this brown dog, and starts to clean the wounds on her nose. It looks like someone had hit her in the face with a belt. The dog turns and plants a big wet kiss on Dr. Ann's face. The tail wags furiously. Where are the puppies, she asks? No pups with her, I answer. You know, she's a Pitbull, says Ann. A what? A Pitbull, says the vet. A Pitbull? What a sweetie, Says Dr. Ann. They probably just wanted the puppies............
What are you going to do with her, she asks? Well, I guess I'll take her home for the night, set her up in the basement (away from my Greyhound and two cats), and then take her to the shelter in the morning. OK - she says - but just know the shelter in Newark has an automatic euthanasia policy for all Pitbulls............
An Overnight Lodger On the way home, I dial up the hubby (he hates surprises) to tell him of our overnight guest. Honey, I say, I found a dog on the street..............Yea - I'm bringing it home tonite - Where? - Oh - in the basement..... What kind of dog???........... Dr. Ann said it's a Pitbull..............No - she doesn't look like she'll...it's OK - she just had puppies.....No - no puppies with her..........No - just till the morning - the shelter is closed.........Honey - you're breaking up - gotta go - bad cell reception................
True Lies Christmas was now just a few days away. Each morning I promised my husband I would take the dog to the shelter. Be reasonable, we already have two cats and a dog. Each evening I had an excuse for why it didn't happen. Our daughter came home from college and promptly demanded we keep the dog, taking the "pitbull" up to her room. The battle lines were drawn. The tension mounted.
Neighbors threw Christmas parties - anyone want a dog? Very cute, sweet. What kind? Oh- it's a Pitbull. I'd just let that casually slip out. Found her. Yep - healthy - just had a checkup. I'll even pay to have her spayed. They stared at me. Incredulous. And excused themselves to the powder room or to freshen their drink. And that's how it all started.
Ghetto-ing Up The Hood There are consequences for your actions in this life. It didn't take long for us to reap them - trust me. Our home had been the center of the social scene, where neighbors would gather for The Holidays, Fourth of July barbeques, or just to have a good time.
I walked "The Girls", our Greyhound, Cleo and our "foster", Zsa Zsa, some neighbors would glare. Some would avoid us. And some, like the smarmy doctor across the street, formerly of the CDC, who works for the New York City Dept. of Heath's Emergency Response Management team (I hope that's not too identifying:-)), would confront us. Accuse us of endangering children..... "Don't you know that we have ten children on this block??" Huddled around newcomers to the block, the conversation stops as we pass by. Barely a polite wave. And little by little, most have stopped talking to us altogether.
In a town that prides itself on art and music and sculpture, where new money meets old, where the power brokers of Wall Street hang with with the power brokers of street culture - where social causes drive politics and business, where racial and cultural diversity are not just talked about, they are the model for the nation........
But somehow, we are no longer worthy of our neighbor's goodwill. Somehow are no longer worthy of Upper Montclair - or at least our block in Upper Montclair. All because of a little brown dog. And if our neighbors don't talk to us because they don't like our breed of dog......... well let's just say that small minds think alike. (And if we ever decide sell our home (two blocks from the mid-town direct train) - let's just say it will be to someone with dogs, preferably Pitbulls, Rottweilers or Dobermans:-)) . I see it as maintaining diversity on the block).
Angels On Bloomfield Avenue Looking back on how I found The Princess Zsa Zsa, I wonder what guided me to that intersection in Newark at precisely that time, on precicely that day? Was it just a random occurence - was it luck? Or was it divine intervention - an unseen yet powerful force guiding the events?
Why did I get stuck at that traffic light? More specifically - why did I get stuck through THREE changes of that traffic light. Why did I think she was waiting for someone at the bodega? Why didn't I see it was closed? Oh - and by the way - that pay phone doesn't have a light.
Did she have Angel On Her Shoulder? Or did I have one on mine? We are blessed either way.
The best Christmas presents don't come from Louis Vuitton or Tiffany, or Chanel. They're are not found on any shelf in any store, but in the heart.
Christmas is a time to remember the most important gift is the gift of love. And love comes in all shapes and sizes...... and all breeds.
And sometimes the best Christmas gifts are found in unexpected places - like under pay phones in Newark, NJ.
Our Christmas Pitbull. Divine, isn't she.