By Rosalie Tirella
There he was, looking like something straight out of a Charlie Chaplin movie: a black and white pit bull tied to a bus stop in Green Island’s Millbury Street. Medium built, almost slight, bow legged and wearing a torn, thin, orange sweat shirt that had obviously been worn by a guy when it was in much better shape. There stood the pitbull on this cold autumn day, tied to a bus stop, no room to turn around, lie down etc cuz there was only two feet of leash between him and the bus stop sign. If he had to piss it would have to be on himself. His two front paws were in the front sleeves of the old sweatshirt. The sleeves had been cut, tailored to fit the dog.
The little pit was oblivious to the cars, the people, the city life roiling before him. And believe me when I say Canal District or no Canal District Millbury Street still roils. It did when my mom worked there for 30 years and my sisters and I hung out at the diners and shops there after school, waiting for her to end her day at the dry cleaners, and it roils today as the drug deals go down, the boa constrictor s (really! ) are found blue from cold in the gutter and men and women on the edge try to get through another day.
The pitbull at the bus stop, like all pitbulls, radiated his loyalty, tenacity, stoicism. But he looked funny in a sad way as he waited at the bus stop in that oversized shabby sweatshirt – staring at the neighborhood restaurant/ bar 20 yards away. It was 3 p.m. He had been standing like that since 10 a.m
An old woman from the seniors housing project across the street flung open her sixth floor window and stuck herself half out. I’M CALLING THE POLICE, she screamed, very melodramatic now that she had an audience, me and my gal pal, on the sidewalk below. I’M CALLING THE POLICE. THAT POOR DOG HAS BEEN LIKE THAT SINCE MORNING.
My friend, who lives on Millbury Street, jumped in, just as loudly: It’s like this every day! That poor dog stands like that right there every day!!!
What? I said, still trying to get my bearings because things happen so fast in the inner city. I had just popped over to give my friend a cookbook!
Clearly, we would not be talking carrot cake today.
We would be talking, in the middle of Millbury Street, animal abuse. Neglect. Pain. The usual fucking depressing shit that so often, too often, is the stuff impoverished neighborhoods are made of.
This has been happening all week, my pal said.
He can’t even lie down, I said. The lead is too short.
My pal ran into her building to call the cops.
But as soon as she disappeared and I got back into my car, I noticed a woman, in her late 30s, a tanned, weather beaten woman, yet very beautiful, with long black hair and carrying two plastic bags filled with what I think was clothing, go to the pitbull and untie him and lead him off. She, like the pitbull, was wearing old clothes. She, like the pitbull, felt “street.”
The dog walked by her side, nervously but obediently. Sitting quietly in my car, I could see, because they were only two feet away, that the dog was quit thin under his sweatshirt. His paws scarred. He walked with a slight limp even though he was young.
My heart broke for the both of them. I thought maybe the dog’s sweatshirt had once been yhe woman’s who had such a beauty despite the brown, leathery skin. A homeless street woman, I thought to myself. And I thought I saw her being dropped off on Millbury Street, saw her get out of a car.
My brain began spinning the back story: a street woman being dropped off by a john going to fetch her dog, her one true friend. A former junky just comming back from Merrick Street where she got her dose of methadone at Piedmont’ s methadone clinic. An abused woman being dropped off home after working the day shift at Dunkins. The money she makes she saves for a new apartment, away from her lover who beats the shit out of her. Right now she is couch surfing in Green Island.
I drove off when the woman and pitbull walked by me, and a few seconds later I called my pal who was now in her apartment.
DON’T CALL THE POLICE, I said. I THINK THE DOG BELONGS TO THAT WOMAN. MAYBE SHE’S GOT NO PLACE TO KEEP HIM WHEN SHE’S DOING WHAT SHE’S DOING.
THAT DOG COULD BE THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS TO HER!
My pal squelched my sappy narrative with: NO WAY, ROSE. Then she told me the pitbull belongs to the guy who works in the Millbury Street restaurant/ bar. That the guy just got out of jail. That last year he had another pitbull that was “vicious” and had to be put down by Animal Control. She said he treated his pits like shit.
My gal pal is great but sometimes her inner city stories
reflect her fears, her demons, her needs…
What was THE TRUTH? How best to help a malnourished pitbull tethered to an innercity bus stop? A sad, dirty, possibly sick pit wearing a tattered orange sweatshirt. A dog left to stand, STAND, for four hours in the cold, hence the sweat shirt. Or was it to cover up wounds/scars? Looking comical with its white paws, delicate paws, jutting through the sleeves of that orange sweatshirt, the body of which hung low, almost touching the pavement, as the pitbull and the woman walked down Millbury Street. Like a clown.
Pitbulls are genetically tailored to be aggressive with dogs. You have to really work with them to make them ok with other canines. And sometimes it never happens. But they are great with people. Fantastic with their families. I read somewhere they were bred to be so tractable with folks cuz when they were in the middle of a bloody fight in the fighting pit and an owner wanted to extricate his dog from the bloodbath, he needed a dog who would allow him to pick him up, grab him, pull him out of the fight. The American pitbull type dog of the early twentieth century was smaller also, making it easier for owners to pull them out of the fight pit. This dog on Millbury. Street seemed a throwback to that era. Loyal, stoic, obedient, focused on his masters.
So. Today I will try to write a happy ending to this story. I will meet with some friends and try to come up with a few bags of basic dog food. Big bags of Purina. I will take the cozy, pretty green plaid sweater I bought Jett, my husky mix, and put it in a gift bag, along with one of Jett’s leashes and collars. Maybe I’ll put in two or three collars. Jett has about 13 collars , a real woof wardrobe. He wears his collars with his usual high spirited state of mind, but he hates sweaters and cries like a two year old human baby when I put them on him. They may as well go to his distant cousin, the Millbury Street pitbull. I will probably throw in a blanket, too.
Then I’ll go to Green Island with my doggie goodies and butt my nose in where it has no business being.
Cuz that’s what we Green Island Grrrls do.