January 16, 2005

Seward Park


I want to talk about the most ruling dog. This blog has been great for getting down things from my life, and this dog deserves an ode.

When I lived in New York I stayed in the same apartment for most of the ten years. It was a great apartment that looked over a park in lower Manhattan. Rare for such a shitty little apartment to have a park view. Every once in a while I’d see this stray dog in the park. Once I saw her catch a rat in the ivy. "That dog crazy," said a local Chinese girl.

The black dog was a fixture in the neighborhood. Squat, muscular, she looked more like a muskrat. I didn’t see her for several years and I thought she had finally died or had been taken away. I didn’t know how she could have lived through so many New York winters. One winter, I started seeing a lot more of her out my window--walking around, barking at nothing, people petting her, buying her a can of dog food. The next time I saw her was in the dead of winter--she was lying in the park, her leg was broken and bleeding and she was shivering in the snow. I gave her some turkey which she ate quickly. I went back to my apartment and started crying. Something about a wounded animal can be more affecting to me than wounded people.

I was thinking of taking her in, but then she disappeared again. I figured she had died for real and I felt terrible that I hadn’t taken her in immediately. I was worried about the responsibility, the expense, if the dog could be diseased. A couple of days later I saw her in the park again with a bright red cast on her leg, as if she had been resurrected. A woman had taken her to the vet. She couldn’t take the dog permanently and so I offered to take her. When I brought her back to my apartment, she screamed and howled and clawed at the window, trying to get back to the street that had almost killed her.

Vets suck miserably. I took the dog to a vet who said, smiling, "Let’s bring in Dr.____, she’ll get a kick out of this." Could you imagine a doctor saying this about a wounded child? He then told me I should put her to sleep. She had a massive hematoma on her stomach which could burst at any moment, killing her. I decided to pay for surgery. When I picked her up after surgery, she screeched and howled in fear. "Is she OK?" someone asked in the elevator. "She’s a stray," I answered, overwhelmed. She was shaved on her stomach where they had performed the operation, and her neck where they needed to monitor her heart. She looked bad and she was in pain from the operation.


Pretty valiant of me, I like to admit. Carrying the dog up and down the stairs, giving her medication and vitamins. Taking her to her favorite place, Seward Park. I named her Sew (a dog named Sue) short for her home. Soon, people would be stopping on the street. Everyone knew her--she was a local celebrity. She had many names: homeless people called her Bell after the church bell at the church parking lot where she sometimes lived--the reason that I had been seeing more of her was that she had been displaced from her parking-lot home because they’d started erecting a luxury apartment building in the lot. Many people called her Blackie. Chinese restaurant owners called her Lily. Others called her Lady.

I befriended some homeless people--a guy named Smiley, who had around four teeth and sold crap on the sidewalk. He said he owned her for four years. A lot of former drug addicts hung out in the park--a guy named Ito, like the O.J. judge, who told me Sew would chase away the rats when they slept in the park. A church worker told me that Sew would walk the nuns from the parking lot to the church doors, and back again, every day. A retired cop named Louie said he would always bring the leftovers of holiday meals to the parking lot. A Puerto Rican man told me about taking her in and giving her a bath every once in a while--he took care of her when I went on vacation. An old gay jogger brought her beef hearts once a week which Sew would throw up soon after, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him because it made him so happy. One woman told me she thought Sew had been a Buddha in a former life. They were all happy I’d finally given Sew a home.

She was a very special dog. She had an incredible warmth and serenity and she had lived a harder life than most people have ever known. She was probably around 17 when I took her in. I can’t imagine the things she had been through. She’s the only dog I’ve known who actually purred when you pet her. She had the greatest smile, and crazy gray hair all over her face, coming out of her ears, on her stomach, everywhere--she looked wise.

My girlfriend and I eventually moved south to Wilmington, NC and Sew was able to have a real retirement. Good weather, a porch, a backyard, and we took her to the local park which was a heaven compared to Seward Park. She had a good, warm last three years. My girlfriend got pregnant soon after we moved to Wilmington. We got married three months after our daughter was born, and that same weekend Sew began to die. Her legs gave out and she refused to eat. It was like she was waiting for me to find some stability of my own, and then she was done. We had her put to sleep, crying mightily. We went to her favorite park and had a ceremonial funeral, releasing the fur from her brush. A flock of geese flew by, squawking, and that felt very meaningful.

I always had said that taking care of Sew was good practice if I ever had a child--joking, of course, because I never thought it would happen. "You’re going to be blessed," many, many people told me when I walked her around Seward Park. Yeah, yeah, I thought. After my daughter was born--beautiful, smart, and healthy--I thought about all those well wishes in NY.

A very long entry, but Sew deserves it.



Anonymous said...

"nothing gold ever lasts."


darling maggot said...

oh fuck off you made me cry.

tequilita said...

what a great story. "a dog named sue," i like that.

Henry Baum said...

Fuck you too, DM, I laughed. Kimberly, my wife's thought about writing a children's book about Sew, called "A Dog Named Sue," or "Fairy Dogmother." She's got a couple of pictures done and one of them is hanging on the wall in our daughter's room.

tequilita said...

that's a great idea! she's illustrating it herself? it'd be cool if you posted the pictures. i'm really nosey and would love to see them.

Henry Baum said...

Thanks, Kimberly, I’ll work on that. I'd like to thank my wife for putting these pictures of Sew together. They were actually old, hardcopy pictures which she took pictures of with a digital camera and cropped down to size.

Spiral Stairs said...

That's a great post, Henry. You know I'm a sucker for dog stories.

It makes me miss New York, too. (I used to live not terribly far from there -- 9th St. and 4th Ave.)

Henry Baum said...

Right in the heart of it. You must have lived at the Strand. I bet we were at the same bar once or twice...This made me think about NY too. There's no way I would have met so many different people in an impersonal city like Los Angeles.

Joseph K said...

That dog had a lot of soul. As did the story about her. Really dug it.

Also dug the anti-LA comment; still steaming about my trip there last week.

Henry Baum said...

Thanks, everybody. I got weepy writing this post.

Anonymous said...

add me to the sucker list for dog stories.

that was really sweet.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a beautiful story that made me cry.

Smartie Pants said...

That was really wonderful. I lived in Boston for years and met a black chihuahua named Henry- ownered by a homeless man living in the gay neighborhood... I went home to my apartment and looked thru the paper- I wanted a black chihuahua to love. I found a breeder way our in west MA- drove out there and adopted a 1 lb. baby boy whom I named "Isaiah Elvis Washington Willis"- that was his pedigree name, and we called him Elvis for short. He was my 'first born'- travelled all over the world with me- stuffed in my leather coat. He lived the most wonderful 11 years of my life- side by side... and then when he completed his life, he layed down and stopped living. That was a year ago and there isn't a day go by that he doesn't cross my mind- barking, singing to a tin whistle... sleeping in my lap... eatting sardines in hot sauce. He was wonderful. And I bet he and Sew would have adored one another- and exchanged the greatest of adventure stories. :) Thanks for your blog. I am a frequent reader.

Susan said...

Thank you for posting that very moving story.

Anonymous said...

Oh my god! The parking lot dog! My grandmother used to live across the street from the parking lot (before they erected the luxury building) and never, ever let me near that dog because she thought it would bite me. If only I knew! I always wondered what happened to that dog...At least you gave her some happiness in life.

Eric said...

Thanks for taking the time to tell you and Sew's story. You made my night.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever find out who took her to the vet for the red cast? Sue looks like a beautiful dog with many stories to tell.

Put the dog to sleep? That's a personal decision that the vet is not supposed to make for you, and thanks for being a loyal and faithful guardian to her.

And yes, many vets do suck!!! --an aminal lover and shelter manager

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