Saturday, February 17, 2007
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Friday, February 02, 2007
Rocca and Boy are two dogs that I have come to care about very much, and lately, I have begun to suspect that the feeling is mutual.
Rocca, Boy and I first met in Spring of 2006 when I was working near the abandoned Charity Hospital in New Orleans, filling a feeding station for some cats that were formerly cared for by a nurse who, along with most of the city, no longer lived here. The hospital and its’ feeding station, is smack in the middle of ARNO section 20, or the Tulane/Gravier portion of Mid-City New Orleans, a section I often post about and always with a sense of loneliness......this section was and is abandoned. The section, which lies between Tulane Avenue and the Interstate is described with Pre-Katrina data below:
"Tulane/Gravier is a predominately low-income area with majority of residents as renters of housing units (Census 2000). It's a mixed neighborhood of residential and commercial zoning that includes manufacturing plants and other industrial complexes, many defunct, others still thriving"
My own take on this section of the city, is that it was not a thriving hub of New Orleans prior to Katrina.......the section was home to the long-defunct, but still standing Jax Brewery, Dixie Brewery and several hotel/motels that rent space by the hour. The houses were homes to families who barely made ends meet, many of them part of the welfare system. Knowing this, it is no surprise to me that the area to this day remains a ghost town........how many of these residents got out, how many could get out, how many have no means to come back and worse, nothing to come back to?
It was on another lonely morning in ARNO section 20 last Spring, that I came across Rocca and Boy, both standing near the edge of S. Dorgenois near Tulane, both chewing on the same moldy, empty bag which at some point contained cat or dog food.....the bag was too weathered for me to know which. As I pulled up along side of them, the tiny fluff-ball of a pup tucked tail and immediately headed for the nearest house to hide under, but not so quickly that I missed the unmistakable rib cage that was clearly and prominently protruding on this poor pup.....there was no doubt in my mind, he was hungry. The mama, and it was clear she was his mama and still nursing a pup which should have long been weaned, she stood her ground and made it clear that I should not come any closer. At the time, this dog was very intimidating and seemed enormous to me and so I heeded her warning; nevertheless, I put down a huge pile of dry dog food and plenty of cans right there in the street since a proper station seemed out of the question. As I slowly drove away, I watched as they both wolfed down the food, but not before I noticed how happy the little pup seemed.....he must have jumped up and licked her face ten times before he settled down in the middle of the food pile. I noticed something else too...she had a collar, a silver chain choker type collar - I’m sure I missed it when facing her directly because I was too occupied with the sight of her teeth. I made a slow turn and drove back and then again until I was certain that the collar, unfortunately, had no tags to match.
Later that afternoon, I went back to look for the mama and her baby and was heartbroken when I found no sign of them. Not knowing what else to do, I went back to the spot where I had put down food, all gone by now, and set up a feeding station under the closest, but abandoned house. Over the next few days, I was disheartened to find that not one drop of food had been touched. As more of a cat "specialist" I didn’t know what to think.......don’t dogs have a home-base too, a zone which is all theirs and which they don’t wander too far from?? Over time, I have learned that particularly with pack dogs, this is not always, and not usually the case......they roam and when the area is so desolate and so void of humans, they own the areas they roam. In other words, they go where they please and when they please and they are nearly impossible to track......in a ghost town, anyway.
Although my attempt to track and catch this pair was unsuccessful, I still got to know these dogs. It was nearly a month after our first meeting that we met again, this time, in the Charity Hospital parking lot right next to the feeding station I tended to. I couldn’t help noticing that this morning, the pup looked much more filled out.....he frolicked all around his mama and I watched from the far side of the lot so as not to scare him and he no longer had protruding ribs, he actually looked healthy...and happy. I wanted to stay the entire day but too many stations and too many animals eventually forced me to move in and sure enough, the pup bolted to the other side of the lot and hid, but this time, the mama stayed but it was obvious that it was just to see what I had. When I laid the dog food down on the ground for her, she approached it after only one retreating step on my part......she was not interested in making friends with me, but she was not unsure of me either, she knew it was okay to eat what I offered. The pup, he waited until I drove to the other side of the lot before he trotted over for his meal.
Over the next few months, I would occasionally run into the mom and pup, always together, and always when they were not on my mind....they just seemed to be there on those days. As time passed, the pup grew until his size surpassed that of his mother’s and while she has the characteristics of a Rottweiler, he has the markings of a Great Dane....he is massive, he is, spectacular.........he doesn't like to have his photo taken. I was always happy to see the bonded pair and always surprised, that is until I began to finally understand what was really going on......I had not been tracking them, they had been tracking me.
About two months ago, I ran into the pair again, but this time it was in ARNO section 13...right across Tulane Avenue from ARNO section 20. I watched one evening as the two came running across an empty lot, a lot which used to sit under a restaurant, just one more place destroyed in Katrina. I watched in interest this night because I wondered, did they know the chow that I fed daily near this lot? The chow that was impossible to trap, but predictable and always waiting for dinner? Within minutes I got my answer......the mom and her son met the chow and her friend halfway across the lot. All butts were sniffed, all greetings exchanged ( I swear I saw a high-five in there!) and Friday night socializing began. It was amazing to watch and what amazed me more was that they knew I was there and none took any issue with that fact. Finally, a glimpse into the world of pack dogs, and finally, a realization that an actual relationship did and had existed between myself and the mom and pup, whether or not I knew it, what mattered was that they knew it. Things began to fall into place after this turning point......it is not uncommon for me to pull up in any area of Mid-City New Orleans, whether in Tulane/Gravier or Treme, right across the highway, and be greeted by mom, Rocca as I have named her, and her son, Boy. They like to run out and bark at the occasional passing vehicle, but when they recognize mine, Rocca actually greets me..... Boy sulks and retreats, but not entirely as he used to. Whereas Rocca actually wags her uncropped tail when our paths cross, Boy still exhibits fear and this is likely because he was born on the streets......Rocca has that collar, so she was at some point in time, involved with humans. Neither will let me get near enough to touch....yet, but I have time, that is the one thing I am sure I can give them.
Over the past few months, it has become crystal clear to me that Rocca and Boy have survived not by hit and miss, but rather because they tracked me and ultimately my feeding stations. The two watched from afar and learned my patterns, my behavior, my destinations and then they adapted and subsequently, survived. I am certain that this is the case because every single time we meet now, it is at a location where I have a feeding station, a location that offers them cover.........now I know that they were always there, always around, only now, they allow me to know it. Some nights I am startled by them as they leap off of a moldy bed in a darkened house they call home for the night, to bark greetings at me as I run from my truck through the yard up to the porch to fill yet another station or trap yet another cat. I have to admit, the first bark always takes me by surprise, but after I jump-start my heart, it’s actually nice knowing they are there with me.......these streets are eery one minute after sundown and it feels as if they are watching over me.
Although I always love to see them both, and I feel safer with them patrolling these two sections that I work, often way too late for my own good, I want to give them a happy ending. I know that Rocca had a family and as hard as I have tried, I keep coming up with nothing....no leads, no family and no home. I want all of this for both of them.......Rocca, I believe, would not require that much work, she wags that tail and there is true excitement in her eyes every time we meet.......Boy, I know, will require time and patience.......that is, if I can ever manage to catch them. After all, they do own ARNO sections 13 and 20.....and apparently, they own me too.
Animal Rescue New Orleans has been the lifeline that Rocca and Boy have relied upon.....even as the dry dog food supply runs alarmingly low, Rocca and Boy do okay because they eat the cat food I put down instead.......we all improvise and make do with what we have, two-leggeds and four-leggeds alike.
Please make a donation today to Animal Rescue New Orleans at www.animalrescueneworleans.org ARNO relies upon people like you, people who want Rocca and Boy, and every other one who are still counting on us to make this barable until we can give each one of them their happy ending.