The tall man looked pale and tired, and his little dog looked dazed and confused as they meandered about the perimeter of the grassy, sloping dog run in Madison Square Park.
My dog approached them and I followed her, but they moved further away, both seeming to be in their own separate worlds. He had earplugs on, listening to music, taking him even further away from where he actually was. The dog led the way, sniffing and snorting at the weeds with no particular direction. What a pair.
The fenced-in corral is where people take their pets to exercise. It’s not large, so our paths would invariably cross as we meandered.
My dog, Lacey, got nowhere with the pint-sized wanderer. The dog’s eyes were glazed. The two small canines passed like ships in the night without the customary sniffing greeting – the handshake of the doggie world.
I raised my sunglasses above my head to make eye contact with the man with tired eyes. After all, dog parks are not just for dogs. People meet people there, too. This particular morning the cool mist, and damp ground were keeping the regulars away, so it was just the four of us.
As we approached from opposite directions the man removed his earplugs and looked up: “He’s Alfie,” his tired voice whispered.
“Excuse me? Good Morning.”
“Alfie, his name is Alfie.”
“Great dog name. I like that. My dog is Lacey.”
Lacey is a fluffy white Pomapoo (Poodle mixed with a Pomeranian). That’s what the sales guy told us when we paid 100 bucks for her. She weighs about 20 pounds.
“His full name is Alfalfa but we call him Alfie. He’s a Bichon.”
Alfie was even smaller than Lacey and sort of runty.
“Oh, like Alfalfa, The Little Rascal?”
“Yes, you see he has a bump on his head and that makes his hair stick up like Alfalfa’s cowlick.”
“Ha, yes I see that – his mark of distinction.”
“He ran away once and we put up posters and got a call. They said ‘we think we found your dog.’ I asked them if he has a bump on his head and they said yes. So I said ‘That’s Alfie, I’ll come get him’.”
Alfie’s owner’s speech was very dry.
“Well, he looks like a nice pet. He walks around and doesn’t bother anybody or other dogs,” I said.
“He can’t be left alone.”
“What do you mean?”
“He goes crazy if we leave him in the house. He tears the place up. If we put him in a crate, he chews that up and all the stuffing too.”
“Why not put him in a wire mesh one or plastic, that he can’t destroy?”
“We tried but then he hurts himself. He will chew out his toenails and bite his own legs. He has extreme separation anxiety. I think the bump on his head goes into his brain. My wife and I can’t leave him. If we go out for a few hours we never know what we’ll find when we return.”
I could see now why the man looked so tired and withdrawn. This little dog was ruling his life. He told me this has been going on for nine years. I could not imagine such a life. Pets are supposed to bring you joy, not make you miserable.
“We used to have a German Shepherd but he died a few years back,” he told me. “When we left him home with our Shepherd, Alfie was okay. We could go out and he’d be fine when we got back. But Shep died, and now Alfie goes crazy again.”
I really felt bad for the guy. After nine years of being under Alfie’s tyranny, I assumed that every possible remedy must have been considered. They had consulted a number of veterinarians and dog trainers and even a dog shrink. His dilemma nagged at me, and challenged me to think of some new solutions. Then it came to me.
“Why don’t you get Alfie a cat? They are low maintenance and self-managing. You said Alfie was okay with Shep the Shepherd, so maybe any live body will do?”
For the first time, the man’s face changed from a sullen mask. His eye showed some life – and hope.
“You know, I never thought of that. That’s a great idea!”
With new energy, he reached for Alfie’s leash that he’d hung on the fence near the water guzzler.
“I think I’m going to go home now and talk to my wife. Alfie, Alfie come on, boy, let’s go – let’s go see Mommy!”
I said goodbye and good luck, feeling pleased that maybe I did something to help this one person, this one day, in this one life.
Days went by and there was no sign of Alfie and the tired man. A week passed and Lacey and I were there early the day they finally arrived. The man was not wearing earplugs, and his shirt was neatly tucked in. He looked like he’d gotten some good sleep and a little suntan maybe from a full round of golf.
He bounded right over to my sunny bench with Alfie in tow.
“Hey, how’s it going?” I said.
“Listen, I’m glad I ran into you.”
“Me too. How’ve you been?”
“We got a cat – like you suggested. Alfie is happy and we can leave him home now – we even played a full round of golf yesterday. Thanks a lot!”
“No need to thank me. It was my pleasure. I like to believe that there are no problems, only solutions. I’m just glad it worked out.”
Alfie chased Lacey and the man walked over and threw them a well worn tennis ball as both dogs chased and slobbered on with great excitement.
No big thing, perhaps, but seeing them like this sure made my day.