On a cold and wet fall day
in November, knowing it might be one of our last walks outdoors
for the year and facing a weather induced quarantine to the
indoors, we tread the well-worn path and pipe dream towards
weight loss once more. Large, multi-colored oak leaves stuck
to my shoes and the damp wind had the scent of chilly days
hanging on its edges.
I was taking Vincent for a walk,
even though most folks say cats don’t “go for
walks.” But you have to know Vincent. Cat or not, there
are no parameters too broad, for Vincent walks her own line.
She likes to stroll along the neighborhood’s busier
streets with me, looking around and making sure all is well,
with me and with the world. Vincent seems to worry that I
don’t exercise enough and is always demanding to take
me for a walk. We weave the same old course, forwards or back,
a big square around the main streets of our WestPark, Ohio
That day, at the spot where
we usually walk right on past Lucille Avenue, Vincent made
a left. She took a short burst of steps and vaulted onto the
braces of a six - foot high fence. Such a serious privacy
fence, on the corner lot. Vincent took a look and waited for
me to do the same. I knew something was wrong. I could taste
something foreboding in the air, and in Vincent’s raised
hackling back. I am tall, so seeing over the fortress wall
was not too hard. I wished that day, for the first time in
my life, to be a vertically challenged man.
The yard was a household’s
junkyard. Dirty old blankets, broken furniture, pieces from
cars and lots of dried and lumpy mud covered the area from
the back porch to the back fence. The only green came from
several large trees, used to hold up more garbage. Not a blade
of grass anywhere - just hard packed earth and dried out muddy
lanes. I didn’t see any way to get into the yard, nor
a reason to do so. But Vincent did.
Over the fence, silently leaped
the blue- black shadow, almost disappearing in the garbage
piled high. The long and so straight tail was the only antennae
to her location. Leaping on top of a propped up gas tank,
Vincent turned, looked back at me, sat back and then covered
her nose with one curving paw. I couldn’t smell it but
Vincent was giving me fair warning. There were dead things
I waited, knowing full well she would show me what needed
to be seen, and sadly, I wasn’t wrong. Laid full out
on the ground was what was left of what must once have been
a most magnificent animal. It was a huge, albeit soulless
carcass of an Irish wolfhound. The hot rock that was my heart
went from its usual resting place below my ribs to drop into
my stomach and it lurched and sank among the new acid located
there. What Vincent had found was a dead dog. Magnificent
in life, horrid in death. His long harried coat, normally
dark grey and white, looked more like matted black seaweed,
discarded in a corner - wet, clotted, stuck together by dirt
and who knows what, and crawling with bugs and flies.
Vincent went toward the dog,
stepped through the mess like an Indian scout, a wind, stepping
silently, disturbing nothing, until she reached the hound’s
side and called into his ear. That Vincent would approach
a dog was, in and of itself, not surprising. Vincent loved
dogs of all kinds and would often lay down beside a few of
her favorites to catch a well deserved nap while they kept
an eye on things. But not a dead one. That should have been
my first inkling that maybe the great hound wasn’t dead
after all. I couldn’t see any reaction to Vincent’s
approach but I moved over to the corner of the lot to get
a better look. The hound must have heard me, for suddenly
it raised its great shaggy head, looked at me looking at him,
and then flopped back down hard, not a drop of strength left.
My heart leapt in fright, from my stomach to the top of my
skull, then back down again.
The hound may not have had any
strength in its body but in a sliver of recognition within
my fright, I had seen the hurt in its great big sorrowful
black eyes. That dog had been abused, often and intentionally.
Vincent whispered once more, into the hound’s ear. The
ear twitched once and the wasted hound seemed to relax. But
its eyes did not open again. I feared it was gone, but now
that I was closer, I was able to see an occasional, oh-so-faint
and highly irregular rise in the Wolfhound’s chest.
I also saw the look of anger, hopelessness and despair in
Vincent eyes too.
I leaned against the fence and Vincent hopped back up onto the
beam, so we could consult. What to do? I knew of the Irish Wolfhound
Rescue group that would take hounds and find them a good home.
It was usually meant for owners who could no longer care for
a hound and called for help. This was far different. Calling
the APL might help, I didn’t know much about them. But
calling the cops was certainly in order. So I did. And I waited,
speaking softly to the grand dog as Vincent rubbed her furry
black face across the dogs muzzle repeatedly, encouraging with
the thought that help was on the way.
I pulled a beef jerky out of my pocket, unpeeled it and held
it out. Vincent came and got it, then brought it over to the
hound and waited. Achingly slow, the hound caught scent of it,
then raised its head and opened its mouth, accepting the gift
from my cat. The pain seemed more than the poor hound - or I,
A squad car
came by soon enough and I waved the officer over. He took one
look and made a call himself. Westpark is the last great neighborhood
in Cleveland and the Residency Rule is in force here. City government
employees must live in the city. A lot of cops lived in Westpark
and, via the radio traffic, a lot of cops heard what was going
on in their neighborhood. Soon there were all kinds of people
tripping over themselves to find a way into the yard. No way
had been built, except for from the house. Vincent and I stayed
out of the way. I was learning to watch just like my cat.
I liked these cops, my neighbors,
they didn’t mess around. When no one answered the front
door, they took it down. It only took four or five seconds for
them to all come back out, holding anything they could find
over their noses and quickly shutting the door to keep something
inside. There were more dead things in there, I feared. More
calls, more arrivals, and the cops started talking to the neighbors
Somehow, no one
knew that this abomination existed, right next door. Soon technicians
in white protective suits, like poncho pantsuits with oxygen,
started making forays into the house, removing all kinds of
dogs - only dogs. Almost all seemed alive, none as bad as the
hound tossed into the backyard graveyard. All wore muzzles and
were nearly as gaunt as the hound. Hate and distrust radiated
from their eyes but the gentle touch, warmth and caring of the
technicians did seem to help, at least a little. Then they started
removing the dead ones. I had to turn away.
bulb flashes turned the fading sun into daylight again and the
news stations got a hold of the story. The news and the police
photographers competed to document all that I wished I could
After an hour
or so, the house was cleared of animals enough to allow passage
into the backyard. Vincent nudged me, to take a look, as the
back door swung open. Technician #1 went directly to where we
were standing, with me leaning on the other side of the fence
and Vincent overseeing both me and the hound. The tech called
for help but his words were drowned out by other calls from
the yard. “I’ve got one over here,” or “there’s
another one over here.” Over and over. The chills that
ran through me would not have been lessened by the hottest summer
day, let alone this soggy precursor to the bitter cold on the
in the yard. I gagged. The smell of dead bodies didn’t
reach me, the overwhelming release of massive amounts of lime
did. The intent must have been for the lime to eat all the evidence
and kill the decaying smell. There was no grass in the graveyard.
But then the two techs oh-so-tenderly
hoisted the hound up, looked toward the house and the long carry.
The arrival of Fire Station No. 1, and three axes, gave the
technicians a much closer exit. These guys were seriously pissed
now. I was just sick. I held Vincent in my arms, stroking her
and feeling the anger coursing through her too.
The techs carried the hound to a waiting SUV and laid him gently
on a few blankets arranged into a bed. The poor creature still
didn’t open its eyes and I knew it couldn’t last
too much longer. A stream of vehicles headed for the nearby
Warren Village Animal Hospital, and Vincent and I headed there
ourselves too, once we told the police of our very brief involvement.
We left the most silent bedlam I had ever seen.
The animal hospital was not much better but it smelled clean,
a scent I was wondering if I would ever experience again.
I needed a mental and emotional shower. Dogs were lying and
sitting everywhere, but not a bark was heard. I saw lots of
trembling though. People were shaking my hand and nodding
as Vincent made his rounds. I just numbly looked around at
the eerily silent chaos.
I was told volunteers had been arriving
at the hospital since the first reports were aired on Live
at Five News and every one of them was needed. When the hound
went into the back for surgery, I saw Vincent slip out an
open door, stop to nod to me, and head for home. I put on
a pair of gloves, doing whatever I was told. Mostly it involved
holding, stroking and trying to fuse love back into these
hollow lives as doctors and assistants looked them over. Realistically
though, after love, food and water were the medicine they
After a few hours, I woke up a friend at the hound rescue
group with a call and gave him a heads up. He said he’d
take care of it. Over the next few weeks, we moved dogs from
critical to just plain lonely and their health changed tremendously
in a very short time. Amazing resilience. Over a two dozen
dead dogs had been found in and around the house on Lucille,
four more died that week. But thirteen didn’t. Vincent
had gotten to them in time.
The owner was eventually found,
in Death Valley, of all places, where he had run after getting
a heads up by the reports on the radio. He ran, the police
chased, and hell hath no fury like a neighborhood embarrassed
by its own daze. The neighborhood watch hunted down every
clue and forced their findings and ideas on anyone who would
listen. The man was caught, tried and convicted, - to three
years in jail. He had no explanation. All thirteen dogs found
a new home, and love.
Now, two years after that fall walk, Boru, the hound, is nuzzling
me, a leash in its mouth. Comparatively tiny Vincent is not
jealous, only watching out for the dog that is a good seven
feet tall when standing on its hind legs, thick and strong.
Boru is healthy, affectionate. Seems to be happy, and barks
once in a while too. Boru thinks I don’t get enough exercise
either. That darn cat has been talking in his ear again.
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Freedom’s Sons are singing;
singing sad songs,
to their love, songs.
Pretty Maggie O’, Sally O’,
Pretty Saro and Rosie.
a Song For The Children.
In The Time Of Scented Roses,
let they be not black,
The Long Woman’s Grave.
Rather Sing Me The Old Songs;
of Rambling Rivers
in The Rambles of Spring,
Clear Blue Hills
or Grey October Clouds,
among Long Winter Nights.
If I should return,
If You Should Ask Me,
I’m Going Home To Mary,
I can see her, as she holds
our Gentle Annie in her arms,
The Listowel Blackbird sing;
Music In The Twilight,
In Newry Town
I will return again.
John O'Brien, Jr.