The Year of the Dog is associated with kindness, good fortune, harmony and humanitarianism; idealism is supposed to overshadow materialism.
For us, the Year of the Dog began early. Just before Christmas, as I strolled through San Francisco’s Washington Square Park on the way to the post office, my dog Jeff met Midnight.
As the two performed the doggy circle dance, a young man put down his newspaper, rose from his bench and introduced himself as Junior. He explained that he was taking care of Midnight, a throw-away, but she wasn’t really his. “I just don’t want her to be destroyed.”
From the look of things, Junior was trying to keep himself alive as well. “I can try to find her a home,” I offered. Junior liked the idea. “One of us at least could have a home.”
From my gallery nearby, I went to the post office often; stopping to talk with Junior became routine. I dropped off Christmas cookies for Junior and his bench friends, a couple, aging alcoholics. I brought dog food. “Her coat is better, but I think she’s sick,” said the woman with few teeth and bright lipstick. Junior disagreed: “I think she’s just unhappy.” He wanted to have her spayed.
I began asking around for a home. She’s lovely, I told people, very quiet and gentle, mostly Border Collie. She had black, silky fur with a white chest and white feet. I felt she would have perked right up with a little care.
One night I spotted the man–dog pair on the street near my gallery. Two Pit Bulls, residents of the housing project on the corner, set after Midnight. Terrified, she flew into the street. Junior and I got to her simultaneously. “I’m sorry,” Junior mumbled to the dog. “I love you.”
“She’s in heat,” Junior said, on my next visit. “I called the SPCA but the fee for spaying is $35. I don’t have any money.” I called. No matter what I said about homelessness, unwanted puppies, desperation, the fee was still $35. I told Junior I’d pay. I’d pick her up on Wednesday. But on Wednesday, man and dog were nowhere to be found.
“Pregnant,” announced Junior, with obvious chagrin. “Crack’s the father.” We all knew this street dog, a tough little brown thing with a stub tail who belonged to an older guy from the projects who called himself Hitler.
My real concern was the dog, but I also wondered about the man. “I’d like a simple life,” he told me. “Nothing special. Just a little apartment, an ordinary job, a family.” Junior, who was 26, had a nine-year-old son he rarely saw. “I don’t want my son to see me like this,” he explained. Once, while we were talking, he dashed away to assist a disabled man who had fallen. “You’d be good in nursing,” I suggested. “I worked in a nursing home for two years,” he said. “It’s too hard on me. People dying all the time. Maybe I could do house-painting.”
I had begun to ask around for a job for Junior. He was slight, with a somewhat askew and whimsical face. He was bright and fun to talk to, charming and gentle. I didn’t see why the situation couldn’t have an easy fix. Man with job and dog in little apartment, gets son back.
I was beginning to plan the spring exhibition for the gallery. I’d met the artist several years earlier when I was a juror for a photography competition. Looking over the photographs, we all knew immediately which would win first place. It was a large, black-and-white solarized print of a bough of roses, beautiful and sad. We’d not heard of the artist, someone called Gay Outlaw, apparently a pseudonym. At the reception, we were astonished to find Gay Outlaw to be a gracious, elegant, young Southern woman, using her given name.
In January, as Gay and I were discussing the show, she said, “I’m thinking of getting a dog.” Within minutes, we’d arrived at the park and were rubbing the now rotund Midnight. “I might be interested in one of the pups,” Gay told Junior.
From then on, Gay and I were partners in the save-the-dogs mission, conferring constantly. We brought food daily for Midnight and sometimes for Junior too. We talked to vets and animal rescue groups. I arranged with Junior to bring Midnight to the gallery for the birth, but not long after, we found Junior on his bench next to a basket of puppies. “They were born out on the pier,” he said. “I slept through it.”