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For the Love of the Dog

River: A Vagabond Dog and Some Stories of Others

Out in Tucson, Arizona, along the Rillito River lives a vagabond dog appropriately named “River”.   River has been a big concern with animal lovers and advocates for awhile.  She is somewhat shy – very wary of people.  She wears a collar so she must have once had a home.  No one knows if she was abandoned or ran away from her home.  And she’s not telling.

People in the area have posted signs asking to immediately report sightings of the dog. They have also been in and around the riverbed, constructing a little dog shelter and leaving water and food for River.  Volunteers are seen daily trying to spot River and leave her food.  Traps have been set to catch her in an effort to get her into a cozy home.

Regular “River sightings” are posted on Craigslist.  Anyone who wants to help with the quest for River can search “River” in the Tucson pet section of Craigslist for information on how to volunteer.

Not sure if River will ever be captured, but there is a chance that River may never want to be captured.  She may just want to stay free.

There are many stories of vagabond dogs like River that have been taken care of by town residents and company employees.  These are the most endearing of all dog stories.  They are free spirits, elusive to capture, and happy as can be living without an owner, a backyard, and a home with squeaky toys.  Many just take up residency in a community and enjoy the love of all who walk by.  Here are a few I found.

Owney the Post Office Dog

OWneyOwney, was a stray dog that wandered into the Albany, New York, post office in 1888.  He hungry and lonely but the post office clerks let him stay and sleep among the mailbags.  He apparently either loved the scent of the mailbags or appreciated the kindest of the postal workers for he always followed them to the Railway Mail Service train every day to help load the mailbags.  Pretty soon Owney began to ride with the bags on trains across the state, and then the country. In 1895 Owney made an around-the-world trip, traveling with mailbags on trains and steamships to Asia and across Europe, before returning to Albany.

He was loved by all the workers and considered a good luck charm.   Metal tags were fashioned by workers at each railway stop and given to Owney to document his travels.  Owney died in Toledo of a bullet wound on June 11, 1897. Mail clerks raised funds to have Owney preserved, and he was given to the Post Office Department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. In 1911, the department transferred Owney to the Smithsonian Institution, where he has remained ever since.

Patsy Ann, the Official Greeter of Juneau, Alaska

Patsy Ann, the Offical Greeter of Juneau, AlaskaPatsy Ann, a Bull Terrier, was born in Portland, Oregon on October 12, 1929 and came to Juneau as a pup. She was stone deaf, but she somehow always sensed approaching ships long before they came into sight.  She always headed quickly down to the wharf to greet the incoming ships.  She could always pick which dock the ship was headed to.  And she was never wrong. On one memorable occasion, a crowd was given erroneous information and gathered at the wrong dock. Patsy Ann walked by the crowd, regarded them for a few moments, and then made her way to the correct dock.

Patsy Ann was not owned by anyone and made everyone her “home”.  She frequented business for food and was welcomed at each restaurant, bar, and hotel lobby for a meal and a bed.

Patsy Ann spent most of her nights down at the docks with the longshoremen running and playing in the alleyways.  This is where she died on March 30, 1942.  The next day, she was given a burial in into Gastineau channel witnessed by a crown of people.  Fifty years after her death, her statue was commissioned by the “Friends of Patsy Ann” and installed on the wharf where she continues to welcome ships, as they would have been when she was alive.  Touch her statute and you are blessed with friendship throughout your life’s journey.

Richmond’s Legendary Black Dog

Richmond’s Legendary Black DogHere is a more contemporary legendary dog.  He was a big black shaggy dog with dreadlocks,  probably a Chow mix that lived in Richmond, Virginia.  He roamed the streets for nearly two decades in Richmond’s West End neighborhood.

Like all the others, Black Dog had no owner and preferred life on the streets.  Once he was determined to be friendly and not aggressive, the residents of Richmond’s West End began to leave him food or leave their garage doors open so he had shelter from the night or bad weather.  Animal Control tried to contain him, but he was so clever and elusive, all he did was drive them batty.  They eventually gave up.

He met children off the school bus and walked them home.  He would sometimes play with other neighborhood dogs, AND escort joggers and bikers for a mile or two.  He would appear suddenly at your side, hang out for awhile, and disappear again.  Just like that.  He was a polite dog and never got too close to anyone.

He even had his own bank account started by The Friends of Black Dog.  The Friends of Black Dog started the account in 2001 to be used for his medical expenses if needed.  They even designed and sold  “Save Black Dog” T-Shirts in 2002.   The “saving” Black Dog part was saving him from Animal Control.

To the neighborhood people, Black Dog was a phantom.  And some of them were really convinced he had supernatural powers.

But Black Dog was mortal.  He was found dead on July 2, 2009, apparently fatally struck by a car.  No longer a phantom.

A collection of Black Dog articles can be found at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  It chronicles his life and adventures.  You can also purchase the book Black Dog Remembered.

Like Black Dog, Patsy Ann, and Owney, River might be destined to be a vagabond.  We don’t know that.  But these drifters don’t seem lonely or consider themselves homeless.  They are spirits of eternal freedom.

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