On the way to the Pride parade we passed a man dragging a dog by leash. The dog was a pit bull mix with brindle fur and was in bad shape. It panted, lying on its side on a short concrete wall several feet above the sidewalk near the Yerba Buena Center. The man, standing on the sidewalk below, tugged at the leash but the dog couldn’t seem to get up. Something was wrong. The man kept pulling until the dog was inches from the edge of the wall, still on its side, and I was worried it would fall, without bracing itself, onto the pavement below. I was worried, but I didn’t say anything to the man. Instead I cringed and said quietly to my husband Ethan, “Something is wrong with that dog. I’m afraid it’s going to fall onto the pavement.” The man gave a final yank; the dog fell, but somehow planted its feet below it at the last second. It lumbered along, knees buckling.
By now several concerned citizens watched, each voicing concern in varying levels of volume. A woman about my age approached the man and said she didn’t think his dog was feeling well. Perhaps it needed some water. The man seemed surprised. “I guess it might.” The woman poured water from a plastic bottle into a paper cup and the dog lapped it in a way our chihuahua never has. He drinks lazily; there will always be more water.
The woman pet the dog and touched its nose, which we all knew was dry.
I asked the man the dog’s age. He talked loud and fast about how the dog was only 6 months old and he bought it from a friend and was supposed to sell it but now he was attached to it but it was a puppy and wouldn’t listen to his commands and didn’t know how to obey. The dog had a red sweatshirt tied around its torso. The woman said it was pretty hot out so maybe the dog shouldn’t be wearing a sweatshirt. The man shrugged, reached down, untied the sweatshirt and put it on himself. I noticed the dog had a sore on its neck where the collar had rubbed from pulling.
The man wasn’t completely lucid, but it wasn’t clear if this was the effect of drugs, present or past, or not at all. His appearance made it hard to tell if he had a permanent home. His sneakers seemed new. His clothes were torn. His skin and teeth were both yellow, suggesting neglect. Or again, maybe drugs. He talked more, jumping to unrelated subjects, making it difficult to respond. He wasn’t threatening but wasn’t predictable, I decided.
After some time, we continued to the parade just a few blocks away. I kept looking back. The man was behind us, making his way down the street, stopping to talk to others at corners. The dog plodded along, swaying in the manner of a TV sitcom character stranded in the desert. When the man stopped to chat, the dog plopped over. Something was wrong.
In front of me the energy of the parade grew. Floats and faces shined among signs that shouted in big bold letters: Fun! Fabulous! Free! There was a float by Stoli featuring a giant vodka bottle from which dancers emerged. There was a Whole Foods float with a large sparkly beet. I had mixed feelings, glad to see companies showing support but also worried there was a marketing brief somewhere that captured the “gay affluent segment” in a “consumer persona” called “Jon” complete with stock image of “happy male couple” and insights into “purchasing behavior.” I’d sat through briefings like that.
But Whole Foods, they do what they say. It’s probably OK.
I noticed Ethan looking back at the man and the dog, too.
Gorgeous people in ornate costumes strolled by waving. Music blared.
I pulled Ethan aside and said I wasn’t OK leaving the dog with that man. He felt the same way but there wasn’t a good solution. And there wasn’t. We had a frustrated argument like most of ours, between the two of us but not really, more each of us having an internal argument aloud that happened to be at the same time the other was having an internal argument aloud.
We can’t just take the dog from the guy. But we could buy it. We could offer to buy it. We had $50 in cash on us. Neither of us said it, but we both wondered if the offer would anger the man. Well we’re not going to get more out of the ATM. But we should try to buy it. But what are we going to do with a pit bull? We have a tiny loft. We have a tiny chihuahua that doesn’t get along well with other dogs. We could at least keep the dog for the night; take it to the vet; try to find it a home. But what if it is really sick? What if it’s really old and sick? And even if it isn’t sick a pit bull is probably the hardest breed to find a home for. But surely there’s some kind of rescue group or we can post on Facebook and Craigslist. We can try. We can’t keep it. It’s going to end up at an animal shelter and be euthanized. Is that better? It might be better, to be fed and then die a quick death rather than being dragged about the city slowly dying of dehydration. It might be. Yes, we had to do something, but did we? That man probably needs a home and a meal! Thousands of people in this city need a home and a meal! What about them? Yes but the dog never had a chance and can’t defend itself. Some of those people can’t, either. It’s true, but we’ve run into this dog and this dog is something we can handle. Can’t we?
Well the man isn’t standing there anymore. He’s gone.
We decided to walk back the same way we’d come. If we passed the man again we would offer him $50 for the dog. We left the parade, both feeling awful.
And then there they were, man and dog, on the same block by the Yerba Buena center as before. Another concerned citizen, a young man in a fedora, was talking to him and gesturing at the dog, again lying on its side panting on the hot concrete.
Let’s wait here a second, I said. Let me see if I can find a shelter or someone to help us. It was Sunday, so the few shelters I pulled up on my phone were closed. I searched for “dog abuse San Francisco hotline” and a number popped up. I called it and a woman answered and I asked who we would call if we saw a dog possibly suffering neglect in the street and she said that’s us, the ACC, and so I told her what had happened. She asked lots of questions. What made me think the dog was dehydrated? How did the man act when we asked about the dog? I made it clear I didn’t think he was beating the dog, just unable to properly care for the dog. He may have been homeless or have some mental disadvantages. And then she asked me to give her the intersection and describe the man in detail and I did and winced as I added he was African-American, trying to say it matter-of-factly at the end of the list after “tall” and “red sweatshirt.” She said they would send someone out and took my number for a follow-up call.
We sat on a park bench, waiting to see what happened when the ACC arrived. I secretly still hadn’t ruled out taking the dog home.
Yet another concerned citizen, a young woman wearing a knit cap, approached the man and they sat together on the concrete half wall. The dog sat between them on the grass behind the wall. The woman pulled water from her large purse, a bottle for the man and a bottle for the dog that she poured into a bowl. They talked. Then she took food from her purse for the dog. She looked something up on her phone and wrote a note for the man, gesturing down the street. A vet, Ethan presumed. Or a shelter. This is a very nice woman I said.
I started to feel guilty. Why hadn’t we thought to sit down and talk with the man? He probably needed a kind word, some water. We could’ve done that. Here’s this patient woman, talking to him, but mostly listening to him. I bet no one listens to him. He seemed very engaged, leaning in, nodding his head, gesturing. At one point the dog stood on its hind legs, nuzzled the man lovingly.
That’s when I started to panic.
What had I done? Who had I called? I searched on my phone for SPCA. But I hadn’t called the SPCA had I? No, it had been the ACC … what is that? Shit. I hadn’t read anything about them first, hadn’t even asked the woman on the phone what they would do, this person “they would send out.” Fuck. I had been so glad to have an out, to not have the unpleasant encounter with the man then another frustrated argument in our tiny loft while our chihuahua yapped at a flea-ridden pit bull that probably required some kind of very expensive surgery. And now, any second, a van was going to pull up and take this unlucky man’s dog away in front of this very nice woman who is doing the kind thing, the right thing. And it’s going to be terrible.
I found a webpage called “Friends of the ACC” that was all about how people often confuse the ACC with the SPCA and listed the differences. I started to feel better. The ACC is Animal Care & Control. It’s a public agency; they accept all animals, no matter condition or breed, “including those considered unadoptable by other organizations, such as pit bull terriers and rats.”
They have volunteers across the city who respond to public calls about animal abuse 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Wait, I told Ethan. This nice woman in the knit cap, maybe she’s not just a concerned citizen. Maybe she’s one of these ACC volunteers. We’d been expecting a van or an official or something, but it’s her!
But I don’t know … she came pretty fast after that call. She showed up…how soon after? 10, 15 minutes? Is it possible it’s her? Well, she had been talking to him for more than 45 minutes. That’s a long time. And she seemed to show up with water and food in hand. The site said they respond immediately. This was her. Had to be.
Great relief. This woman had surely received some kind of training, or at least had done this before, and she was teaching the man about caring for the dog. No vans or crates or city officials. We sat on the bench awhile longer, hoping to maybe talk to the woman, to thank her.
The parade had ended, and we watched people stroll past, heading home, or somewhere, to finish their Sundays. There was a man, naked, except for a very long sock hanging from his penis. As he passed, the old man sitting on the park bench next to us chuckled and said “only in San Francisco.” There was a happy little family holding hands, two mothers and two daughters, the youngest skipping by in a multi-colored tutu. There was a group of college girls who had used the occasion, similar to Halloween, to wear very short skirts, revealing tops and body glitter. And then the drunken twenty-something guy chasing after them in denim shorts and suspenders, no shirt.
Ethan and I talked about whether we would take a young child, if we had one, to the parade, which for us was really a question of whether we’d take a young child to any outdoor festival or parade in the city. Because Pride, of course we’d want to teach the child that. A celebration of self, a fight for equal rights, acceptance. Absolutely. But the drunken people, particularly the young straight horny ones, is it good to take your kid around that? Would you take your child to Bay to Breakers? We decided yes to the Pride parade, probably no to Bay to Breakers, but maybe at the beginning where it’s mostly running and costumes. But then sometimes when I see mothers with children at these things they just look miserable, bogged down with bags and strollers and gear. So much to consider.
After about an hour, the man was still talking, the woman still listening. And we still sat on a park bench watching, feeling useless and tired and thirsty. We decided to go home.
I received no follow-up call from the ACC. The next day I called and asked about the dog, but the woman who answered couldn’t find record of it. Who did you speak with yesterday? she asked. I don’t remember her name, I said, annoyed with myself, because I’ve learned again and again you have to know the name when you make any kind of customer service call. Without the name, there’s no accountability. The woman asked what time I’d called, the intersection, the incident. I had to go into all the details again, painfully. She couldn’t find the record. I told her a woman in a knit cap had appeared on foot with water and had talked to the man for a very long time. She had shown up very quickly after my call… did that sound like one of their volunteers? Is that how it worked? That’s all I really needed to know.
The woman on the line said “ummm … well … I’m not sure. Let me take your number and I’ll find out and call you back.”
She didn’t call back. I tried again the next day and had a very similar conversation with another woman at the ACC. No record, no confirmation that someone showing up on foot very shortly after a phone call with food and water could be a volunteer. She sounded doubtful. She took my number so she could get off the phone and never call me back.
I don’t think she was a volunteer, the woman in the knit cap. The ACC probably never showed. Or if they did, they drove by and couldn’t see the dog, lying on the grassy embankment behind the half wall, hidden from street view, belly full, getting pets from its owner and a nice, patient woman.
It’s probably best it happened this way.
I don’t think we did the right thing, but maybe next time we will, like the woman in the knit cap. I wish I could find her on Facebook or Twitter to thank her, but I don’t have her name. You have to have the name.