Her lips pause ever so slightly before accepting his; knowing this to be all they will share. Her son, crouched at the bedside, crying.

“Shhhh…” she whispers, comforting him in her final moments.

She looks up and around: two cats, a dog, a husband, two daughters and the son. The whimpering, whining son. The sum of all her efforts laid bare before her in this shitty, rented townhouse bedroom.

Exhaling, her chest never moves again.

The son waits still…


Marcus loved to swim.

He would spend hours down by the sea wall, floating. The sun baking his back as his fingertips began to wrinkle. His skin began to soften. His eyes began to itch. He would stay there until dark, the smell of the sea water mixing with the city.

Marcus loved to swim.

He would spend hours down by the sea wall, floating.

Before his parents found him.

He wasn’t the first victim of Katrina’s wrath.


The room was a shade of white so bright that it hurt the eyes to look upon it as the song titles shot through his mind.  A Whiter Shade Of Pale.  He sat on the cold, hard, white floor in a daze.  Dazed And Confused.  His vision clouded as the tears forced themselves to the corners of his eyes.  In Your Eyes.  His concentration lagged as he heard the songs floating in and out of the transom of his mind.  In The Air Tonight. Tonight, Tonight, TonightMove Better In The Night.  But was it night?  He could not be sure.  For he sat, legs crossed Indian-style, unable to determine time or place.  He sat, unmoving…but not unmoved.

“So you can wipe off that grin, I know where you’ve been…it’s all been a pack of lies.” Phil Collins.  “The room was humming harder…” Procol Harum.  He could hear every note, every drum kick, every sound…as clear as if they were all right there in the room with him.  But why was he here?  Why?  Oh yes… the experiment.

His name is not important.  His power is.  He has the power.  The power to change his environment… or so THEY say.  THEY want to know if he can, how he can, and why he can.  HE just wants to go home.  Back to his music, his stereo, his drums.  But THEY will not let him.

THEY discovered him about two months ago… at school.  He did not have too many friends at his school (he was quite shy), but he did have his drums.  The drums were what did it.  One day, while he was practicing for an upcoming concert (he was the drummer for the school’s “Jazz-Rock Band”), he suddenly passed out.  He fell completely off his chair and slammed his skull against the cold, concrete floor.  When he awoke, the entire room had changed. His drums were no longer a shiny black, but a dull gray.  More of a matte black. The walls were no longer pale green, but electric blue.  He ran screaming from the room, and did not stop until he reached his car.

The next day, THEY came for him.  Two men in black suits. He was in the bathroom, washing his hands when the door swung open.  The two men stepped in.  One was slightly taller than the other, and they both had brown hair.  He looked up; the soap still dripping from his hands, and THEY seized him.

Now he sat in this room, still crying… and still listening to the hollow music in his head.  THEY told him he was special.  THEY told him the he possessed a power.  THEY were right.  He was a telekinetic.  For years, THEY had been studying such people.  And then THEY found him.  And now he was theirs.  And for the last two months, THEY had been working on him.

“For the good of the society!” THEY said.  “For the good of all mankind!”

There was a crack of static as a speaker that he could not see came to life.  An emotionless male voice spoke softly into a microphone somewhere in the distance.

“We are going to run some tests on you, son,. it said.

He glanced around for some clue as to the origin of the voice… but still all he saw was the stinging essence of the white walls.  A Whiter Shade Of Pale.

“We want you to concentrate, son, and simply let your mind go free of all outside thoughts.  Do you think that you can do that, son?”

He resented THEM calling him son.

“Who are you?!” he screamed in desperation.  This was not like any of the previous tests that he had been subjected to, and he was scared.

“We told you, we work for the government, son.”

“Stop calling me that!  I’m not your son!” His voice was beginning to crack from his constant crying. In his eyes were the reflections of a dozen coats of electric white paint.

“We don’t want to upset you, son.  We simply want you to cooperate.  Can’t you please try for us?”

“No,” he said flatly.  “Go away.”

The voice spoke again.  “Son, let me explain a few things to you.”

That was the first time that the voice referred to itself as ME, instead of US or WE, and in some strange way, it seemed to calm him.  He wiped the tears from his eyes and stood up.  It was then that he noticed that there were no lights anywhere in the room.  Then, as if knowing what he thought, the voice spoke again.

“Son, you are in a standard ten foot by twelve foot containment chamber.   It is used for the study of telekinetic individuals like yourself. You may have noticed the lack of any light source whatsoever.  This is part of a new technology that is used in which several coats of a highly vibrant paint are used to illuminate and entire room.”

He didn’t care about coats of paint. This was all moving much too fast for him.  He needed time to collect his thoughts.

“Um, sir?” he began timidly, “Can I have a moment to think about this?”

“I’m sorry son, but we really must begin.”

“Great,” he thought.  The voice was back to WE.

“Now son, we want you to concentrate.  Imagine that you are playing your drums.” 

He was startled.  How did THEY know about his drums?

“Now son, please close your eyes.” 

When he did so, he could still see the piercing glow of the white paint behind the darkness of his eyelids.  A Whiter Shade Of Pale. He could still hear the music.  “The sweet smell of a great sorrow lies over the land…” Pink Floyd.

“Now son, imagine you are playing as hard and as fast as you can.  You are really kicking that bass drum pedal… the cymbals are about to shatter…”

“And then I break a damn stick,” he thought with a silent chuckle.

“Concentrate, son. You are really nailing those heads.  The sweat is pouring out of you in waves.  You are almost at the point where you actually BECOME PART OF THE SONG!”  This was the first and only time that the voice showed any emotion.  “You are in it son.  You are a part of the groove that you have created.”

And he could feel it.  Just then, he collapsed with a heavy grunt.  His head struck the floor with a thud… and he was gone… out cold. When he awoke, the room was no longer a shocking white, but electric blue.  He rubbed his eyes and looked around himself again… but the color stayed.  And then he noticed it.  Something so bizarre that he could hardly fathom its existence.  What he saw was a window. 

There it was, about half way up the wall… or half way down, depending on how he looked at it… consisting of twelve square panes of glass, each divided by what appeared to be wood slats.  There was no denying it.  It was a window… and he had put it there.  He screamed in amazement and backed himself into a corner.  He squeezed his eyes shut tight and began to cry.

“Oh, God… please don’t let it be there when I open my eyes! Please God, make it be gone.  Please, please, PLEASE…”

Slowly, he began to open his eyes.  It was still there. Just then, he noticed something that he had missed before.  As he looked at the window, he began to see what was beyond the glass.  What he saw amazed him.  He saw birds flying in the sky – such a lovely pinkish blue sky.  He saw trees; their branches swaying in the breeze.  And he saw the sunset.   He thought for a moment that it looked like golden, shimmering rays of fire… so real that he could almost feel its heat.  And then the voice shattered his silent peace.


He could not take his eyes away from the vision beyond the glass.  He was dazzled by its beauty and simplicity.  He wanted desperately to reach out and touch it, but he feared that it might vanish… having only been a dream.

“Son?”  The voice was becoming impatient.

He finally recognized the presence of the voice and his mind abruptly returned to reality.

“Yes, sir?”  His own voice had a bit of impatience in it.

“Son, it appears that we may have overestimated your talents.  We received no readings on any of our monitors that would indicate that you possess any abnormal levels of telekinetic energy.  Not this time and not any other time we have scanned you. This was our last shot. We’ve run out of time and options.”

He was amazed.


“Now son, there is no need to shout.  It simply means that you…”

He cut the voice off. 

“Don’t you numbskulls see it? It’s right THERE!

He pointed an angry finger at the window.  The sweat was once again beginning to form on his brow.  The voice spoke again, this time with less noticeable irritation.

“See what, son?”  THEY seemed to almost be mocking him.

He closed his eyes tightly again and silently counted to ten.  When he finally did speak, his voice was much less fierce, however, his emotions were just this side of out of control.

“The window, gentlemen,” he said, as if her were speaking to group of idiots.  He felt that he was.  “It is right over there, on that wall.”  He pointed again.

“Well… uh…”  The voice seemed truly confused.  “Son… we do not see anything. There is no window on our monitors.”

“Well, stop using your bloody monitors and try using your damn eyes!”

Just then, the wall to his left began to slowly descend to the floor.  As it did, he noticed that beyond it lay a vas expanse of computers, monitors and people.  There were at least thirty men and women; all dressed in white lab coats and all wearing dark sunglasses.  As he looked at them and at the room behind them, he was struck with the eerie feeling that the government had spent all that money, probably millions of dollars, on equipment that was going to waste.

“Typical.” he thought dryly.

One of the men stepped forward and extended his hand.  He reluctantly shook it.  Then the man glanced at the window and spoke.

“Son, I really do not see any window.”  This was the man that had spoken into the microphone.  “Is this some kind of joke?”

“Try taking off those shades.”

When the man did so, he noticed that the man was squinting, his eyes almost completely shut.

“I still do not see it, son.”

“Why not try opening your eyes, sir?”  He voice, still obviously irritated.

“Son, the paint is too bright for that.”  He put his sunglasses back on and looked down at him.

He finally understood.  THEY truly could not see it.  To theses men and women, there was no window.  THEY still saw white paint on the walls.  And worst of all, THEY thought he was insane.

“Great,” he mumbled quietly. “At that moment all eyes were open, but they might just as well have been closed…” Procol Harum.


Two days later, he was back at school, almost as if nothing had ever transpired.  THEY had made him sign a waiver stating that no legal action would be taken against the government or any of the participants at the laboratory. They refused to let him leave without signing it.

“Honest mistake,” THEY said.

“Stupid one,” he said.

He was, however, a changed person.  As he roamed the halls of his school, he began to feel more at ease with himself.  He began to talk more… he began to try new things.  But most importantly of all, he began to feel free.   It was the sunset that had done it.  The vision of that setting sun was at the forefront of his conscious mind almost every waking moment of the day. For he knew that he possessed a power beyond all belief.  The power to change his surroundings and his environment.

But one thought still troubled him.  It was the fact that the men and women in the laboratory had not seen it… had not seen anything.  Had he imagined the whole thing?  Was he crazy?  Or did he perhaps possess a power that allowed only HIM to see such visions?  The truth is that that only one person knows the answer to those questions… that person is me.  And I’ll never tell.

We all have the power to change our surroundings and our environment.  All we have to do is concentrate.


He pondered these thoughts for many weeks, until one day, he was approached by a girl.  Not just any girl… but Rachel Wilson, the captain of the varsity cheerleading squad.  What she said to him made him completely forget all of his burning questions. She looked deep into his eyes and said:

“Hi, Christian.  How are you today?”

And at that moment, Christian Alex McRae fell madly and deeply in love, and his surroundings and environment changed forever.




I’m going to step away from the posts containing excerpts from my book for just a bit to give you a breather. Think of it as a palate cleanser. I’ll continue the Blog now with some short stories that I’ve previously written.

The first story, ALONE, was written in my senior year of high school. It is a bit rusty in spots, but one can easily see how I began to form my writing style. My use of song lyrics in order to convey the emotion of a scene began with this story, and has since become a common thread in all of my writing. The fusion of music and vision is an idea I first experienced watching MIAMI VICE in the eighties, and it has heavily influenced everything I have done since.

The second, even shorter story, MARCUS GOES SWIMMING, was written in approximately three minutes in September of 2011 as an entry in Esquire magazine’s short story contest. Although I didn’t win, the challenge in this story was to write a complete narrative in seventy-eight words only. No more, no less. This was done in celebration of the magazine’s 78th Anniversary.

The remaining six stories were all created in June of 2012, in the span of about twenty minutes, again for Esquire magazine’s short story contest. That year they allowed one more word, to celebrate their 79th Anniversary. So CANCER, KARMA, JEALOUSY, MORNING BEER, ROUTINE CALL and LIFE IN THE PROJECTS are all stories told in seventy-nine words total. (Only one entry per person was allowed, but most of these stories were ideas that I had that were not quite good enough to enter but too good to throw away.) LIFE IN THE PROJECTS became my official entry in that year’s contest, however, it did not make the final cut. I still think of it, along with MARCUS GOES SWIMMING, as my best yet, despite the losses.

Read on for my Short Stories and enjoy.




11 September 2001
Baker Shift (8X4)
Approximately 0840 Hours

“This is war.”

September 11, 2001. 9/11/01. 9/11. 9-1-1.

No introduction needed. Thank God I am off today. Thank God I am home, safe with my wife and pets. Thank God I’m not in New York or Washington. Or on a plane. Thank God.

This is the second of two days off this week and I am in bed, sleeping peacefully when the first plane hits. Mindy, who was laid off last month from her job at the faltering tech company USI, is downstairs watching the Today show on NBC and balancing the checkbook. She wakes me just after the second plane strikes.

“Honey, two planes just hit the World Trade Center.”


I am groggy and out of it when the television in our bedroom flares up and shows these terrible images: The smoke, the fire, the falling debris… and… is that… people? People jumping. Holy shit.

The Today show is replaying the second strike as I focus in on the screen. Katie Couric is jabbering away about the first plane, trying to find the words to describe what no words can, when suddenly we all see it together. The entire world sees it together.

The second plane hits.

I see it hit. Mindy does too. But she already saw it live. I see it on tape. We are right here watching as the world starts crashing down. We are here… watching. I say the only thing I can think of to say:

“This is war.”

I swear to God those are my first words.

Mindy just stares at me, then back at the TV. Bailey, our newly acquired “ghetto dog”, is sleeping next to my side of the bed. Guinness, our cat, is on the nightstand next to Mindy’s side. The sun is shining bright. The air is cool. It will be hours before Tom Brokaw will make the same proclamation. But I know it right now, right when I see that second plane hit the second tower. And I say it first.

“This is war.”

As we watch the horror build, I make phone calls. First to my dad. Mary Ellen, his wife, answers.

“Are you alright?” I ask.

“Yeah, sure… why?”

She doesn’t know yet.

“Turn on your TV.”

There is a pause.

“Oh. My. God. What is that?” She sounds scared.

“Is dad home?”

“No. He’s teaching today.”

“Get to him. Let him know. Make sure he’s okay.”

I am remarkably calm. I have to be. People are counting on me to protect them.

(I think back on it now and I realize that was the key: I didn’t overreact. I stayed calm. Mindy needed that. Mary Ellen needed it. I needed it. I think this is what Police Officers do, natural Police anyway. They keep their cool in emergencies. They have to. We have to.)

Just then a reporter from inside the Pentagon joins in the conversation on the TV.

“There has been an explosion… some sort of an explosion here at the Pentagon…”

“They just hit the Pentagon.” I tell Mary Ellen over the phone. “It’s started.”

(I really believed that this was just the beginning. And it would have been if not for heroes like Todd Beamer and others aboard American Airlines Flight 93. It is my belief that this plane was bound for The White House. This country owes those members of Flight 93 a debt of gratitude that we will never be able to repay. Up to this point, the most noble thing I had done was save a dog from certain death. Those men and women saved this country from a catastrophe that we might never have recovered from. Losing those towers was hard enough, and every time I think about it, I get madder and more incensed… but to have lost The White House… such an historic building…)

“They hit the Pentagon?” Mary Ellen’s fear is growing and I can hear it in her voice.

“Yeah, look, call dad. Get with him. Make sure he’s okay. Then if you want you can come over here.”

“Will you have to go into work?”

It is a question that I had not thought about yet.

“I don’t know yet. Let me look into it. I’ll call you back.”

Mary Ellen is crying. I hang up and immediately stand. Mindy looks scared as well… but also, something more. Angry.

“Where are you going?”

“I have to shower. I have to be ready in case they call me into work.” But first…

I march downstairs to the garage and grab our American flag. I storm outside and slam it into its holder defiantly. And I stand. I look at the sky… searching for smoke. Searching for planes. There are neither. I will later learn that all air traffic has by this time been grounded. Other people in other places are reacting with the same level headed clam that I was. Then I notice that no one else on our street has hung their flags yet. I am the first. This makes me a little proud, and a little sad. In the weeks that will follow, there will be a mad scramble in every store to purchase American flags. On the one hand, I am glad to see so many people showing their patriotism, but on the other… I am pissed that so many people had to buy them in the first place. If you love your country so much, why do you have to buy a flag on September 12th? You should have already had one.

I head back inside and shower, preparing myself for the call to arms. It never comes.

I dress in my Police sweats and drift back to the bedroom. I bring with me my two loaded magazines from their holders on my duty belt and set them on the nightstand next to my fully loaded Glock 17 9mm. I am preparing for anything.

(It seems silly now to have been so fully ready for an attack on our house, I mean after all, who’s going to bother with Owings Mills, Maryland… but at the time; and anyone that lived through it can attest to this feeling; there was a feeling that anything might happen next. It felt like the end of the world. For many people, it was.)

An hour later, the first Tower falls. I can sense it coming.

“That thing is gonna fall.” I declare.

And just then it does. Then the second one comes down. It is a horrible thing to see.

After several hours of staring slack jawed at the TV, I finally decide that if the call comes, I am not going to answer the phone. I am not proud of this, but I promised to be honest in this book.

“If the phone rings, you answer it.” I am pointing at Mindy. “If its work, tell them I am not here.”

“You’re not going in?”

“No. If this is the end, I am staying right here to protect you.”

Hours pass. Reports come in. Casualties mount. Calls are made. To Mindy’s parents, to my grandparents in New Jersey, and every time the same question:

“Will you have to go into work?”

I call Mike George, a fellow Officer and friend, who is at work. He tells me that the city is in a high alert status, but that everything is calm for the moment. We both guess that everyone is inside watching TV. He also tells me that the powers that be have not yet begun to call in off duty personnel… and it doesn’t look as if they are going to do so. I call Carneal. Marc is at home and tells me that Rick Gusherwoski has gone in to volunteer his services. Rick, Marc and I share the same leave group, which means that Rick has gone in on his day off, leaving his pregnant Wife at home alone to do his duty. I feel compelled to do the right thing. I decide to call the district.

I dial the Northwest District and ask for the Administrative Secretary, Ms. Whitzell.

“Hello, this is Ms. Whitzell.”

I can hear the confusion and chaos in the background.

“This is Officer McGowan. I have the day off but I wanted to know if you were calling us in yet. I am available if you need me.”

“Hang on…”

She puts the phone down and I can hear her asking…

“Are we bringing in off duty personnel?”

I can’t hear the answer. I begin to worry. I don’t want to leave Mindy alone, but this is the job.

“Officer?” She is back on the line.


“Okay, we are not calling anyone as yet. You are back tomorrow, yes?”

“Yes. Eight to four.”

“Ok. What we are doing is starting twelve hour shifts as of now, so when you come tomorrow, don’t come at eight. Come in at noon and be prepared to work until midnight.”

“So, roll call will be at noon or at eleven thirty-nine?”

Another long pause as she inquires.


“Thanks. I’ll be there.”

(I later find out that roll call was at eleven thirty-nine, and I was half an hour late

the next day… but no one seemed to care. As long as I showed.)

I hang up and tell Mindy the news. I make more calls. I finally reach dad. He is alright and in fact is canceling his afternoon class. He will be home soon. Just then, I notice a white van parked in front of our house. I am still in the bedroom on the fourth floor and the van is parked directly in front of our driveway. Three men get out of it and walk over to the cable box located in our front yard. Two of the men are black and one white. The black men hang around the truck and the white man begins opening the box. I grab my Glock and head downstairs. I don’t say a word. I don’t want to scare Mindy. She follows me down anyway. When I open the door, I keep the gun hidden behind it, in my right hand. I look at the three men for a minute. The white man looks up.

“How you doing today?” he asks.

“Can I help you?” I ask.

“Oh, were just fixing some cable problems in the area. Won’t be but a minute.”

It is then that I notice the man’s shirt. It reads: Comcast Cable. But the van has no markings.

“You have your radio on in the van? Do you know what’s going on today?”

“Yeah, we heard something.”

Something? Is this guy serious?

“You might want to cancel your other work for today. People might not react well to a nondescript white van parked in front of their house with three guys working on electric cable boxes given everything that’s happening.”

He laughs.

“Yeah, I just called my boss and said the same thing. We’re done after this job.”

“Oh, okay then. Well, be careful. It’s getting crazy out there.”

“Yeah, we wouldn’t want to get shot.”

He has no idea that I have a loaded gun pointed right at him, or how close he came…


The week that follows is a grueling one. We work twelve hours shifts for a straight week. But I never once complain. Nothing we are doing even comes close to what is going on up in New York, down in Washington and over in Pennsylvania. Their clean-up efforts are all the news media talk about. That and the tiny information they had gathered about the terrorists. And the body count.

My aunt Chris, my dad’s sister, works for Campbell’s Soup and she travels to New York to volunteer and help give out free soup to the rescuer workers that work around the clock digging and pulling wreckage from Ground Zero. She sees their faces, feels their pain.

I volunteer, along with almost every other Baltimore City Police Officer that I know, to go to New York or D.C. and help out in any way I can. But help is coming from everywhere, and we are needed in our own city.

Oddly enough, very few people stop to say “Thank you” to myself or any of my friends and fellow Officers. But that’s okay. The weeks following September 11th aren’t about being thanked. They are about standing up.

A lot of guys I know joke about the over time money we are making and how they will spend it. But I feel that this is blood money; money earned on the pain and suffering of others; and no joke can make that feel right. Those poor souls lost in New York, Washington and in a field in Pennsylvania. And I don’t like making that kind of money. I would do it for free.


If you weren’t alive to witness the events of 11 September 2001, believe me when I tell you… the way we live our lives changed forever that day. But not everything about the way we lived. Just a few things. We have refused to be beaten into fear. Things have gotten better since, but they will never be the same. Ever. But the terrorists really only succeeded in doing one thing that day, and one thing only: They unified The United States.

I was the first person on our block on 11 September 2001 to hang our American flag in front of our house. By week’s end, everyone had one up.




“Tears stream down your face, when you lose something you cannot replace…
Tears stream down your face, and I…
Tears stream down your face, I promise you I will learn from my mistakes…
Tears stream down your face, and I…
Lights will guide you home…
And ignite your bones…
And I will try…
To fix you.”
(Coldplay – FIX YOU)


There is a door to a bedroom in a townhouse in Crofton, Maryland. 1732 Aberdeen Circle. Second floor. Front bedroom. I walk through that door every single day of my life. At least once a day. Sometimes more. What happened inside that room in June of 1986 shattered my life into a thousand tiny, jagged shards of glass. I have been trying to put those pieces back together ever since. But the pieces just won’t fit.

On 21 June 1986 my mother died.






I was fourteen.

 My pastel world had just gotten a lot darker.

On 19 June 1986, my father came to me and sat me on the couch.  He knelt down to my left and cried as he told me.

 “Your mother won’t make it through the night.”

I had spent all day putting together one of those MIAMI VICE models with my friend Vince Gudzinskas. This one was the black Ferrari Spider that Crockett drove during the first two seasons. We were out in the back yard gluing and painting it when my grandmother showed up. She stayed all day. This was my Mom’s Mother and it was not uncommon for her to come by as we lived in a townhouse in Crofton, Maryland and she lived nearby in Severna Park. But she stayed all day. They were upstairs in my Parent’s bedroom for a long time. Vince finally went home. Then my father came and told me.

She was exactly one week shy of her forty-second birthday.  She had breast cancer.  She had fought it for over four years, and the cancer had won.  It always does.  Now this is just my opinion, but anyone that says they are in remission is really saying: “I am not dead yet. But I will be soon.” There is no such thing as beating cancer into remission. Not where I come from. My aunt Maureen has it now, and she is in remission. She is not dead yet. But she will be soon. I know that seems heartless, but it’s how I feel. (I should note that the preceding paragraph was written in late 2001… and My aunt Maureen died in 2003. The cancer won.)

I watched cancer eat my mother alive, literally, and let me tell you… it always wins. Eventually. The doctors told us that she lived four years longer than she was supposed to. And I was fourteen when she died. That means that I should have lost my mother when I was ten. But I didn’t. She hung on… somehow. I am not sure where that kind of strength comes from, but I sure hope I have it in me.

My Mother hung on for three more days after my dad told me, lingering in a coma in her bed. She did not want to die in a hospital, so the doctors had released her. That was the hardest thing for me to grasp because she had just come home from the hospital only days before. We sat with her, feeding her ice chips because she couldn’t eat or drink anything. We talked to her. I remember reading a paperback copy of STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK while I sat on the bed with her. I wondered if she knew I was there at all, but that answer came when I began to cry. She opened her eyes and softly said: “Shhhhhh.” It wasn’t a mean-spirited kind of thing; she was just trying to comfort me. In her darkest hour, my mom was trying to comfort me.

On the morning of 21 June 1986 my sister Tracy woke me up. She didn’t say a word. We went into my Parent’s bedroom and I stood beside her. We were all there. My Father, Tammy, Tracy, our dog Nicholas, and our two cats, Buffy and Mei. Buffy was sitting on my mom’s legs and Mei and Nicholas were beside her on the bed. We all stood and watched as my mom looked at us for the last time. She opened her eyes and gazed at each member of her family… first my father, then Tammy, then Tracy and finally me. She looked at me for one second, and she smiled. Then she died. Her eyes were open.

I remember standing there for what seemed like an hour waiting for her chest to move up and down again. It never did. This was my first dead body. I was fourteen. My Mom was gone forever and her chest just would not move. In my line of duty now, I still find myself looking at deceased people waiting for their chests to move. They never do.
Things changed dramatically that morning. My memories of that time come in flashes, usually when I am driving alone in my truck on the way to work, and always when I listen to the song Fix You by Coldplay. I have an extremely detailed scene in my head that would translate onto film much better than on paper, but I will try to describe these flashes the best I can.

Imagine watching a film where the painful reveal finally arrives. Fix You frames the entire scene, and the song plays in its entirety throughout the whole scene. The scene opens as the song starts to fill the room. As they keys begin to hum, my eyes open to find Tracy standing beside my bed. She motions for me to follow her. I slide out of bed and onto the floor in a groggy daze – knowing what is about to come, but not knowing at the same time. Sleep has not visited me lately; we all have spent many hours over the last three days caring for and praying for my mom. It is a short walk from my room to the bed where my mother lies dying. I enter the room behind Tracy, and find Tammy and my dad standing on the far side of the bed. My parents’ room is small, as are all of the rooms in this tiny town home. There are two windows along the front of the house, and my Parent’s bed rests with the foot board facing these windows. Despite the fact that it is late June, the room is cold. I walk around the foot of the bed and take my place beside the bed. Just like and actor taking his mark. I see the cats; the dog. I stare at my mom. The fear begins its lethal creep into my soul. As my mom looks up at us, the song is starting to build. “Lights will guide you home, and ignite your bones… and I will try… to fix you.” The guitar rips open just as my mother takes her last breath. My gaze stays on my mother’s unmoving chest for a beat too long. No movement.

The men from the funeral home carry my mother’s body down the steps and out of my life forever. The guitar blares; the song builds. I stand in the open doorway of our home and stare. The point of view shifts to the inside of the hearse, looking back across my mother’s body from the front of the vehicle. The song builds. The drums break the surface of the scene at the exact moment that the hearse doors slam shut, trapping the viewer inside. The point of view smash cuts forward and presses against the glass of the hearse’s rear windows. I am seen standing in the doorway as the hearse pulls away.

What follows is a flurry of images of people and places – all moving in hyper speed, in time with the song. Except for me. In every single scene that follows, I am at the center of a storm of activity. But I do not move. Everything and everyone flies around like particles escaping an exploding bomb. As if the world is continuing on without me. I stand inside this fury without making a sound. And not a single tear ever comes. The images come fast now: A small group of friends and family gathering in a funeral home, hesitating to get too near the front of a closed casket. Everyone talking in hushed voices. Me standing off to the side alone. A priest swinging an incense burner, its smoke filtering up to the ceiling of a dark church in Davidsonville, Maryland. Me sitting at the far end of the pew. Off to the side. Alone. My dad giving a speech; the words of which I do not hear. A line of cars driving toward the cemetery. A small crowd gathering around the open ground. Me up front. Off to the side. Alone. The casket lowers. Zoom in on my face. The face of a little boy. Terrified. Alone. No one bothers to offer comfort. No one knows how. Freeze right there. That little boy stares into the camera. And not a single tear ever comes. “Tears stream down your face, when you lose something you cannot replace. Tears stream down your face, and I… Tears stream down your face, I promise you I will learn from my mistakes. Tears stream down your face, and I…” The loudest part of the end of song fades just as the first shovel full of dirt is thrown down the hole, the camera showing the reflection of the open wound in the Earth in the little boy’s eyes. “Lights will guide you home, and ignite your bones. And I will try… to fix you.” Fade to black.

I’m sorry mom… I can’t fix you.


































10 August 2001
Baker Shift (8X4)
Approximately 0900 Hours

“How about remembering your divinity?
How about unabashedly bawling your eyes out?
How about not equating death with stopping?”
(Alanis Morissette – THANK YOU)


Things have been going great with Bailey. She is getting stronger every day and the indoor messes are decreasing in their regularity. She is getting used to the idea of going outside to relieve herself and she has even begun telling us when she need to go out. The week that I brought Bailey home, Mindy and I had planned to travel to Ocean City for our annual August vacation. Mindy’s Parents own a condo on fifty-sixth street in the Tiffanie By The Sea condo building, and we go there for a week every year. We also stay there on occasional weekends just to get away. It’s fully furnished condo consisting of two bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a kitchen with a counter and stools to eat on, a living room with a pull out couch, and a dining area. There are three TV’s, a VCR and a pool outside. Mindy’s Grandfather had purchased the place in the early 1990’s and Mindy’s Parents and Aunt took over the payments sometime after that. They rent the condo to family and friends all summer long, but Mindy and I always stay free. The privileges of marriage.

So now it’s nearing the time when we will leave and we have Bailey and we don’t know if we should bring her with us to the beach. We always take Guinness along because she loves the condo. There is a window where she sits and watches people in the pool all day, plus we like having her with us and we don’t have to hire someone to feed her while we are away.

Mindy and I spend the entire week trying to find a kennel to house Bailey while we are gone. (Looking back on it now, I can’t understand why I didn’t see this coming, or why I would even consider putting her back into such an environment after struggling so hard to get her out of one… but I didn’t think about it until I found one.) I locate a kennel near Towson that can take Bailey for the week. Most of the other places cannot fit her in on such short notice because I am calling just days before we are scheduled to leave. But this one will not only take her, but they don’t even want very much money. They promise open air areas that she can run in. They promise daily walks. They promise the best care from the most caring people. So I say yes.

The day comes and Mindy and I load up the car and head North to the kennel. It is located deep off Route 83, in an area known as Hereford off of Mt. Carmel Road. The driveway leads us deep into the woods very near an area where Mindy and I frequently do a lot of hiking. Neither of us ever had any idea it is back there.

We step out of the car and Mindy walks inside while I walk Bailey around the yard outside. As we walk, I began to hear the yelps and cries of hundreds of dogs… and the sound is saddening. It reminds me of the Animal Control lobby. Their cries are everywhere. They float up on the breeze and Bailey lifts her ears at the sound of them. I begin to become very uncomfortable with the idea of leaving her here for a week.

“Maybe it’ll be better once we’re inside…” I lie to her… and to myself.

Mindy comes out and tells me they are ready for her. I lead Bailey inside and back into the kennel area. As the door opens, I am astounded. There are rows of tiny cages lined against each other, on both sides of the room. The concrete floors are wet from having been hosed down recently, and the smell is sickening. Thick and humid air hangs all around us. Hundreds of dogs lay or sit in these tiny cages that have small openings at the back that allow the dog to get outside into the open air, or so I think. On the other side of the opening is another tiny cage that is in fact outside, but not at all open for the dogs to run free. A young teenager grabs Bailey’s leash and leads her into one of the small indoor cages located near the back and slams the gate shut. As I walk away, I start to cry… and Bailey starts to bark.

Mindy and I sit I the car for a while as I began to sob harder.

“I can’t do this.” I cry. “I can’t leave her here. I just got her out of a place like that. It hasn’t even been a week yet.”

“Let’s go get her then. We’ll take her with us.”

Mindy is being very understanding, and I would later learn that she felt as badly about this place as I do. It makes me love her even more.

“We can’t. Your Mom doesn’t want her to crap all over the condo.”

This is true. Ever since we mentioned bringing Bailey home, Mindy’s Mother had expressed reservations about Bailey’s house training and didn’t want her to ruin the nice carpet in the condo. Neither did we.

“Who cares? If she makes a mess, we’ll clean it up. Let’s go get her.”

“We can’t. We’ve talked about this all week and that’s why I spent all this time finding a kennel.”

I start to pull away. I figure if I start to drive, there will be no turning back. The further away we can get the better it will be. Besides, I can still hear her barking from deep inside. I start to think about my Mom and how she heard Nicholas over the din of all the other noises the day she found him.

I make it as far as the end of the driveway.

“I can’t.”

I am sobbing as hard now as I had been when I called Mindy at work and begged her not to let the dog die. Mindy has tears in her eyes as well.

“Turn around and let’s go get her. I don’t want to leave her here either.”

I turn back. Mindy runs inside and tries to explain while I try to control myself. Finally, I cannot take hearing her barking anymore. I get out and walk quickly inside. I am red eyed and still sniffing and the woman behind the counter looks up at me with a curious smile. Mindy grabs my hand in support.

“I’m sorry… it’s not you or this facility…” I lie.

“That’s OK.” She says as she smiles. “It’s usually the Mommies that do the crying and can’t leave.”

The same teenager leads Bailey back to me. She smiles and wags her tail like she did that first day at the Animal Control Facility. That does it. I decide right then and there that from here on, Bailey will come with us on every trip we take.

She sleeps the entire three hour trip to the beach.

We stay a week. She runs on the beach. She plays in the sand. She looks shocked and amazed and enthralled with the sea, the sand and the seagulls.

And she never once craps on the condo carpet.


This was the first of many vacations that Bailey took with us in the time that she blessed our lives. We did many things with her in that time. We took her hiking in the woods in and around Patapsco State Park. We took her to New Jersey when we visited relatives. We took her for walks around the neighborhood… and she never needed a leash. She stayed glued to my side and always listened when I called to her. She jumped in rain puddles and tried to catch raindrops on her tongue. She played in the snow and ran in the sun and napped in the shade of the trees. She slept on her bed on the floor by my side and never wavered. When our first child was born in February of 2004, Bailey guarded her like one of her own litter. She never barked at us or bit anyone. Especially not our new born Daughter. And for the entire time that Bailey was a member of our family, she was happy. You could see it in her eyes every single day. She knew that we had saved her, and she was grateful.

Bailey died in August of 2005.

She developed severe seizures and hip dysplasia. She became incontinent. She lost most of her vision due to cataracts. She suffered. By that time, Mindy and I were Parents and were planning to move North to Pennsylvania. A new home would have killed Bailey. There was no way we could take her with us. The hardest thing I have ever done was to march Bailey back into Dunloggin Veterinary Hospital four years to the month after I rescued her in order to have her put down. Mindy and our Daughter came inside but did not stay. Mindy hugged Bailey and cried. And Bailey did the most beautiful thing: she licked Mindy’s face. And mine. It was as if she was saying thank you one last time. That, and “I’ll be OK. You have done enough.” Bailey died in my arms, whimpering and shaking terrified beyond belief. I told Mindy afterwards that she did not suffer. I lied.

I live with the knowledge that we gave Bailey a wonderful four years that she might never have had if I had not received that call for service in July 2001. I often remind myself that if I never do one more noble thing in my career in Law Enforcement, I at least saved one life. What more is there?

Bailey’s loss was a hard one for me to deal with. But by no means was it the first, nor the hardest. That loss was one I endured many years prior. It would affect me for the rest of my life.




6 August 2001
Baker Shift (8X4)
Approximately 1500 Hours
Animal Control Facility

“Could you not be sad?
Could you not break down?
After all, I won’t let go…
Until you’re safe and sound.
Until you’re safe and sound.”
(Sheryl Crow – SAFE AND SOUND)


I arrange to leave work a little early today in order to pick up the dog. Mindy and I spent the weekend discussing our plans, and she had even bought a dog bed and some bowls to feed her once we got her home. The plan is to get her checked out by a vet, then try to find her a good home. But just in case we end up keeping her for ourselves, Mindy said that she wanted to name her Bailey, like the Irish Crème. We even joked that our family would think we were alcoholics because we have a cat named Guinness; because we rescued her the day before St. Patrick’s Day and because she is a black cat with green eyes; but Mindy always wanted a dog named Bailey. So it was to be Bailey. Thinking back on it now, I am certain that we already knew she was going to stay with us. Little did I know what would happen when I got her out of the Animal Control Facility.

I arrive at the facility, which is located down near Camden Yards and Ravens Stadium. I am in my full uniform as I just worked my shift, and it is another hot afternoon. I am excited to finally be rescuing this dog… yet again. I jog inside and ask for Caroline. I see her seated at her desk near the back wall, a short blonde haired woman that does not fit my image of her. We talk for a minute or two and I fill out the adoption papers. Then an assistant disappears into the back to retrieve my new dog. As I wait in the lobby, I can hear the yelps and cries of hundreds of animals… dogs, cats, etc… and the sound is deeply saddening. I picture Bailey, locked in a cage listening to this horrible noise, and I have to step outside. I am directed to a side door where the assistant will be bringing her out.

As the door opens, I see her again for the first time in a full week. Her reaction is amazing and immediate: She gazes up at me and she smiles. Her tail begins to wag vigorously back and forth and she almost jumps up in excitement. She would have had she had enough energy to do so. I can tell right away that she recognizes me. Her nails have been clipped and she looks slightly less thin. She has obviously been eating. She has also been given a bath and her coat looks much healthier. And the most remarkable change that I notice is that her limp is gone. She has improved by volumes. But she has a long way to go.

The assistant leads her to my car on a short leash and we load her into the back. I am driving a 1994 Mitsubishi Eclipse hatchback, and the dog settles into the trunk area, lying on the folded down seat backs. I shake hands with the assistant, who I notice is the same man that came to take Bailey from that wretched house to begin with.

“She remembers you.” he says with a smile.

“Yeah.” I can barely speak; I am so overjoyed.

“She make a good pet. She trust you for life now. You saved her.”

“I think she’s gonna have a good home now. Even if it is for a short time, she will have a happier life then dying in the house I found her in.”

“Yeah, I remember that place.”

We both pause for a minute, looking into the car at Bailey. She just sits there in the back, panting and wagging her tail and waiting to go wherever I intend to take her. She seems to be saying: “Come on LETS GO!” So we do.

I drive her gingerly out of the city and head for the Dunloggin Veterinary Hospital in Ellicott City. My Dad and Mary Ellen take all of their pets there, and we had discussed over the preceding weekend that it was going to be expensive to get Bailey back up to speed, so they offered to help in any way they could. Mary Ellen wanted to meet me at the vet in order to pay for the bill, and Mindy and I agreed to at least let them chip in. We are not the richest people, mind you. And vets are expensive.

On the way to the vet, Bailey becomes very nervous about traveling in a car, and she throws up. She follows this by going to the bathroom on the seat backs. And I don’t mean number one, although that would soon join us in the car as well. I am not upset though. I am prepared for the possibility that she is going to need a lot of care for a long time.

We pull into the vet and I stroll inside to find a leash to use. The assistant at the Animal Control had taken his back inside with him, and Mindy and I have yet to buy one for Bailey. The assistant at Dunloggin finds one for me and I bring Bailey in.

The assistant tells me that she needs a stool sample to check for worms, etc. I smile.

“I have all the samples you need in my car. Vomit, stool, you name it.”

She is pleased. She thinks I mean that I have these samples in a container.

“Oh no. I have them IN the car.”

Just then Bailey urinates again, this time right on the floor of the lobby. I am only slightly embarrassed, and I feel bad for making her so nervous… but this is natural and I am prepared for it. What I am not prepared for is what the actual vet tells me.

I clean up the mess in the lobby while the assistant retrieves the required samples from the back of my car. I apologize for the mess in the car and she just laughs.

“I’ve seen worse cars just from people that don’t have pets.”

Mary Ellen arrives and we convene in the area where Bailey will be examined. As the doctor enters and I begin to tell my saga of this poor dog, Mary Ellen comments that Bailey looks frail.

“You should have seen her when I found her.”

They weigh her. Bailey weighs thirty-two pounds. A healthy dog of her age and size should weigh around seventy. The vet looks her over as I list the litany of problems that Caroline told me about. I explain that I am prepared for the worst, but that I don’t want to give up hope until a real vet has looked at her.

“She is approximately ten years old,” I start. “She probably has hip dysplasia. She has worms, heart worms, fleas…”                        

I notice that the vet has started to chuckle as I speak, and I stop.

“What’s so funny?”

The vet looks up. He is an older man, maybe forty, with black hair and a kind smile, but he seems to be looking at me as if I were an idiot.

“Mr. McGowan, this dog is between five and eight years old and she does not have hip dysplasia. Not yet anyway. Now she may get it in five to seven years…”

I am stunned. Five to seven years? That means she’ll live for how long? She’s only how old? No hip problems? This is all happening very fast now and I have to shove my confusion aside and focus in order to get it all because he is still talking.

“…her stool sample looks good and I don’t see any signs of anything that can’t be controlled by a healthy diet. There is nothing that this dog needs that a little love and some food won’t cure.”

I don’t know what to say. I try to sound professional, but I am not sure how it comes across.

“Well, that is what they told me was wrong with her and that is why I brought her here… so you could tell me if they were right.”

He continues to smile.

“No, Mr. McGowan.  They were definitely wrong. Your dog is going to be fine. I expect she’ll live at least another ten years.”

This is the most amazing news I could have hoped for. Not only were Caroline and her “Vet Techs” wrong, but I have managed to save Bailey four times over! I cannot stress this point enough, and it still haunts me to this day:

The people that work at The Baltimore City Animal Control are NOT trained veterinarians. This lack of training and care almost caused Bailey to be put down when nothing… NOTHING was medically wrong with her. God only knows how many more animals have been carelessly killed for lack of adequate housing and care. I am sure Caroline Marchowski knows. I am not sure how she can sleep at night.


I bring Bailey home. She is weak and tired when we arrive, but in good spirits. But in all of my excitement over this dog, I forgot about the cat. Guinness is our only other pet and she is very selfish of her territory. Every day and night when I arrive home from work, Guinness is there waiting at the bottom of the steps as I enter the house. This day is no different.

I open the door with Bailey on the leash that Dunloggin had given me to borrow. There is Guinness waiting for me and only me to enter, when I lead in this huge dog in front of me. Guinness starts towards me, then freezes, then backs up, then hisses.


I should have come in first without the dog. Oh well, too late now. Bailey wags her tail and we walk in past the cat. I unhook the leash and Bailey flops down in front of the couch. There she lays. Safe. She is home.

I think she knows she is safe now. I think she knows she is home.

The next several hours are interesting to say the least. The ordeal is finally over, but a new chapter is beginning. I sit on the couch and began thinking back to the past week’s challenge to get Bailey home with us. It had finally happened, and I feel such a relief wash over me. In the weeks and months that will follow, I will think back to the first moment I saw Bailey in that row house on St. Ambrose Avenue, and it will tear me up. Looking at her now, as she lays still on the floor of our air conditioned, clean, fresh new house, I feel sure that I had been meant to find her. She was the reason we received that anonymous call to the vacant row house. She was the reason I noticed that sound coming from the upstairs bedroom. I have done something good here and I feel proud.

I have showered and changed since coming home, and in that time, Guinness has become accustomed to sniffing around Bailey. Both are getting used to each other. I explain to Guinness that Bailey is very sick and needs a place to stay for a while, and I explain to Bailey that this was Guinness’s house first. Yes, I talk to our pets. They are as much a part of our family as children will be someday. We take them on trips with us and play with them and keep them close to our hearts because it keeps us young. And because animals feel just like we do. I knew that from a very young age, and I knew it even more when Bailey looked up at me in the parking lot of the Animal Control Facility. She remembered me. And she was glad to see me.

Today is Mindy’s twenty-eighth birthday, and I have gotten her an amazing gift. Not just the dog, but an actual gift: an electric guitar autographed by her favorite artist, Paul Simon. It has been specially framed and it is waiting for her when she arrives home from work at around 1800 hours. Bailey and I are sitting downstairs, her in the same spot on the floor and me on the couch. Before Mindy arrived home, Bailey had begun to shiver and I couldn’t figure out why. Then I realized that she must not be accustomed to air conditioning, after living in that sewer of a bedroom for so long without any. So I turned the AC down and wrapped her in a quilt. She immediately licked my hand and the shivering ceased. This is one grateful dog. Mindy walks in. The guitar is wrapped and sitting on the floor beside the couch. But it is not the first thing she sees when she comes in the door. Bailey is.

”She’s so cute!”

Bailey looks up and starts wagging her tail again. But she does not stand. She can’t. She is just too weak. I think Mindy may be crying, but she turns her head away briefly.

“Oh, she is so cute!”

Not much more needs to be said.

That night, and for many nights after, I carry Bailey up the four flights of stairs that lead to our bedroom. She barely struggles against me. She is simply too weak to make the journey herself. Once upstairs, I place her down on her new “bed.” She immediately makes a mess right on it, partly out of having to go, and partly out of fear. This is all so new to her. I had warned Mindy about the possibility of this, so neither of us are that surprised. We know it would be a while before house training takes effect. But we are surprised at how quickly she adjusts to life with us.

That night as Bailey sleeps peacefully for the first time in a long time, I joke to Mindy that I am guaranteed a spot in heaven for this one. After all, I have saved her four times over… how can I not be?

Bailey is home. She will not leave. There will be no attempts to find another home for her. It will not even be discussed. And I knew that the moment she walked out of the Animal Control Center. I think I may have even known it the moment I found her in that dingy room on St. Ambrose Avenue.




3 August 2001
Baker Shift (8X4)
Approximately 0950 Hours
4800 Palmer Avenue

“I wish I didn’t know then what I didn’t know now…”


So Friday finally comes, and just as I had done on Tuesday, I call Animal Control just before 1000 hours. Today however, unlike Tuesday, I am back at work. I have been unable to concentrate too much all morning, and I find myself looking at my watch more than usual. I grab my cell phone, park my car at the corner of Palmer and Garrison Avenues, and make the call. This time, Caroline answers. I am polite and hoping for the best. After all, I have already called my Dad to get the phone number for his vet out in Ellicott City, Maryland, and after calling there; I made an appointment to bring the dog there right after work today. I start to explain my idea to Caroline, but before I can finish, she cuts in.

“Yeah Officer, I saw your note about the dog.” I can tell right away that this conversation is about to take a turn for the worse. She said “note” like it was some inconvenience to her. “Look, why on Earth would you want to adopt this dog? She is old, she has worms, probably heart worms as well, she has fleas and by the way she is walking, she probably has hip dysplasia.”

Jesus. Hip dysplasia? I know what that means. Hip dysplasia is a degenerative disease that usually strikes German Shepherds, but it can affect any dog really. It occurs in older dogs when arthritis in the hip joints causes the dog to lose almost all function in their rear legs. My Father-In-Law’s dog from the junkyard had the same problem. It got so bad for him that by the end, he was dragging himself around their house by his front legs while his rear legs slid across the floor. And forget about climbing stairs. And we have four sets of them to conquer in our townhouse.

“Well, how old is the dog?” I want to approach this cautiously so as not to piss this woman off, since she is the one who will make “the ultimate decision”.

“I’d say she’s at least ten years old. And based on the age, I would say that we would not be putting this dog up for adoption.”

God damn it. Ten years old. That means that she only has about two years left, if that. And I can hear Mindy now. No way we are bringing this dying dog home. No way. That is, if I can even get Caroline to allow me to adopt her at all. I am beginning to dislike Caroline very much.

“Ten years old? Well what kind of shape is she in? Can she be nursed back to some semblance of health? I was told that there were vets there that would be tending to her.”

The next words that I hear are so unbelievably ludicrous that I have trouble understanding them:

“There are no vets here. Where did you hear that? All we do is feed them and wait to see if anyone comes forward to claim them. If no one comes forward, we put them down.”

NO VETS? What the fuck?!

“The Animal Control Officer told me that there were vets on staff that would treat her during those five days. That was the reason I turned her over to you. If I had known that she was just going to be locked in another cage and left to die, I never would have called you. I would have just taken her home myself. That night.”

I notice that I have changed over into my “In Control” tone of voice, the one I use when dealing with incompetent people. The one I use when I want things to go my way. Usually works, too. But not this time. Not yet at least.

“Well Officer, I am appalled that as a Police Officer, you would even consider not performing your duties accordingly and calling us to the scene of a…”

I cut her off quick.

“Ma’am, I am not talking to you as a Police Officer, I am talking to you as a human being.” I stressed “human being” as if she were not acting as one. “And for that matter, I preformed my duties fully. Don’t you dare question how I do my job! I did call you. All I am saying is that if I had known then what I know now, I would have taken the dog to a vet myself, out in the county, and you never would have even know about her existence.”

“Well Officer, that is appalling to me. You have a responsibility to notify Animal Control when you recover a stray animal, and in all my years of doing this, I have never heard of any Police Officer stealing someone’s property.”

So now she is calling me a thief! Things are getting tense.

“I didn’t steal anything! And how can you refer to this dog as someone’s property? Have you even looked at this dog? If she was someone’s property, than they obviously didn’t care too much about it.”

“Well, I haven’t had a chance to actually see the dog…”

“You what? Wait. You haven’t even seen the dog? You just listed a whole litany of problems that she is suffering from, and you haven’t seen her yet?”

“Officer, we have hundreds of animals here. There is not time to see every…”

But I am not letting go. I have her on the ropes now and I am coming in for the kill.

“So let me get this straight. There are no vets there. You have hundreds of animals and no vets?”

She tries to rebound a little bit here.

“Officer, that is why we only keep them for five days. How do you know that no one is going to come forward to claim her? I can’t very well give someone’s property to you without giving them a fair chance to claim her. Besides, you already told me that you planned to steal her from the house.”

This “stealing” shit is burning me up something fierce… but I quickly have a revelation: This idea that I would not have called was not worth fighting about. I had called. You see, I learned a long time ago from one of my favorite Sergeants to “pick your battles.” Thank you Sergeant Scott Gerber.

“Ma’am, this is a pointless argument because I did call. You can keep claiming that I am an appalling Officer all you want, but the fact remains that I made the call and now you have the dog. All I want to do is get her back.”

“Well I need to see her first.” She sighs loudly and at that exact moment, I win the battle. Or she gives in. Either way, then next sentence tells me that I am coming closer to getting my way. “Look, I just got back from vacation. I need a few hours to look this over. Let me look at the dog and you can call me back.”

“So I can still possibly come and get her after work today?”

“No. Not today. I need some time. The earliest that you could come would be Monday… because of the weekend.”

Great. “Look, Caroline. I already made a vet appointment for this evening to get her looked at. I was told that you probably wouldn’t have any problem with this.”

“Well whoever told you that was wrong.”

I want to scream: “It was one of your obviously under qualified, NON-VET staffers that told me that, you bitch!” But I don’t.

“So when would I possibly be able to claim her?”

“Let me look into this and you can call me after three o’clock today. OK?”

Three o’clock. That means tonight is over before it even begins.

“Fine. Three.”

I hang up and immediately call Mindy at work. I start yelling before she even knows who is on the phone with her.

“The dog is ten years old.”


“Ten. And that isn’t all…”

I proceed into the litany of health problems, and Mindy listens. I can tell that she has made her mind up that if the dog is that sick, then there is no way I will be bringing her into our home. But at least she listens to me as I rant and rave about Ms. Marchowski and her apparently heartless approach to her job.

“You would think that if they had so many fucking animals there that they would want people to adopt some of them! She is actually discouraging someone from coming forward and making her job easier!”

Mindy tries to calm me down, but as usual, I am in a rage and there really isn’t much she can say to get me out of it. I need to vent.

“That bitch! They don’t even have any fucking vets there! That means that I got her out of one hell and dropped her right into another! Now I have to cancel the vet appointment that I made for tonight. At this rate, they’ll kill her before I can get her out.”

We go back and forth for a few minutes, and Mindy makes some good points, as she always does. This is why I vent to her and her alone. She always manages to say something remarkable to cause me to rethink my ideas. She points out that at least the dog is eating. And even if they put her down, she will at least not be dying in that house. Plus, if she has all these problems, she probably won’t live very long anyway… nor would we want her to. The humane thing to do would be to let her die peacefully.

“You know what? I don’t care. I don’t fucking care if she only has one year left to live. You know why? Because if she has one year left, and I let them kill her simply because they do not have the space for her, that is not humane. I’ll make room for her. We will. This dog has suffered enough. She deserves to be in a place of love, not a cage in some pound. Besides, we need to get her looked at by a real vet. This woman doesn’t even know what’s wrong with the dog. We need to know if she can make it before we let them kill her. What if she can make it?”

Either way, I have to wait until three o’clock. 1500 hours. It is now only 1030 hours. Gonna be a long day.

The rest of the day drips by slowly. I have a hard time concentrating on the job at hand. After speaking to my friend and Sector One partner Mike George about the whole mess, I decide to take a trip over to 3308 St. Ambrose Avenue and see if I can’t catch up with that young girl’s Mother.

Both Mindy and Mike have calmed me down a lot just by listening. Mike can obviously sympathize, and that is one of the things that makes us such good friends. I can’t say that I have made all that many friends since coming to work at the Northwest District, but then again, I didn’t take this job to make friends. Despite that, Officer Michael George is one of my closest. We mountain bike together almost once a week, we work well together and for a time, we share the same leave group, which means that we both work and have off on the same days as each other. Our Wives have met one another during one of our bike trips to Patapsco State Park, and we share a common impatience not only with the lazy members of our squad, but most of the community that we patrol.

So I head toward the dreaded house on St. Ambrose Avenue, not knowing what I will find. What I see when I arrive shocks me.

The entire second floor of the house has been completely burned out by fire. The windows look like huge, hollow black eyes on some grotesque blue Halloween pumpkin, and the first floor windows have all been smashed out. There is severe smoke and fire damage to the front of the house, and blowing in and out of the second floor left front window is a large black tarp that has been hanging over the opening inside the room. Tiles from the roof are charred and lying throughout the small front yard, like discarded pieces of charcoal. If one stays here long enough, the slight odor of smoke in the air can be detected.

As I sit in my patrol car and take all of this in, the neighbor that provided the dog food on the day that we found the dog, comes out of his house and waves to me.

“There was a fire, Officer.”

I am speechless, but I manage to mumble: “I see that. Was anyone home at the time?”

“Naw, they gone. Left right after you took that dog away.”

I figure that the Mother and her children were squatters and didn’t actually belong there in the first place, and my arriving that day must have scared them into leaving. I thank the man again and assure him that I have taken the dog to a better place. I know I am lying, but I put on a convincing face.

As I drive away, I have to choke back the tears. I begin to realize that, had I not intervened in this terrible situation, the fire would have surely killed the dog. That means that I have now saved her at least three times over. First from the lack of food that would have surely killed her, then from the overwhelming heat of the July weather that would have cooked her alive in that room, and finally from the fire. I start to wonder almost immediately if someone set the fire on purpose. Maybe they thought the dog was still in there as they lit the match. Unfortunately, I will never know. And I will never know who it was that wanted that dog to suffer so inhumanely.


The time is fast approaching to call Caroline back, and I am getting more edgy by the minute. I look at my watch again and see that it is now 1450 hours.

“What the hell.” I think. “Might get lucky.”

I dial the number.

When Caroline picks up the line, I immediately notice a change in her entire demeanor.

“Thank you for calling me back Officer. I have more information for you on that dog you were interested in adopting. But first let me apologize for the way we started things this morning. I had just walked in from vacation to a huge pile of papers that should have been taken care of before I came back to work. But they weren’t. So hopefully you can understand my frustration.”

Actually, I can. I even suspected as much throughout the course of the day, after I calmed down of course. I suspected that she had been so testy for that exact reason.

“Thank you for saying so Ms. Marchowski. Believe it or not, I thought just that after we talked. I figured you had just sat down and probably didn’t need some Police Officer calling to pester you.”

“Well, let’s see if we can’t start over. So you are interested in adopting this dog?”

“Yes Ma’am. Very interested.”

I can’t believe this! We might actually be making some headway. The thought makes me very happy.

“Well, I have taken a look at her and I can tell you that she is gonna need a lot of work. She does look as if she has hip dysplasia, as we discussed, and she definitely needs a bath… but if you are interested, I am fairly certain we can arrange something.”

“Well I’ll tell you, my thinking is that even if she only has a few years left… there is no need for her to suffer any more that she already has I can’t see killing her without knowing if she had a chance to make it or not.”

“Well, if you adopt her, she will be your responsibility. You will have to get her seen by a vet.”

“That is exactly the way I want it.”

We continue to talk and as we do so, I become more and more certain that this dog is going to make it. I am going to get my chance to see to that. She finally agrees to let me come get the dog the following Monday, but first I have to agree to get her all the required shots. Caroline even offers to let me take the dog for a reduced price of only fifty dollars. We finish our conversation and I call Mindy to tell her the good news.

“I did it!”

“You got the dog?”

“Monday. I can get her Monday.”

We are both pleased. I call the vet again and reschedule the appointment for Monday after work.





30 July 2001
Baker Shift (8X4)
Approximately 1500 Hours
3308 St. Ambrose Avenue


“High and dry in the long hot day…
Lost and lonely in every way…
Got the flats all around, sky up above…
Guess I need a little water of love.
I’ve been too long and lonely and my heart feeling pain…
Crying out for some soothing rain…
I believe I’ve taken enough…
Yes I need a little water of love.”
(Dire Straits – WATER OF LOVE)


It’s hot today. Brutally hot. The kind of East Coast hot that makes people squirm and spit venom at one another. So it comes as no great surprise when I receive a call for several armed persons inside a nearby location fighting. I respond along with Officer Brian McGarry and Officer James Ryan. We arrive almost together, all three of us coming from different directions. As we approach the house, Brian mentions that he received a similar call to this house earlier today for almost the same type of incident, and that the house seemed vacant when he came before. The door had been boarded up, he explained, and nailed shut. He had to kick the door open on his first visit, and we all saw the broken down door lying halfway into the dwelling. Brian is worried that this call might be an IID set up, so we proceed inside, cautiously scanning the area for planted drugs that we are “supposed” to find. (Internal Affairs will frequently set up sting operations where they plant drugs at a location, then call 9-1-1 and claim that someone “has a gun” or someone is “getting killed” or some other “serious” type crime is occurring. Then they sit back in a blacked out van and wait for that lazy, corrupt cop that they know is out there to come and find the drugs. The lazy, corrupt cop then either arrives and steals the drugs, or worse, he never even gets out of the car to begin with.)

So Brian, Jimmy Ryan and myself make our way into this broken down, disaster-zone of a house. I ask the Dispatcher to hold the air while we search the location. We start on the first floor. The place looks like a hurricane struck very recently. Imagine if you can, eating every meal from the time of your birth until the time of your fiftieth birthday, wearing all of those different clothes in between… and after each meal and following each and every change of clothes… you simply drop these discarded items wherever you feel like. That is what this house looks like. Piles of dirty dishes scattered everywhere; lumps of dirty clothes in every corner and all around the rooms. Piles of used electronics; VCR’s, TV’s, stereos… everywhere. Dripping water from the faucet in the kitchen sink. At least I think it is the kitchen. Hard to tell with the amount of shit on the floor. Literal shit. Thought I was in the bathroom at first glance. Mold and mildew on the walls. Holes in the ceiling where water trickled through like some post-apocalyptic bomb shelter that had not survived the fall out. The back door kicked inward so Ryan checks the back yard for those mysterious “armed persons” that we have been sent to deal with. Not there. Brian and I proceed upstairs, sloshing our way up the dangerously wet staircase; every step signaling our location to anyone hiding upstairs. There are three bedrooms on the second floor and a bathroom. More shit in there… even in the shower.

“Jesus!” I think. “How can any human live like this? Animals.”

We clear two of the three rooms and the bathroom and still find no one inside. As we start toward the staircase to re-check the first floor for any “planted” drugs, I hear someone moving inside the third bedroom to my left. This room is the very first one at the top of the staircase, and we almost missed it because the door had been closed. In fact, upon later reflection, we realize that the door had been to our backs as we had cleared the other rooms on that floor. Not very safe at all. I immediately motion to McGarry and Ryan to freeze. The sound had been oh so slight, but it was there. I was sure of it. Someone is inside that room.

We back up and flank the door. I am on the left, Brian in the center and Jimmy on the staircase to the right of the door. I key up the mic:

“Fourteen, we have somebody inside the second floor room. Gimmie some more units.”


Units come and secure the back in case our suspects decide to jump out the window. I glance at Brian and Jimmy. We all have our guns drawn on the door. I take the lead, as I had throughout our search. After all, it is my call even though the house is located on Thirteen Post and Ryan is working Thirteen car today. (The fact that I had been assigned a call on Thirteen Post when Thirteen car was available for calls is another issue entirely…)

“Baltimore City Police!” I shout at the door. “Open the door!”

No reply at all. But there is movement. This time we all hear it.

“Police!” shouts McGarry.

“Open the fucking door asshole before you get shot!” Ryan has such a way with words.

(Ryan used to work at Rykers Island Prison in New York before venturing south to Baltimore, so his curtness was to be expected. I always liked that about him. One time while I was bitching about a particular Sergeant that had a habit of rubbing me the wrong way, Ryan interrupted my twenty-minute tirade by stating flatly, “He’s a dick.” That was it. End of discussion. Nothing more needed to be said. New Yorkers have such a way with words that they can sum up twenty minutes of yelling, bitching and complaining about a person in three words. “He’s a dick.” Amen.)

Still no answer at the door.

“One last chance.” I think to myself. “Open the door… This is the Police!”

It is at this exact moment that all three of us notice something that should have been very obvious. We all see it at the same time, and we all should have noticed it much sooner. The door is been dead bolted from the outside. Bolted and padlocked. Whoever was in there couldn’t open the door even if they wanted to. For one ridiculous moment I think that maybe whomever is inside this room came in from the second floor window, so I check with the units outside via the radio.

“Negative. That window is too high and there is no balcony to climb up.”

Well, whomever it is isn’t coming out, so we decide to go in. Brain starts kicking the door as Jimmy and I check our sight lines so as not to shoot him in the back. Brian thrusts the first kick and his right foot plows straight through the thin plywood door.

“Shit!” Brain cries.

Here we are, three cops, guns drawn and McGarry with his foot stuck in the door. The Keystone Cops. I grab Brian and pulled him out while Jimmy stars kicking above Brian’s newly created hole. We soon get the door cracked enough to push it open. When we do, however, the door jams on the carpet inside the room. We keep pushing and shouting into the room until we finally move the door back far enough to see inside. And what we find breaks my heart so deeply that I have to actively hold back the tears.

The smell hits me first. Inside the room are piles and piles of feces, human, or so I think. I gaze inside the room, taking it all in. The floor and ceiling are almost completely rotted away from water damage and the carpet stinks of mildew and shit. And then I see it. I almost miss it at first; the movement is so slight… so… defeated. In the left corner of the room, cowering under a small, broken down dresser, is a tail. The shaking, quivering tail… of a dog. The dog is huddled under the dresser in total fear and pain, and it isn’t until she crawls out from under her safe hiding place that the true extent of human savageness becomes apparent.

The dog is so thin the you can touch both sides of her rib cage just by forming the letter “C” with your hand and placing it along her spine. That is if the dog lets you get close enough to touch. She tries to stand and fails several times. As she makes her way out from under the dresser… I am at first struck by how amusing this whole scene is. The three of us kicking and screaming for some armed gunman to come out, and all the while it is this poor, timid dog growing more scared with every kick we plant onto the failing door. But that feeling quickly passes into terrible anguish at the sight of this dog and her monumental struggle to stand. I scan the room for signs that she had been left in here with some amount of food, knowing by the sight of her that she had not been. There is nothing in the room but broken furniture and massive amounts of dog feces. It is not until much later that the full impact of this sight will manifest itself into the realization that whomever left this dog in this room did so in order to cause her to die a slow and painful death. Even worse… they intended to kill her. And it will be even more time before the true horror of what we find in this room today will grab hold of me; while driving out to visit my Dad on a day off; and force me to call my wife at her work and sob so forcefully into the cell phone that I almost drive my car off the road: “I don’t want this dog to die.”

McGarry and Ryan quickly make their way down the steps, calling for the dispatcher to “open the air”, thus allowing things to return to normal on the radio. In truth, I think they can’t bear the sight of this mongrel dog. She is a German Sheppard mixed breed, approximately four feet long and approximately two feet high. She is mostly black, with caramel colored legs and flecks of white in her fur. I stand there frozen, just outside of the filthy death trap of a room, amazed and horrified. I want to cry. I decide to search for food instead. I dart down to the kitchen and pour through every cabinet and cupboard searching for any kind of dog food that I can find.

“Surely there must be a can of Alpo or something in here.” I mutter to myself. “I mean, who the hell has a dog and no food?”

Nothing. Not one can, not one crumb of dog food anywhere in this entire shit hole. The best I can find is a box of stale corn flakes. Not even a name brand. I grab a bowl from the counter and the box and head for the front door thinking that the mutt must have made it outside to freedom. I find only McGarry and Ryan, standing on the front porch, taking in the sun. It is oppressively hot today, and that will factor into my thoughts many more times in the days and months to come. As I turn to head back into the house, I see her standing there. She is at the top of the staircase, looking down at me with eyes that I immediately know I will never; not as long as I live and breathe; ever forget.

She is shaking terribly and hardly able to stand. Her back legs are quivering in a tremendous effort to keep her up, and her front legs are spread apart in a strange upside down “V” shape. But it is her eyes that burn me deepest. By all accounts, this dog is dead. Locked in that upstairs back room for what had to be months judging by the amount of feces in the room with her, with no food or water whatsoever; save for the water leaking in from the ripped open ceiling; this dog should have been dead. But her eyes tell a different story. They carry a look of total resolve and relief. They speak to me and they say: “Don’t you fail me. I am not dead yet.” It is at this exact moment, with sweat smearing my eyes… or perhaps it is tears… that I decide to save this dog no matter what the cost.

I set the bowl down on the porch and pour the cereal into it. I begin calling to her to come down the steps. Her tail begins to move… ever so slightly… back and forth. I call and I call. Even Brian joins in. But she just can’t make it. The steps are too great. She just stands there at the top of the staircase and looks at me. Into me. “Don’t you fail me. I am not dead yet.”

I walk slowly up the steps and straddle her from behind. I lift her hindquarters gently and help her down the steps, one step at a time.

“Take your time girl.” I say as I choke back the tears. It is a phrase I will use often with her in the coming months.

She never once barks or growls… she just keeps pushing herself forward. We reach the porch and she flops down in front of the bowl, dipping her face into it and scarffing the cereal down. She eats so fast that she starts to choke. I don’t think I need to describe how quickly or how much she eats… you can just imagine being that hungry and depraved yourself.

Worried that the cereal is too dry, I venture back into the kitchen and fill another bowl with water. When I return, I pour more cereal into the bowl with water and she starts lapping it up. When she finishes, she proceeds to vomit all of the cereal onto the porch. Having been deprived of food for so long, her belly just isn’t able to handle anything being forced into it. She then begins to lap eagerly at the vomit.

Imagine being so hungry that you would eat your own vomit without hesitation. Without. Hesitation.

The residents of 3310 St. Ambrose Avenue have come out onto their porch to see why the Police are banging around in the next-door neighbor’s house, and I quickly ask if they have any dog food in their house. Luckily, they do. The neighbor returns with a huge bag of dry dog food, which I proceed to pour into the first, now empty, bowl. When I try to move the bowl of wet cereal away, she snaps quickly but timidly at my hand. Understandable considering. It will be the only time that she ever snaps at me. I slide the bowl of dry dog food in front of her and she decides that this is a much more appealing meal than fresh, hot vomit. I pause to decide what to do next. My training and expertise tells me that I have to call Animal Control, but my humanity tells me that to do that would certainly mean she will be put to death in some rotting, dank cage. I decide to call Mindy instead.

“Honey…” I shyly ask when she answers the phone at her desk, “How pissed would you be if I brought home a dog?” My exact words.


“You found a dog? What kind of dog?” She does not sound pleased, nor did I expect her to.

“A stray dog.”

I proceed to explain what we found, and although she feels terrible, I can tell the answer will be “No.” After much discussion, we agree that the best course of action, given that we do not know this dog’s history or temperament, is to call Animal Control and have them take the dog… for the time being. Maybe after she recovers, we can think about adopting her. Maybe…

During this phone conversation, a young black female who had been walking up the street toward the house pushes the fence open and steps up onto the porch. She can’t be more than sixteen, and McGarry and Ryan just stare at her… then me. I hang up the phone and watch in amazement as this girl sits down on a rickety metal chair on the front porch. The concrete porch is covered with a bright green turf-type carpet that is patchy and ridden with holes, and the concrete underneath screeches as she slides the chair under her weight.

“Do you live here?” I start.

“Yeah.” She seems almost bored by our presence, as if this is a regular occurrence. It probably is given the neighborhood.

“Where are your parents?” I am starting to realize that a family actually lives inside this dwelling. And that means that someone knew that this dog was in there… dying.

“My Mom’s at work.”

She has yet to look directly at the dog, but I know immediately that she saw her lying there beside a pile of vomit and strewn dog food. The girl could have cared less.

“When will she be back?” My patience is starting to wear thin, and I think it shows.

“I don’t know.” More boredom.

I decide to break the silence that is hanging over the poor dog ever since this girl arrived.

 “Whose dog is this?” I ask, eyeing her carefully. (Always watch the hands and eyes. They always convey the heart of a person.)

“She ain’t mine.”

She. The girl said she.

“Well then, who does she belong to?” My sarcasm is thick. Dripping.

“My Uncle.”

“And where is your Uncle?”

“He left.”


“A year ago.”           

“A year ago?”

I am fucking amazed. No way this dog survived without food or water for a year. No way. I am still trying to figure out where all of the feces came from without food to produce it, when I finally settle on the idea that she must have begun eating her own excrement at some point. That cinches it for me. I decide to go all out with this girl.

“Then how long has she been in there?” I am almost screaming at her as I point inside the house and up the stairs.

“That ain’t my dog.”

She keeps stressing the words “mine” or “my” in a vain attempt to remove herself from the situation, as if these words could remove the guilt of her conspiracy in the crime. My already thin patience is starting to split at the seams, unraveling like a thread pulled from a sweater.

“Look, we have established that the dog does not belong to you, but that does not change the fact that she has been locked away – from the outside of the door mind you – for… how long now?”

“That ain’t my dog.”

She says it with the exact same flat, matter-of-factness that she said it with the first two times, as if she would rather be watching Jerry Springer or some other mindless show on television and we are merely taking up time beforehand.

“Well, look young lady, who else lives here with you? Your Mother and who else?”

“My little brother.”

“And where is he right now?”

“At school.”

Then I say something that if said to a far more caring, sensitive or intelligent person would have surely gotten me a Supervisors Complaint:

“How the fuck do you all live like that?”

Brian and Jimmy; who had up until this point have been letting me run the show; both look up in slight surprise. No doubt Jimmy will deny this, but I swear I see him smile at that one. And yet I persist:

“I mean… look in there? How do you even get inside? We came here earlier and the door was nailed shut from the outside. We thought the house was vacant! This Officer” -pointing to McGarry, who is smiling wryly himself – “had to kick it open just to get in.”

She just stares at me with a glazed over look.

“We climb through the window.”

“Through the window? Jesus Christ. Does your Mother have proof that you all are allowed to live here? Because if not, in addition to being charged with cruelty to animals, I will certainly bang you with trespassing.”

“What kind of proof?”

“Like a rental agreement. A lease. Anything? BGE bills?”

“I dunno. We ain’t even got no power in there.”

I really don’t think that she does know about her Mother’s ability to provide documentation, but man am I pissed at this heartless girl. Brian, upon hearing this news of no gas and electric, whispers to me that I “better let go of this before it turns into a child neglect case.” He is damn right. It is close to shift change, as cruel as that sounds, and I have no intention of “rescuing” any kids from a home that their Mother was allowing them to grow up in. Especially if none of them cared one iota about this poor dog.

I ask the Dispatcher to notify Animal Control that we have a stray dog and, after a time, she advises that they will be responding. Like I said, it is getting close to shift change, and I want to get things moving. The heat is getting to me and I begin to fear that I will lose it right here in front of my fellow Officers. I keep repeating out loud: “I want to keep this dog.” I begin to devise a way to possibly save her. I figure that if Animal Control could promise not to destroy her, I could let her get healthy in their care and then see how her temperament was. After all, Animal Control is staffed by vets, right? So why not let them patch her up for a few days, and in the meantime, I could work on convincing Mindy to let me try to find her a goods home. Anywhere was better than here. But I know that we are not ready for a dog. After all, we already have a very selfish and proud cat that we rescued three years ago, and the idea of introducing a dog into the mix just didn’t seem like a good idea. Plus, children are in our future plans, and both Mindy and I were concerned how a stray dog would react around them. But at this point my only concern is to find her a good home, if she survives long enough. I return my attention to the girl for a minute, and discover that she has been passing the time by biting her nails.

“You do know that you could all go to jail for what you have done to this dog?”

The reply is no surprise to any of us… even her: “That ain’t my dog.”

“Be that as it may, this is a crime young lady. Animal Cruelty is a very serious offense. How could you leave her up there without food or water?”

“I give her a bone sometimes.”

“A BONE?!” Damn this girl is thick headed. It is Ryan who chimes in this time, speaking directly to me with that thick New York accent:

“You know she don’t give a shit about herself, so how can you expect her to care about an animal?”

This causes the girl to stare hard at Ryan, who seems to enjoy riling her. Let’s be honest here folks, sometimes all you can do is fuck with someone… especially if you don’t intend to lock them up. And juveniles – anyone under the age of eighteen that is – just aren’t worth the paperwork involved. Not at shift change anyway. Remember what I have previously stated: Work hard for eight hours and go home. And we are about to go home.

Animal Control arrives and a large black man steps out of the truck with his long dog pole. He looks like a veteran. I approach him and after some small talk about how we came to be here, he looks around the corner of the porch and sees her for the first time. The look of shock is unmistakable.

“Damn man. I been doing this for fifteen years and I aint never seen nothing like this.”

Here was a man who, for all intents and purposes, had seen almost every kind of mutt, stray and abandoned animal in the city; and believe me when I tell you, there are a lot of them out there; and yet the sight of this mangled, deprived dog made him shudder. I decide now is the time. I make my offer:

“If you guys are gonna kill this dog, then I’ll take her right here and now and you can just leave. I’ll take her to a vet out in the county and get her healthy myself. But, if you can promise me that you won’t put her down… maybe I can adopt her or find her a good home.”

The Animal Control Officer thinks about this for a minute and says:

“Well, we hold ‘em for only five days, and if no one comes forward to claim ‘em, we put ‘em down.” Then he turns his attention to the girl. “Young lady, you care if we take this dog?”

“That ain’t my dog.”

My mind is racing now, processing things as fast as I can. I had always thought that I worked well under pressure, but I think a better analogy would be one that I recently read in an article by James Ellroy in GQ magazine: “We perform more efficiently, not necessarily better.” I was becoming more efficient as shift change approached.

The Animal Control Officer continues to the girl: “Well young lady, somebody done some damage to that dog. Somebody should go to jail for that.” She just shrugs her shoulders. He turns to me: “Five days is all I can promise.”

Five days.

“Do you have vets there that can treat her?”

“Oh yeah, we got vets. But we can only hold her for five days. Then we gotta put her down. We just ain’t got the room.”


I had decided. It’s amazing how quickly a life can be decided. Live or die. Up to me. Right now, one answer, yes or no.

“Can you give me your name or the name of someone that I can contact about the dog in the next day or so?”

“Yeah, I’ll give you a receipt and a number you can call. You’ll wanna talk to the Vet Tech Supervisor. She be in tomorrow around ten.”

“Ok. You take her and I’ll call tomorrow.”

I am relieved. This Officer seemed sincere and he had been kind enough to hear me out. He didn’t have to. After all, it was probably very near the end of his shift as well. He takes the dog pole and loops it around the dog’s neck. Most dogs, upon having a dog pole looped around their neck, will begin to fight and growl and pull away. This dog, however, does the most amazing thing. She turns her face to the pole and starts licking it. She is so overjoyed to be leaving this rotting deathtrap that she actually trots – as best she can in her weakened state – toward the truck. As we leave the porch, I turn back to the girl and say:

“Be advised young lady… I will be back here to talk to your Mother, and you bet she will be facing some very serious charges.”

Her reply is a dull as her demeanor during the entire scene: “Whatever.”

The Officer then marches the dog to the side of the truck and lifts her into the caged opening. The door creaks shut, and just as it does, I see those eyes once again.

“Don’t you fail me. I am not dead yet.”

He fills out the pink receipt and I sign it. He then writes the name of the Vet Tech Supervisor, Ms. Caroline Marchowski, on the slip. I promise to call, and with that, he takes her away. The shift ends shortly thereafter, and I leave feeling that I have at least saved her from dying in that abyss of filth. I figure that if she doesn’t survive the week, she will at least die peacefully far away from 3308 St. Ambrose Avenue. I am so relieved to have helped get her free, and I hope against hope that I will be able to adopt her to a good home. Little do I know then that it will be a full week, and many angry phone calls later, before I would see her again. I had no idea then that when I signed that pink receipt, I had actually signed her death warrant.


The next day is a day off, so I wake early and wait until 1000 hours to call. By 0950 hours, I cannot wait anymore. I grab the cordless phone from the wall in the kitchen and make my way over to the sink. Our kitchen is in the back of our four – story townhouse, and beyond the sink in an overlook that allows a view down into the first floor rec room. There are two large windows on the wall opposite the sink, to the right of the door out to the second floor deck, and below them, on the first floor, is a sliding glass door that exits out under the deck. As the dial tone comes alive in my ear, I start thinking about the dog running outside in our back yard. No ghetto streets filled with speeding cars and cries of open-air drug markets. No dirty junkies with their filth crusted hands smacking at her backside because she moved too slow. No rats, mice or any other kind of vermin to gnaw at her feet as she tried to sleep. Nothing but cool, clean air and grass. Oh the grass! And trees! Holy shit, the trees!

“Hello? Hello?” I barely notice that someone has picked up on the other end of the line.

“Yes… hello?” I stammer.

“Baltimore City Animal Control.” It is a female voice. Maybe it is Caroline.

“Yes, this is Officer **** from the Baltimore City Police Department,” God I love saying that to people. It seems to command attention. And I have noticed that people are always more willing to help when you start your request with “this is Officer So and So from the Baltimore City Police Department…” I continue: “Can I speak to Caroline Marchowski please?”

The female voice on the other end pauses for a second before answering.

“Um, she is on vacation until Friday. Can I help you?”

Friday? But today is Tuesday! What am I going to do until Friday? They might kill her by then!

“Well, maybe you can. I had a dog brought in yesterday from 3308 St. Ambrose Avenue in the Northwest. When I spoke to the Officer from your facility, he advised me to call and speak to Caroline about possibly adopting the dog.”

I proceed to explain my desire to bring the dog home, or at least find her a good home, but that I need some information about her condition first. The night before, Mindy and I discussed exactly what we might do about the dog, and we both agreed to first find out if she was healthy. Mindy had still been very reluctant about the entire situation, and in truth, I couldn’t blame her. She was selfishly – and correctly – concerned about the expense of getting this dog healthy, along with the fear that it may get healthy and turn out to be mean spirited. After all, we had no idea what kind of abuse this dog had faced in the past. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that the dog was just not that way. It was the eyes. I know it sounds crazy, but they spoke to me.

The voice on the end of the line places me on hold to search for the paperwork on the dog. When she returns, she sounds chipper.

“Yep, I’ve got it right here. 3308 St. Ambrose Avenue. Now what is it you want to know again?”

“Her condition, her temperament, anything you can tell me.”

“Well, she is resting now. She’s eating and resting.”

I reiterate my desire to bring her home, and ask about the five-day window of opportunity.

“Well, Caroline would make the ultimate decision about adoption, and as I stated, she won’t be back until Friday, but given the situation, I don’t see why you couldn’t come in and get her then.”

“Get her Friday, you mean?” I am surprised. Happily. I still don’t know the dog’s disposition or health issues, but I figure that Caroline will look into that when she came back from wherever she was. Or at least a vet would do so before then.

“Yes, I don’t see why not.”

“That’s great news. So I’ll call back Friday and speak to Caroline about this and maybe pick her up after work?”

“Yes, call back Friday. She usually gets in around ten.”

I thank her and hang up. Over the course of the next two days, I work on convincing Mindy that we need to do this. I need to do this. I promise that all I want to do is get her out of there and into a good home. It doesn’t need to be our home… just a good one. And I mean it. I call my Dad and ask him to check with people he might know that want a dog. When my Dad first hears about it, the first words out of his mouth are:

“You know we can’t keep her.”

Yeah, I know. But secretly, I am hoping. At least then I can visit her. But Dad already has a dog, a Boxer with a temper when it comes to other dogs. He also has a huge house in Howard County with lots of land for just such a dog to roam freely on. I grew up with stray dogs and cats all of my life. Over the course of my twenty-nine (so far) years, my family rescued at least ten dogs and cats from certain death. (More cats than dogs.) Don’t get the wrong idea, I didn’t grow up on Animal Farm, it’s just the we always had a dog or two along with some cats around the house. I still love to tell the story of how my Mom found my favorite dog, Nicholas.

My oldest sister Tammy had just left home for college at the American University in Washington, DC, and I think my Mom missed her. She had been shopping at the Giant Food Store in Severna Park, Maryland when she saw a box that had been left in front of the store, just outside the main entrance. Inside the box was a small, gray, black and white dog. It was howling in fear and sadness. She said that when she was all the way inside the store, at the very back by the meat counter, she could still her that poor dog crying every time the doors slid open out front. This was over the sound of the piped in music, the frozen food freezers, the customers and the carts. She decided that if that silly dog were still there when she left, she would bring it home. The dog was still there when she left.

Oddly enough, my Father-In-Law had done the same a few years after Mindy had graduated from Loyola College in Baltimore, Maryland. She was moving out to get her own place and he snagged a stray dog from a junkyard and brought it home, much to his Wife’s dismay. And when that one passed away, he went and got another one just like it. That one is still with us. And now that I think about it, my Dad did the exact same thing when I left for UMBC in Catonsville, Maryland. That’s when he got his Boxer from a Boxer Rescue League. Funny how people need to replace things like that. Even other people. And I still kid my Dad about the fact that his dog gets better treatment than I ever did when I lived at home!

And like so many children of the seventies and the eighties… I blame my parents. It’s their fault that I care so deeply about strays.

So I continue my search for a home for the dog from the ghetto. Mindy asks around at her work. My Mother-In-Law asks at her job. I call friends. We even consider putting an ad in the paper. And it is during this search that I make that sobbing phone call to Mindy at work.

I am driving to my Dad’s house to pick up some papers related to my car when I begin listening to a song on my CD player from The Last of the Mohicans movie soundtrack. The song is called “Promontory” and it is featured in the final scene in the film in which Daniel Day Lewis’s character is trying to rescue his lover’s Sister from a rival Indian tribe. The scene is, for me, a very emotional one and no matter how many times I see it, it has the same affect on me each time. Words just don’t do it justice. You have to see it with the music and the scenery and the camera angles all in one shot to feel the impact. As I am driving, I keep seeing the dog in my mind. The way she struggled just to stand. The sadness and hope in her eyes. It all creeps up on me, and with the music blaring it’s saddest notes, I just let go. It all overwhelms me. I begin to sob uncontrollably. The single thought that keeps screaming in my mind is:

“I don’t want this dog die.”

I call Mindy at her job and begin sobbing into the phone. I beg. I can’t stand the thought of that dog suffering one minute more. I argue that if the Animal Control people want to put the dog to sleep out of mercy, then that is one thing, but to do it simply because no one wants her… then that is not acceptable. I want her out of there and I cannot bear the idea of letting her die such a lonely and horrible death. She needs to know that she is loved. And I reiterate what I saw in that dog’s eyes. There was life left. I know it.

The phone call changes something in Mindy, I think. She understands now how much I need to do this. I had seen enough death in my life. This dog deserves a chance. The only question is, would I be able to give her one. When I finally hang up the phone, I feel sure that I will be.

But all of that changed on Friday morning.