“You know, you don’t need to have your dogs on leashes.”
This surprising statement draws my interest to a man approaching us. The crew and I are on a back street of Lone Pine, California. It’s laundry day and we’re out walking around the neighborhood behind the laundromat, enjoying the sunny day while the clothes spin.
I smile at the man and he continues talking as he walks toward us.
“The dog catcher here doesn’t do her job, so you can let your dogs run free. Nobody will catch ‘em.”
We’re face-to-face now. The man is not very tall, Hispanic, sixty-ish, and he has a plastic shopping bag in his hand.
“Hello. What do you mean?” I ask.
“See that white Ford pickup down there?” He points down the wide street lined with modest wood houses on little lots, most showing the wear of summer sun and sand-blasting of desert wind.. “I live down there. The lady next door to me has about 60 cats and they run all over the place, making a mess on my property.”
Before I can ask if he’s contacted anyone about it, he continues. “The dog catcher lady doesn’t do her job. She got fired, but they had to take her back. They were afraid they’d get sued. I don’t know what to do. It’s awful.”
He proceeds to tell me what it’s like to have cats roaming all over, doing their business everywhere. “They even pee on my front door! I put out a table to do some work in the back yard. The next day there’s feces all around and under it.” By this time Bridget and Spike are resting on the warm pavement at my feet.
As soon as there’s a pause in the flow of words, I offer my hand.
“By the way, my name is Sue.” He takes my hand. “I’m Chuy. My real name is Jesus, but I’ve always been called Chuy.” He smiles and I notice he has the kind of eyes that twinkle, that is, when he’s not thinking about the cats.
“Nice to meet you, Chuy.”
I want to ask him if his nickname is a Spanish word or if it’s chewy as in cookies. I decide to let it go. (This post has been edited upon being informed by readers that the name is Chuy, a common Hispanic nickname, not Chewy as I originally spelled it which is how it’s pronounced.) A can escapes the plastic bag and clanks on the pavement. Chuy picks it up and returns it to his collection.
“I had heart valve replacement surgery so I’m not working. I pick up cans for recycling. It puts some money in my pocket,” he explains.
I’m curious about the cat situation.
“Chuy, you look like you’re on your way home. Is it all right if we walk with you?” I ask. The crew hears “walk” and they’re up and ready to go.
We pass a shabby house, an old van with a flat tire partially hidden with weeds, a windowless building, and the side of a motel. The back of the motel is up against a lot where a pretty blue house trimmed in white beckons passers-by. Roses, zinnias, and morning glories stick their cheery heads over and through the white picket fence.
“Is that your place?” I exclaim. “It’s gorgeous!”
I notice white wicker rockers on the front porch, butterfly lawn ornaments, and a weed-free, lush lawn, perfectly edged along the walk leading up to the porch.
Pots of flowers ring the trunk of a peach tree. “I’ve got another peach and an apricot in the back,” Chuy proudly informs me.
Chuy has lived in this house with his mother since 1979.
I tell him it’s obvious he’s put a lot of work into it. I can’t help repeating how lovely it is and asking questions about the plants growing there.
He tells me his mother grows the flowers. He takes care of the rest. Next to the peach tree is the largest Rose of Sharon tree I’ve ever seen. Another tree – I think it’s a locust – has ivy growing around its massive trunk and up into the branches.
“This is so nice, Chuy. May I take some photos?”
The flowers have pretty much played out, it being October. I wonder what the flower beds look like at their peak, with peach blossoms and Rose of Sharon blooms above them.
While I’m snapping the photos, Chuy says gravely, “Wait ’til you see what’s next door.”
A sand driveway lies between Chuy’s property and the neighbors. The driveway is one, big, cat toilet. Feces are evident and the smell drives me backwards into the street where I almost step on some more cat droppings.
“Watch your step!” Chuy warns. “It’s even out in the street.” Chuy’s exasperated. He puts his hands up to the sides of his head. “I don’t know how much longer I can take this. In the summer it stinks so bad. And the flies! That can’t be healthy.” I can see the flies swarming.
We discuss his family’s efforts to have something done about the cats.
Apparently Chuy and his sisters have given up. They’ve fought this fight for years. I mention that the driveway needs to be completely dug out and replaced with concrete. “At least that way, you could hose it down.” I suspect money is an obstacle.
While we talk, cats roam around his neighbor’s dilapidated mobile home.
A panel of the skirting has been removed so the cats can live underneath the home. I see three faces peering out. Another cat climbs up and over the patched-together, old board fence on a special ladder put there for that purpose.
“Look over there!” Chuy points to the far corner of his house. A big tabby appears around the corner and strolls across Chuy’s lawn like he owns the place.
I suggest contacting an animal welfare group.
“If this lady’s hoarding cats, she may be sick and living in unhealthy conditions.” Chuy seems baffled by my suggestion. I try to explain about animal welfare organizations. “Maybe there’s one in Bishop or some other town near here. They could come out and maybe help this lady and her cats.”
Chuy seems completely disheartened.
The thought comes to me that his soft-spoken manner and unassuming stature – not to mention being Hispanic – is probably easy to ignore down at the local health department. Our conversation about possible solutions seems to go in circles until it stalls out.
I remember I need to get back to the laundromat.
I wait for the right moment. “Well, Chuy. I’ve got to go now. It was really nice meeting you. Thank you for showing me your beautiful home.”
Back at the laundromat, Bridget and Spike have a drink and wait inside the PTV.
I take the clothes out of the dryer and fold them on the smooth table. My mind lingers on Chuy and his pretty oasis with the flowers and the picket fence and the smell and the flies.
Boy, am I glad my home has wheels!
Canine Corner: “It’s my house now” by Bridget
When rvsue got a new dog bed for inside, Spike was all over it for a day or two. I couldn’t even look at it without him growling like I was breaking the law or something. Then he didn’t care about it any more.
Same thing with the canine condo. Spike had to get in it right away and hog it. Now he’d rather lie in the dirt under the BLT because he’s a very messy boy.
I like having the canine condo all to myself. I rearrange the quilt just so before I sit or lie down. And when Spike comes around I let him know he’d better keep putting one paw in front of the other ’cause he’s not bringing his dirty self into my house!