In the Pearl District of downtown Portland, Oregon, on Glisan Street, just west of Interstate 405, there is a kennel called Jordan’s Pets. Not all the animals inside have someone who claims them—well, somebody besides Abbi Jordan, I mean.
If there was one thing that could be said about Abbi Jordan, it was that she loved animals. Even through high school, she made it her personal mission to become as close to a veterinary doctor as she could manage, and she made it through the medical program at the community college in record time. She called Jordan’s Pets her “practice,” even though it was just a building Dad bought across the street so she wouldn’t keep bringing strays into the house. The neighbors didn’t mind having a “pet library” at their disposal, either.
It was ingenious the way Abbi figured it out: customers wanting a pet could “rent” it if they didn’t want to keep it forever, and bring it back whenever they didn’t want it any more. If they chose, they could purchase the pet outright, and Abbi had a “physic package” in addition to the price of the animal, where she would perform all the necessary checkups and medical inoculations, and the critter would be ready to go. Either way, she was earning money, and enjoying what she loved most: finding good homes for strays.
It didn’t matter if they were missing a limb or a tail—she even took in a mangy tabby that had lost its eye in a fight—she would bring it in, clean it up, nurse it back to health, and let it stay till somebody came along and decided they wanted it. Very often, the strays were so mangled that no one did, so they became permanent residents of Jordan’s Pets. There were about fifty such residents as of June, 2005.
I know what you’re thinking: she’s crazy, right? How can one 24-year-old take care of not only other people’s animals, but the strays off the streets, too? The answer is simple: she’s got an assistant on speed dial. Whenever she needs help, all she needs to do is hit a button on her cell phone, and I come running.
That’s right; I’m her assistant. I’m also her little brother, David. That’s why I run.
At sporadic times during the day, I’d get a call, something like, “David! I’m swamped over here! Could you lend a hand?” and I’d go down and help her, like, de-worm a cat, or help a whelping bitch (that’s really what it’s called!) or feed the varying animal population in the kennel. My daily job is walking the six dogs she had.
There was Mash, a skinny, brown boxer with no tail and plenty of energy. He was usually regarded as the Alpha of the six. Three dogs had all been found in the same block, on the same weekend: a chocolate Lab with so many battle-wounds and scars that his ears stuck out funny, a fluffy charcoal-colored poodle with a broken leg, and a tiny Chihuahua somebody had tried to tie up in a garbage bag, but who had managed to at least get his body out by scratching the plastic with his paws till it gave way. Abbi found him in the alley behind the pub on 17th Street with the bag on his head, too scared to move. When she took it off, he immediately started licking her as if he thought she was the most wonderful human in the world. He followed the other two with his own little doggie version of blind, stupid devotion. Abbi named them Larry (the Lab), Curly (the poodle), and Moe (the Chihuahua), and the kennel officially had its own Three Stooges. The other two dogs belonged to residents on our block: the shaggy Golden Retriever named Jade belonged to Mrs. O’Malley, who lived in the pink house facing Hoyt Street. Last of all was a beat-up old Rottweiler named Razor. He was Sulley’s dog, back when they called him Big Sulley, instead of Mad Sulley.
Abbi fed them while they stayed at the kennel, but every day after four hours of online school (some academy my dad signed us all up for to get us through grade school; he said it worked better, but I suspect it was because he didn’t want to have to deal with the public school system in our area), I’d go down to the kennel and pick up the dogs, taking them down Hoyt Street all the way to Couch Park, where I’d let them loose and pull stuff out of the backpack of dog toys I always brought with me. Jade loved to catch the Frisbee; she had this odd habit of continually running ahead of the Frisbee, just so she could turn around and nip it at the last second, and look beautiful doing it.
The Stooges were all digging dogs, and they preferred sticks to balls or discs. They were always bringing me branches to throw. Poor Moe never quite seemed to realize his size, so the branches he went after were always too big for him. He’d be a light-gold speck in the sea of green grass, trying his hardest to so much as drag a dead branch easily four feet long and so thick he could barely get his jaws around it. That made me laugh every time, and I’d run out there and “help” him by letting him fetch smaller sticks.
Mash was a chaser. He would chase little kids, balls, kites, squirrels, cats, other dogs—anything that moved warranted his attention until he was so tired he flopped down under a tree, panting heavily. Even then, he remained on the alert, and the instant something else moved, Mash was up and running again.
About the only dog that wouldn’t do anything was Razor. I guess he was Sulley’s intimidation tactic. He had all these scars around his mouth and his shoulders, like a fighting dog, but for Razor, it seemed, the fighting days were over. They’d probably been over since Old Sam moved into the yellow house on the corner of Glisan and 18th. (Greg says that Sulley was a ganglord before Old Sam came along, and he'd sic Razor on anyone who wouldn't do what he said; I don't know much about it, since I was really young when Big Sulley snapped, and no one really talks about it anymore.)
Anyway, nowadays he was the one who just sat next to me, watching everything, but not moving a muscle. If we stayed at the park long enough, and if the other dogs left him alone for long enough, I could usually coax him to at least lay next to me as I sat against a tree, and once he even put his head on my lap. Of course, when that happened, the moment lasted only a few seconds before Curly ran up with a ball in his mouth. The other dogs made Razor irritable; not mad—he wouldn’t attack them—he’d just sit there and growl at them. It was enough, though; none of the other dogs wanted to risk finding out if Razor would chase them. Well, everyone, that is, except Moe. Moe never seemed to understand anything, much less the savage growls of an angry old Rottweiler, and he had unquenchable faith in every dog’s willingness to play with him. One bite and a snap from Razor, though, and Moe wouldn’t even come at me from the front. I’d either have to move away from Razor, or I’d hear feverish panting coming from behind me, as Moe was trying to be as stealthy as possible.
Most of the time, though, Razor would just sit. I’d try to get him to get up, walk around with me, but he’d only come when I walked out of his sight. Then he’d stalk over to where he last saw me, and sit again, his triangular ears stooped with age, and his eyes keen as ever. I spent much of my afternoons this way, and I loved every minute of it.
Usually after I’d been at the park only a couple hours or so, my cell phone would ring again, this time with a message from Johnny, Sulley’s son and my best friend.
“Come quick,” Johnny would say, and I could hear Sulley screaming his head off in the background, “he’s bad, and getting worse.”
“I’ll be right over,” and with that I would round up all the dogs (I’d trained them to not only come when I whistled, but bring their toys as well), and take them back to the Kennel, and then it was off to Johnny’s house, the big green-grey-colored mansion on the corner of 18th and Hoyt.
I’d always have to come in the back door, because Sulley would be in the front room with a shot gun, screaming out curses and threats to the demons in his head. Johnny would point me to the music room and then disappear to the basement.
In the music room was the key to maintaining Sulley’s sanity: the piano. I would thank God for the piano lessons Dad made me take as a young kid, because now it was the only thing that helped keep Sulley out of the sanitarium. I played music until I heard his shouting stop, and then I’d hear his shuffling, creaking step behind me. I tried not to look over my shoulder as I continued to play, because I always saw the barrel of the shotgun first, before Sulley approached the doorway. He’d stand there, watching me, fury etched on his wrinkled, sagging face, then as I continued to play, he would slowly creep into the room, heading for an armchair next to the piano. I played him into the armchair, and I would keep on playing until I heard him snore. Once Sulley was asleep, I was free to go home without fear of any more fits for at least the next eight hours. After that it was anybody’s guess: three in the morning, five, eight—only once had he ever had another fit as soon as he was conscious, and I think that was because somebody’s car backfired at about one AM, so I got the call to come play again.
I spent much of my evenings this way, and it scared me every time.