By Matthew Wallenstein
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
“There was a 14 year old kid but he looked like he was about 8. He was short and skinny and small. I’ve never seen anyone as fast as this kid.”
“Do you remember his name?
“Oh yeah, I remember his name.”
“What was it?”
“What was his name? I don’t remember. Well I remember his last name, I think.”
“What was it?”
“I don’t remember. So anyway, this kid, well he was the youngest of something like eight kids and the older ones, they were all sisters. He had like 6 or 8 older sisters, and then his mother. And he supported the whole family. He did it by stealing. He could move fast. Oh, he could move fast. He had this little angelic face about him and he’d go into the churches. He supported his entire family, all those siblings and his mother and everybody. He had a route, he would mix it up sometimes. He would go into the different churches and he would watch where they put the collection plates and as soon as no one was looking he would get all the money and put it in his backpack and on to the next one, you know? He had them all figured out.
“His mother used to tell him—we knew because he used to tell us about it— his mother used to say, ‘you know, Bonnie and Clyde, they was good, but you, you’re going to be better.’
“So anyway, he kept winding up in the juvenile jail there where I worked. Way back, this was way back. Anyway, at the youth detention center they had all these cottages, they would call them. And the one I worked in was the maximum security cottage. Every kid had a cell with bars and everything. There was a sliding door in the common area where the kids got to be once in a while. Then there was the office, then there was another steel door to get from the office to the outside. We called the office ‘the cage’.
“When they came in to deliver the food, the person in the office would open the sliding doors to the common room and give the food cart to another worker. The kids would eat there in the common room.
“One day this little guy, one day he hid, I don’t know where he was hiding exactly. In the 5 seconds it took to get the food from the cage to the common area he snuck past everyone and got into the office. He got the key to the outside off the wall and let himself out and took off running.
“So inside of about 5 minutes the police and the staff and everybody was out looking for him. The jail was located outside of town in this big wooded area. And this kid, he had done this enough times before to know his way around. He evaded capture for quite some time.”
“Oh hours, all day. Then late in the afternoon he came back. And he’s banging on the door, ‘let me in, let me in. I got something important to tell ya’. So they let him in, a’course they handcuffed him and everything. Everyone was so surprised they asked him what the heck was he doing turning himself in. He says, ‘never mind that, I had to. There’s five puppies that have been abandoned, they are in a box out in the woods. They look only a week old and they won’t survive unless somebody goes out and gets them.’ He’s all worried about these puppies. He turned himself back in so someone could go and save them.
“After they threw him back in his little cell and everything— no compassion for this little kid—they sent the maintenance guy to round up the puppies. He brought them back. They asked me which one I wanted. I said I definitely wanted one, but I said they could pick whatever ones they wanted and I’d take the one nobody wants. So that’s what happened and I got the best one of the bunch. I had him for I guess 5 or 6, well I guess about 5 years I had him.”
“What was his name?”
“He traveled all over the country with me in my jeep. I got pictures of him.”
“What happened to him?”
“Well, um. I was up at my parents house, up on school street one night and I let Bear out. That was his name, Bear. I was stupid in those days I would just let the dog out and then a little later I would call him and he would come. I guess I should have kept him on a leash, but… Well so Bear, he got a whiff of a dog in heat down on Pleasant Street somewhere, down by the Centennial Home. He didn’t have any tags or identification. I guess he and two or three other dogs were down there bothering this dog in heat. The owner called the police and they put all the other dogs in the impound because they had tags. Bear didn’t have a tag so they killed him.”
“And they took him to the SPCA and dropped his body off. I didn’t know about any of this until later. He would always come back as soon as I called him. Immediately after he didn’t come I dialed the SPCA. I asked them if anyone had brought in a stray dog and I gave the description and they said ‘no, no, no’. I called the police and told them the dog was missing and they didn’t say anything. In the meantime they already done him in and dropped him off but no one would tell me anything. I think it was the next day, I kept calling and no one had seen anything and no one knew anything, nobody, nothing. And finally I went up to the SPCA myself. I asked about the dog and told them what he looked like for the umpteenth time. They said ‘yeah yeah, oh yeah, we’ve got a dead dog that matches that description. You want to see him?’ I went and looked and sure enough it was Bear. “
“They had dropped him off and nobody would have told me.”
“Well I guess it was my own fault for letting him out and not having a tag on him. But that’s what happened to Bear. And that’s what happened to that kid, he had a good heart and didn’t want those puppies to die.”