Reblogged from Bruce Buschel’s post for The New York Times’ Start-Up Chronicle
A sous chef stirs vegetables for the clam chowder for table 74 when he absently looks downward and sees something unusual and says, “Whose pit bull is this?”
Everyone freezes. Walking around the kitchen is a large, muscular pit bull. Some dogs have been known to be unreasonable when it comes to the proprietary rights to found objects, particularly food. The chefs are too busy for any canine contretemps, too petrified too, so they carefully show the dog the door. Chef Joe flies through the swinging doors into the dining room and grabs my arm.
“I need you. Come with me. Now.” My heart skips a few fibrillating beats. A prelude such as this invariably leads to no good. Deposited at the front door, which is in the back of the restaurant, Chef Joe points to the window. “Look. Out there. You have to do something. You’re the dog man around here. I have to go back to work.” And he is gone.
There she is. Black and white and lost all over. I’ve heard the same stories you have about pit bulls. I approach her slowly, hands flexed into fists. She is panting. She must have traveled far on this humid summer night. There is blood on her forehead, not gashes, just scratches from a bush or a fence. I check her for a name tag or number. She has a brown leather collar without identification. Seeing jaws this big and this strong at this range, I gulp. Her cut-off tail is wagging. I pet her timorously. It’s like rubbing a marble statue with a two-day beard. I bring her water. She drinks moderately, not like a dog in trouble. She is well groomed and conditioned. She must weigh 65 pounds and has less body fat than Marky Mark. She was obviously sculpted by someone higher than Michelangelo. She was also given a disposition sweeter than our butterscotch pudding.
“You can’t go in the kitchen, Sofo” — I call her Sofo for Southfork — “but I’ll bring you some food. Stay right here on the porch.” I fetch some bread and butter. She chews the brioche and spits it out. Politely, but decisively. Same with the whole grain bread. Starving she is not.
“What’s the problem, Sofo?”
She looks at me as if to say, “Bread? You bring me bread? Are you blind?”
“I’m sorry, but we don’t serve meat in this restaurant.”
“I thought all seafood places had a steak or a burger or something.”
“Not you too, Sofo.”
Sofo has trouble sitting still for more than a few seconds. She seems curious, not antsy. She wants to sniff everything, especially the two front steps, where people are trying to enter the restaurant. Pit bulls do not make good greeters. Not like Saint Bernards or Puggles. Even the folks who want to leave the restaurant are given pause. A few decide to sit down at the bar, postpone their departure, and have one more for the road, which is always a terrible idea.
I jury-rig a leash out of fishnet and walk Sofo around the grounds. She likes the perimeter of the property. Behind the garage, she takes a shine to an old sink. Maybe a little creature is holed up inside the pipe or the drain. I gently yank Sofo away. I have never yanked a pit bull before. I don’t like the sensation. She is stronger than I am. Still, I lead her to my car. I make promises I am not sure I can keep. I open the back door and she jumps right in. All four windows are opened just so, and I tell her to relax, that I’ll be back with some help. And I am gone.
I call the neighbors. I call the radio station that specializes in lost pets. I call Animal Rescue. I call Bide-A-Wee. I leave messages at every outpost. I call the police. It’s not an emergency, I say, but we have this pit bull clogging the entrance of a restaurant. There is a patrol car in the vicinity, taking care of a motor vehicle accident, and I am told it will be along presently. Sofo is placid, leashed and unmenacing when the officers arrive. If she were barking or attacking someone, they would call the Animal Control Division and have her taken away; but it is after hours and she is too calm to collect. The police say they can do nothing.
“But she is causing a public disturbance, officer.”
“She is licking your hand, sir.”
“What should I do, officer?”
“Take her home and call Animal Control at 8 a.m. tomorrow.”
My dog, Lulu, loves pit bulls. A golden retriever and yellow lab mix, she makes a bee-line for every pit bull she sees across the beach or the park. It has been a bone of contention between us for many years. The risk is too high to take Sofo home since our tabby is not prepared for such a night visitor. E.D. is a scaredy cat. She has her claws and goes outside and protects herself, but still and all …
“I can’t take her home, officer.”
“I have a dog and a cat and a wife and a yellow streak.”
“Sorry, but we can’t help you.”
“If she were a bad doggie, she’d get free room and board.”
“But she’s too sweet and law-abiding to give shelter.”
“Yes. Sorry. Good luck.” And they were gone.
And I was left staring at Sofo. Who isn’t staring back. She doesn’t make much eye contact. She is busy investigating the area, always moving, rarely sitting, and lying down for half a minute here and half a minute there. She is the opposite of my own three-legged Lulu, who can only walk around for five minutes at a clip and sits for five minutes and reclines 23 hours a day, in a car, on the sofa, in the yard, on the beach. Unless you are a rabbit, you would love Lulu. She is 14, and I bet Sofo is not far behind.
When the dining room is free of guests, when clean-up commences, I let Sofo check out all the nooks and crannies and crumbs. The staff members get over their timidity once they realize how safe and secure Sofo is. She will neither roll over nor offer her paw in friendship, but she never makes a sudden move or produces any guttural sounds. I ask the staff for help, on Sofo’s behalf. Gimme shelter. Please. Evan, the commis, serving as an all-around apprentice, lives in the neighborhood and has a fenced-in yard. He volunteers to take Sofo home. He is an apprentice angel as well. He is also the last person to leave the restaurant, around 1:30 a.m.
I wake at 8 and call the Animal Control people. They will send someone by noon. They will keep the pit bull for 10 days and if no one claims her, they will put her up for adoption. Slim odds on anyone adopting an old pit bull. Sadness creeps onto the scene.
Within the hour, Animal Rescue calls to say someone is looking for a pit bull by this very description. I call the owner. It’s a match. Her real name is Ruby. She is 14 years old. She lives in the neighborhood. She tends to lose her name tags. A reunion is arranged.
The next night, Lulu, spooked by thunder and lightning, escapes our fenced-in yard for the first time in a decade and has her own misadventure. Hers does not go well. I find her in the driveway the next morning, unable to walk. I carry her into the backyard and my wife cradles her quietly. Lulu is suffering. My wife whispers in her ear, “It’s O.K., you can go now. You’re a good girl. Go now. Go.” And Lulu is gone.
About Bruce Buschel:
Bridgehampton restaurateur Bruce Buschel pens the popular “Start-Up Chronicles” blog for The New York Times. Proprietor of new-ish restaurant Southfork Kitchen on Long Island’s tony East End, he has spent more than a year detailing the trials and tribulations of opening his establishment. He writes honestly and openly about problems big and small, in a voice that will sound uncannily familiar to fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Photo Credit: Getty Images via TimesUnion.com; Simon & Schuster