From the upcoming book about Northwestern Pennsylvania
A Labor of Love
Submitted by Marie T. Catrabone of Erie, PA
It was the summer of 87 and after sixteen years as a military wife, the marriage was over. I was returning to my hometown of Erie, PA with two young sons to set down roots. Single-parenthood, and full-time employment in a place that was both familiar, yet strange, was quite an adjustment. Luckily, I was able to find a home to rent on the city's West side that was close to their school. I was able to establish credit with Arthur F. Schultz for a stove, refrigerator, and my very first microwave. There were Presque Isle beaches, the zoo, and the new Millcreek Mall to explore. Best of all, I had met a wonderful neighbor, Mary Blakeslee, who agreed to watch the boys after school. David was 11 years-old and Jared, only 6 years old and I was thankful that they wouldn't be "latch-key" kids. That fall, we planted bulbs knowing that we would be around to see them bloom again and again. Having lived in government housing apartments all their lives, this was the first real house the boys had ever known. It wasn't long before David was pleading for a dog.
I tried to explain to him that our landlord would not allow pets but after months of pleading, I approached Mr. Ricci and he finally consented with an additional security deposit. A pen in the back yard also needed to be provided. David didn't want just any dog. It had to be a yellow Lab, a dog that could run, wrestle, and swim. Every night he would scan the newspaper ads. They were asking $300 for these dogs! This was clearly out of the question. The following weekend the Erie Zoo was having a gala celebration complete with Smith hot dogs and balloons. This membership drive always lures large crowds and we were no exception since the local Humane Society was located just across the street. I was sure that David would find a puppy there but he was reluctant to go inside for fear of finding something other than his "dream dog.” Well, it must have been fate, because there in a cage was the cutest purebred yellow lab puppy we had ever seen.
It was love at first sight. Unfortunately, the director, Jim Smith, told us that the puppy had been "found" and had to be held for five days in case the owner claimed it. If no one claimed the pup, it would be placed for adoption to whomever showed up at 10 am Wednesday morning and not before. No amount of pleading from a little boy could change this rule. Crowds of people filtered through the shelter that day and quite a few expressed an interest in the small puppy. We were told that it wasn't unusual for people to wait outside the building for as long as five hours for a purebred pup in order to be first in line. Those five days were an eternity for David. Each day he would ride his bike down to visit the still unclaimed puppy. He told everyone in the neighborhood that "Molly" would soon be his. Mary's husband, Chris, and his son, Damien, even started a father and son project...a dog pen for our backyard. David became obsessed with the thought of someone arriving before 5 am to claim "his" puppy. To make matters worse, the local television station aired a three-minute spot on the Monday evening news. The Humane Society director was holding Molly and speaking of the dangers of locking dogs inside cars. The commercial ended with the familiar claim that puppies such as these were available for adoption. Now the entire town knew of David's dog! By Tuesday evening, he was frantic. "What if someone gets to the shelter before 5 am?" Unable to eat his supper, his constant pacing told me it was going to be a long night.
There was only one thing a mother could do. "How would you like to go camping tonight in the parking lot of the shelter?"
The look of relief on my son's face told mc this was going to be worth it. I made arrangements for Jared to spend the night with friends and called my mom. "You're not going to believe this mom, but Dave and I are going camping tonight in the parking lot of the Erie Humane Society! That puppy just has to be ours by 10 am. Would you be able to stop by around 8 am to stay with Dave until the shelter opens so I can make it to work by 9 am?" Mom couldn't stop laughing and wanted to call the local T.V. stations to film this crazy person. After I made her promise to keep this quiet, we put our sleeping bags and lawn chairs in the back of the station wagon. I filled a large thermos of coffee and off we went.
It was now 10 pm on Tuesday night. My "labor of love" was going to last 12 hours! "Look mom, we're the first ones here!" David stated proudly as I drove into the darkened lot. His enthusiasm was overwhelming. At 11 pm, the director, Jim Smith, drove in to check the facility for the night. The look on his face was utter disbelief. "Lady, I wish I could give you the pup and spare all this for you but I have to follow the rules." I calmly told him that if Molly was to become a member of our family, this was just the "labor" it would take to make it happen. He offered to keep the outside lights on for protection and to notify the local police that a woman and her son were spending the night in a locked, parked car in the parking lot. I assured him that we would be fine but he returned an hour later with his own son and told me that they would camp inside on a foldout couch. That way I could have access to the bathrooms inside if needed. Hmm, I hadn't thought of that but really appreciated his concern since I was half way through the thermos of coffee by then.
By l am David had finally fallen asleep in the back of the car. The soft moonlight through the back window made his face glow. He had a look of contentment that I hadn't seen in a long time. The divorce, relocation, and new school had been a real adjustment for him. He tried to be the "man of the house" and there were more than a few occasions when I would have to remind him who was in charge. Soon he will become a teenager. How am I going to manage this, I thought. Just then, the sounds of the jungle began. If you ever wonder why the animals seem sleepy when visiting the zoo, it's because they are up all night! As I tried to get comfortable in the reclining front seat of the car, I could pick out the roar of the lions, the screech of the monkeys, and the bellow of the lone elephant across the street. The ruckus was unbelievable. Perhaps it was the full moon. When I closed my eyes, it seemed as if I were camping in deep, dark Africa.
By 2:20 am, a police cruiser rolled into the parking lot and dimmed its lights. When I stepped out of the car to stretch, the muffled laughter was just too much. "Would you guys care for some coffee?" I said, rather embarrassed. "We heard there was a lady and her son out here waiting for a puppy and thought we'd come and see for ourselves. Thought you might like a donut." So there I was— having coffee and donuts with Erie's finest. With families of their own, they understood a young boy's need for a dog especially without a father around. They wished me luck, told me to keep the doors locked, and that they would patrol by again to check on us. It was good to be back home again. There had been many changes in the past 16 years but in 1987, the people had remained the same...hometown friendly. Having both Donohue and Kloecker families here was also a tremendous help to me. At 3:15 am, I glanced back at David who was lightly snoring by now. Remembering all that we had been through this past year, I guess this wasn't so foolish after-all. The boys needed someone to come home to while I was at work. A dog would give them a sense of responsibility and unconditional love.
At 3:40 am, another car slowly moved into the lot and dimmed its light. I rolled the window down and saw a man approach with a newspaper. He had heard on his CB that a crazy woman was camping at the Humane Society waiting for a puppy with her son. He handed me the Erie Times Morning News through the window and said he had just left his shift at G.E. and delivers papers on his way home. "Good luck" he chuckled as he pulled away. I love this town! Now I could read the hometown paper by flashlight. After years of reading Stars and Stripes, it was good to read a local paper. By the time I had finished, the first rays of dawn appeared. It was only 4:30 am when a motorcycle entered the parking lot. The young man had thought the puppy would surely be his at this hour. When he saw our lawn chairs at the front door, he sighed and turned around. A half hour later, a woman driving a pickup truck with four children in sleeping bags in the back pulled in. "Are you waiting for the yellow lab puppy,” she asked. "Yes, ALL NIGHT" I replied. "Oh, thank you, thank you," she said, as she crossed herself and thanked God that she didn't have to wait five hours herself. At least I knew then that I wasn't the only crazy mom out there.
Soon after, a large red truck approached with an obvious hunter. By now, I was sitting in the lawn chair and simply stated, "The yellow lab is going to be ours.” He clearly was not a happy camper. He tried to explain how much he needed a good hunting dog. I was sympathetic but firm. "My son needs this puppy more.” He left. By 6 am, two other families were turned away by the sight of my lawn chair. At 7 am, Jim Smith and his son awoke and offered to go to McDonald's for breakfast. David and I happily ate our egg McMuffins as the early morning sunlight warmed us. By 7:45 am, my mother had arrived. "Grandma Fran" sure was a sight for tired eyes. David gave me a huge hug, and the look on his face as I left, was enough to get me through the rest of the workday. I called home on my lunch hour and mom had said that David was indeed the first one in as the doors opened and proudly asked for his dog. They presented him with Molly fresh from a bath with a red ribbon tied around her neck. Twenty-five other people followed him in to make "second choices" for adoptable pets that morning.
When I arrived home that evening, the entire neighborhood was on hand for a celebration barbeque. They presented Dave with a small red collar and leash for Molly. Chris and his son had finished the dog pen and Grandma Fran had bought a large bag of puppy chow. I glanced at everyone who had come to celebrate this new arrival to our family. After traveling all over the globe the past sixteen years, it was apparent that Erie, PA was the best possible place to live. We were really home...and so was Molly.