Wednesday, July 19, 2006

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Have You Ever Wondered........
why Rogers Park, whatever its problems, is at heart a terrific neighborhood?

I’d like to introduce
the neighborhood to our new, old dog.

Our boy has a story, and while some of it is bad, a lot of the tale surrounding this pooch speaks to the goodness of many people, not a few of who are Rogers Parkers.

On May 26 a large black, long-haired and very matted dog was recovered from a Chicago backyard (that he had supposedly wandered into) by Chicago Animal Care and Control. Through the good offices of a supervisor at CACC and some Rottweiler rescue volunteers, the Newfoundland Club of America Rescue was advised that what looked to be a large Newfoundland was in residence at CACC (after the mandatory 7 day holding period). The Newfy rescue people called on my husband and me to retrieve the dog so that he could be placed in Newf foster care.

Upon announcing ourselves at the facility at 26th and Western, the folks there practically tripped over themselves to be helpful. The guard on duty greeted us with a big smile and a hearty “are we ever thrilled to see you!” The supervisor who had sent out the alert rushed us back to the dog’s cage. When we saw the beast we didn’t know whether to cry or gag. 174 lbs of something covered in feces encrusted matts gazed forlornly at us, but the beast didn’t hesitate when we slipped the lead around his neck and shepherded him to our car. I could barely stand to look at him and the stench was overpowering. This guy had clearly been confined to a very small space where he’d had to lie in his own business for quite some time. Matting like that doesn’t happen overnight.

We got the sad boy to our home, ushered him to the back yard, and out came the grooming tools. What looked bad was immensely worse than I could have imagined. Feces matts at the surface were just the tip of much bigger icebergs. We worked for almost 2 hrs and hardly made a dent. Then we put the beast in our basement while we tended to our other dogs. My husband later worked on this poor Newf for another 3 hrs but you would never have known it. Clearly, we needed the services of a professional.

Serendipitously, the evening before we’d stopped for a beer with our two Newfoundland dogs at the Poitin Stil where we were introduced to Suzy, the proprietor of Rogers Bark. On a Sunday evening emails were sent, phone calls made, situations explained, and Suzy kindly agreed to open her shop (at Jarvis and Greenview), normally closed on Mondays, and tend to this poor dog. Suzy and her husband, Chris, greeted us at 10 a.m. on Monday morning (again, her day off!), and for 3.5 hrs she gently shaved (for, sadly, there was no other option) and bathed what we assumed was a Newf.

And when she was done, the beast, relieved of the heavy, stinking mass that had been his coat, lifted his head, and I swear he smiled. The hangdog demeanor that had us thinking the guy was quite elderly was gone and in its place a happy, affectionate, and very beautiful Newfoundland dog took its place. We all laughed and shouted “Free, free at last!” which was surely what he was thinking in his own doggie way. Suzy absolutely refused to take any payment for her work.

The beast then headed to North Shore Animal Hospital to be checked out. Dr. Johnson, who happens to also work with a local Bassett Hound rescue group, gave this dog a complete physical at half price. The dog had a few minor problems but was in remarkably good health given the shape we found him in. He was determined to be around 6 to 8 years old. We planned on fostering this guy for a few weeks after which we’d provide a full report to the Newf Rescue people on his demeanor, and then see him off to his forever home. But a funny thing happened: this massive beast (33” at the withers) slid right into our home as if he’d always been here. It was as if our other dogs, and even the cats, took one look at him and said “new black dog, same as the old black dog” (in reference to our other Newf that had died in April). Within days he was lazing on our deck with Shitty Kitty.


Along the way, we started calling him Chumley, after the dim-witted but adorable walrus from the old ‘60s cartoon, The Adventures of Tennessee Tuxedo, and he started responding to this name. However, Chumley isn’t so dull that he wasn’t beyond managing a permanent resident visa in fairly short order and conscripting everyone he met to lobby on his behalf. Suzy and her husband, Dr. Johnson, our neighbors, our dog walker, a bartender at Poitin Stil – all exclaimed that we had to keep him, that he could not leave the neighborhood, that if we could not keep him “they” would adopt him.

At one point I swear there were a line of people at our door. Strangers come up to us on the street with offers of treats, pets, and hugs galore. A few weeks ago, Chumley learned that we live near the lake and while he didn’t know how to swim, he thoroughly enjoyed retrieving the bumper and sploshing along the shore. Last weekend we taught Chumley how to swim (we have standards here!). He also joined a huge dog confab that gathers at one of Chicago’s fine beaches in the early morning though he’s a bit overwhelmed by it all – play with other dogs, fetch, or get pets and treats from people? So many options.

Chumley spends his day seeking pets or food, but mostly he seeks me. He will lie in front of wherever I am so that I must pass him to go anywhere, at which point he rolls over on his back and parts his immense paws -- dog code for “scratch my chest and belly.” Around noon he gently nudges me toward the kitchen, obviously concerned that I get proper sustenance to see me through the afternoon. Chumley is a character and hardly a day passes when he doesn’t crack me up, if only in the way he looks at everything as though it’s an opportunity to rejoice and share (in my lunch, the cat food, attention from new people and dogs on our walks. . . ).

Chumley surely has a sad story but it’s not all bad. At some point in his life someone cared for him, neutered him, trained him to some degree. Why and when he fell on bad times, we can’t know. But we do know that there is a happy ending to Chumley’s story, much of it due to the kindness and warmth of Rogers Parkers. Rogers Park is so fortunate that Suzy decided to open Rogers Bark here. She really is an angel. Charlie Didrickson gets big points for making introductions and facilitating quick communication when Chumley was in need. Poitin Stil has become a pretty terrific gathering place to meet neighbors, and that they welcome our dogs is just so civilized. The Europeans do have a leg up on Americans on a few things – one of which is allowing dogs in pubs!

Dr. Johnson may not be in RP (his offices are in Skokie) but he gave generously when he didn’t have to. Our neighbors are simply the best for welcoming Chumley and encouraging him to stay. And Chicago Animal Care and Control was fabulous. Many municipal pounds will not adopt out big black dogs (liability issues), and as they take up much space and are often the least adopted, they tend to be euthanized at a higher rate than other dogs. CACC could have taken the easy way out but instead they reached out to the breed rescue group for assistance in saving Chumley. Kudos to them for breaking down institutional barriers and taking the time to save just one dog when they have so much else on their plate.

If you happen to see Chumley around the neighborhood, stop and say hello. He loves the attention. Mostly, when you see Chumley around Rogers Park, remember that he is with us because our Rogers Park neighbors and businesses generously gave of their time or were simply welcoming.

RP, whatever its problems, is at heart a terrific neighborhood, and Chicagoans are simply the best.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Have You Ever Wondered.....
who plants the parkways on the northeast east corner of Farwell and Sheridan?

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Perserverance Pays Off

If you happen to be walking west on Farwell towards Sheridan Road, you get to see this spectacular Oakleaf Hydrangea in bloom right now and following that the sedum in this planting bed will pop. On your left, you'll enjoy a fully landscaped and carefully considered parkway space with a nice mixture of grass, shrubs and blooming plants. Hit the corner and there's more perennials blooming in perfect sequence and even if you didn't plan on heading north, you might as well; take in the rest of the beautifully planted parkways and narrow wall garden.

Chances are you've seen this corner and chances are you've wondered, like I have over the years, who was responsible for all this hard work that all of us enjoy. Well, I just happened to be at that corner a few weeks ago on an errand and my curiosity just got the better of me and I decided to find out. It wasn't that hard because as I walked through the open gate into the courtyard, Dennis and Paul just happened to be standing there and we just started talking. They made it easy and I appreciated that because it was "got to get to work time" and as I walked into the courtyard I felt a little, well, nosy. We spent about a half an hour talking and it actually inspired this feature because there are lots of things I wonder about here in Rogers Park.

I found out that they met on the same day they both moved into this town house complex over 7 years ago and that's when all the planning and planting started. They began working inside the courtyard and built an 80 foot long raised bed all along the parking area using stacked timbers. It's completely filled with bulbs, shrubs and perennials and makes a huge impact on the courtyard which would otherwise be pretty bland. All available planting areas and Paul's private garden were then planted: there are colorful combinations and textures everywhere you look. .

Saturday, June 17, 2006


Raised Planter in
Parking Lot

Sheridan Road Parkway

Farwell Parkway

What I appreciate the most after talking with Dennis and Paul is that, despite the difficulties they experienced when they started planting the parkway spaces, they never gave up. Dealing with an inhospitable urban environment, poor soil, salt spray, harsh winters and plants that do not hold up to those elements would send some people in search of another hobby. If plants died, they tried others. If they were taken, they replaced them and that's how it went for 6 years until the perfect combination came together.

Dennis and Paul
Paul Urbanick grew up around plants all his life. He helped in his grandparents garden, his parents' garden and took over for them eventually. And if what you see overwhelmes you, he has enough time and energy to tend a 1 acre property in Michigan which he says is planted from lot line to lot line and I believe him.

Paul finds relaxation and a creative outlet away from his stressfull financial advisor role at Merrill Lynch. He planted the parkways simply because he loves his neighborhood.

Dennis Pomerleau enjoys the creativity and challenge as much as Paul. They have created a little urban oasis on their corner and if you havn't seen their work, you might want to check it out every few weeks as the perennials bloom nonstop.

Parkway and Townhomes on
N.E. Corner of Farwell and Sheridan

Gary Fuschi.