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The Stranger Who Saved My Dog Waldo

Updated: Feb 5, 2021

Waldo would not be confused with Houdini. Our other pooch, Robie, the designer dog, sleek and quick as a fox, claimed that magical association. He found ways out of the house and into the neighborhood, day and night. Most of the time, Robie could not escape with Ninja like stealth. He created fire engine level noise. You would typically find him running around the horseshoe shaped neighborhood at Mach speed, inches off the ground, chasing whatever he imagined tormented us. He emitted a high-pitched sound my mother would often recreate when mimicking him, staccato like, “Kai, Ya! Ya! Ya!….Ya!

My father nursed the habit of occasionally winding the dog up with chants of “Get the kitty, get the kitty…” and as Robie became more and more animated, he resembled a windup toy about to spin out of control . My father would gin him up right behind the front door to the house. Our intrepid dog, unable to contain himself, would hop up and down anxiously, awaiting the moment he could bolt once the door had been breached and he could attack the kitty. This was our kind of entertainment in the San Fernando Valley in the mid- ’70s — often late at night.

Once my father opened the door, Robie, filled with blood lust for whatever imaginary feline lay in his path, would leap so far forward he would fly over the short porch, endure a momentarily awkward landing, regain his footing and rush down the street in search of his prey. Of course, we had several cats of our own and Robie would often leap over one of them on his way to his adversary. Again, I have to say, it was quite entertaining. What was wrong with us?

We did not allow Robie to run free intentionally. We were not those people. But he found ways to do it anyway. On one occasion, our neighbor two doors down, Mr. Freiburg, arrived at our door. He carried Robie tucked under his arm and complained that “we” had violated his beautiful (and she was beautiful) ink dark Scottish Terrier. On another occasion, the neighbor on the backside of the house said Robie had been digging in her rose bushes. Robie had turned into a menace.

By comparison, Waldo displayed saintly behavior, almost never escaping the confines of our home.

That changed. Waldo got free during a rainstorm. Our family organized a search party worthy of Dateline, replete with Missing Posters we taped to light standards and stop signs, door to door canvassing and long drives throughout our subdivision as my siblings and I screamed from the car window, “Waldoooooo.”

After a week of fruitless effort, my mother had an idea. She knew I would be collecting money for the paper route, which required a very personalized, door to door effort. She handed me a photograph of Waldo and asked me to show it to everyone on the route as I collected money.

From the sky, our city blocks resembled symmetrically arranged boxes, like sections on a circuit board. The square subdivisions came in two giant sets bordered by Roscoe Boulevard to the East and Saticoy Avenue to the West. DeSoto bisected the two areas — the big street I had to be incredibly careful to cross. I would start out in the middle of those coordinates and head East on Fairchild, the other modestly major street feeding my neighborhood, snaking my way in and out of the various streets that ran, like tributaries off the main river, then head North, eventually crossing over the main artery, DeSoto.

The intersection at DeSoto and Roscoe formed a major shopping experience, including Thrifty’s Drugstore and the Five & Dime on one side, Amici’s Pizza Parlor, Roscoe’s Pool Hall, a Headshop and a Barbershop, Archie’s — where my dad took me for beautification — on the other sides. The Pool Hall was considered forbidden, but my friends and I eventually discovered pinball in the back area near the restrooms where we would occasionally spend an afternoon. Could a place of sin that also included pinball be all that bad? Mind you, I never stopped at this intersection on the paper route, it was too far out of my way.

Continuing my journey, I would head West, once again snaking in and out of another neighborhood, towards Saticoy and my friend Brian’s house, past our Cub Scout leader, Mrs. Nupuff, and then North where a fatal shooting had occurred two years earlier, at the intersection of Saticoy and Fairchild. After a turn, the bike heads East, once again, snaking in and out of Lull, Keswick and Stagg streets, up Fairchild again, past the bridge leading over the Browns Canyon Wash towards our home on Kelvin Ave.

The route likely included around fifty to sixty customers as I recreate in my mind how many papers fit into the large canvas pouches. I remember many of our patrons would leave the cash inside an envelope I would collect on their porch. However, most of them required a door knock to collect the subscription fee.

I had given my lines multiple times, “Hi, I’m here to collect for the Herald Examiner. Thank you so much. I appreciate your loyalty to our paper. And, by the way, I’m also looking for this dog — have you seen him?” I would then raise my right arm to shoulder level and show them a color polaroid of Waldo with his characteristically wide smile. People were so nice and courteous, but deeply disappointing. “Oh, dear, what happened? I’m so sorry. I have not seen him. Have you asked our next-door neighbor?” I would regale them with the story, mindful of the time and move onto the next house.

Over many months I had missed collecting from one customer. In fact, up to this point, I had not collected anything from him and had written the payments off. His was the last paper I delivered before squaring up the bike to head home and the last customer from whom I tried to collect money. The customer was Mr. Hendry.

At this point, I had received so many “no” responses along the way, that when I arrived at Mr. Hendry’s house one cool, windy evening in late November, I almost forgot to ask about Waldo.

The inside of the house did not match the outside. The outside appeared neat and trim, perfectly in line with the blue collar neighborhood aesthetic. The inside was stunning, immaculate.

I can still see the layout of perfectly white carpet and equally pristine white couches, a combination even my mind understood to be risky if you had young kids. Even more inviting, the inside of the house smelled good. Mr. Hendry was genuinely nice. This tableau did not match the person I imagined would stiff a young paper delivery boy out of two dollars and thirty-one cents.

“Yes, I’ve seen that dog. I hit that dog. Wait here.”

When I showed Mr. Hendry the photo, I remember looking down in anticipation of rejection. Instead, as my eyes focused on the seams of the perfectly embroidered door mat underneath my feet, I heard Mr. Hendry pause a nanosecond in a way that suggested recognition. And, then, out it came: "Yes, I've seen that dog. I hit that dog. Wait here."

He walked away. My emotions, as you might imagine, rose sharply on the news Mr. Hendry had seen the dog and then dropped like a teeter totter saddled with a million-pound sack in the pit of my abdomen when he mentioned having hit Waldo. Inside voice: why are you walking away after having mentioned such harrowing news? He returned promptly with the cash and an official looking piece of paper.

He gently waved the paper around in front of his body as he gestured with his right hand, “I was driving on Saticoy near the intersection at Winnetka two weeks ago. The light turned red and I stopped when this dog ran in front of me.” He briefly closed his eyes recreating the scene. “That dog darted right in front of my car. No warning. I didn’t see him at all. It was raining. He survived.” My body could not quite contain this level of emotional whiplash.

“Look”, he said earnestly, “We took the dog to the West Valley Animal Clinic. Here’s the bill.” He handed me the paper. “Dr. Tran took care of him. I think he’s still alive.” Externally, I displayed all the manners my upbringing could muster. Internally, the moment took a toll while incredulity spiked with sarcasm and a hint of anger arose inside of me. You think he’s still alive? You just told me he survived. Which is it? Again, inside voice.

My outside voice: “Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. We really appreciate it. Do you mind if my mom calls you?”

He replied that all the information we needed was contained on the bill he had been casually waving around. But he had no problem if my mother called. He would be happy to help. He felt badly that it took this long. And he was certain that Waldo was in good shape.

I raced home and shared the news with my family. Happiness broke out all over my features, as I got to witness joy on the faces of each of my family members once the hopeful glimmer entered their minds that Waldo had survived. I relished telling the story as the tale had been relayed to me. I would tell everyone that my customer had indeed struck Waldo with his car. We found him! I would wait to observe how the news penetrated their hearts and minds. And then, I would pause theatrically just a half measure and tell them Waldo had survived the accident.

From the vantage point of adulthood, I can appreciate with deeper awareness Mr. Hendry’s character. Somewhat lost on me at the time, in the hazy joy of a longshot reunion under those incredible circumstances, was the graceful act of a neighbor.

Mr. Hendry had stopped his car after striking our pet and conscientiously gathered up a strange injured dog at a busy intersection, in the dark, amid a rainstorm and then took him to an animal clinic on his own dime. What an incredible gesture for which my family would be forever grateful.

Postscript. We immediately contacted the West Valley Animal Clinic the next day and collected Waldo, who by this point, once again orphaned and unclaimed, inched ever closer to a return to his former accommodations at the Animal Shelter. Waldo had survived the crash and the subsequent surgery, repairing an assortment of impact related injuries.

He lived long enough to enjoy a change of scenery and climate when my parents moved to Balboa Island in the mid ‘80s. Waldo would live the remainder of his crash free days with long walks around the boardwalk, summer breezes and an occasional trip to the peninsula courtesy of the Ferry!

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