Thursday, April 29, 2010

What do you get when you cross Covert Operations with Meals on Wheels?

Breakfast at The Sinkhole Café!

I thought about naming this post "Sensational crime-scene photos!" in an effort to attract readers. But I couldn't bring myself to do it, because I don't see anything criminal about feeding a stray dog. To me it's common decency.

Let me back up a step: Some of my friends had been warned by Animal Control that they'd be issued citations if they didn't cease their random acts of kindness, which were hampering AC's efforts to trap me. (The officers didn't use those exact words. I think the referenced offense was something like "interfering with law enforcement.") Come on, did they really expect compliance? These were dog lovers they were lecturing--compassionate people by nature! And haven't such humans always flirted with the notion that morality trumps legality?

So there continued to be a small, secret network of people through which intelligence was passed each morning from the early walkers to the ultimate feeders. Usually this intel took the form of a brief statement: "He's at the bank" or "He's at the house" or in some instances "Nobody's seen him." The first one meant that I'd been spotted hanging out in a field behind a closed-down, drive-up banking facility across the four-lane highway from M and J's neighborhood. The second referred to the weedy lawn of a dilapidated two-story house, long-abandoned and foreclosed, that sits a block or so inside the neighborhood's main entrance.

If the word came down that I was camped at the house, it was usually up to M and J to feed me, especially breakfast. For quite some time a number of people had fed me at the house, right in the side yard, in front of God and everybody. But once Animal Control started threatening to ticket people, M and J felt that the "house" feedings should be moved into a nearby wooded sinkhole, out of sight from unfriendly eyes. They also thought that the fewer people who knew the exact location, the better. So when I was on the "Brandywine" side of the highway, it became their gig.

Here are pictures of the house from two different angles, and the sinkhole is in the dark, wooded area to the right in the second photo.

When M and J first joined the feeding team and moved the location to the sinkhole, they fed me there both mornings and evenings, though they preferred the latter, just as it was getting dark. This is because there was only one good entrance to the new feeding place, and it was right along the main road, directly across from the neighborhood tennis club. Chances of being spotted going in at dark were much less than they were in broad daylight. Still, for several weeks they carried out this job for both meals each day that I was on their side of the highway. (They also helped with my feedings over at the bank. But that's another story.)

This is how it worked: They would load a green cloth grocery bag with a bowl of canned dog food (usually topped with scrambled eggs and grated cheddar cheese--yummy!), a bag of dry dog chow, several small Milk Bones, a gallon of fresh water, paper towels, and a serving spoon. J would then drive M down Brandywine Road toward the old house and the sinkhole, carefully checking the area as they approached for any car and foot traffic, as well as people milling around in the tennis club parking lot. And they especially watched for the few people who were known not to be among my fan-base. If everything looked clear, M would hop out of the car near the sinkhole entrance. If not, they'd drive on to the nearest place where M could exit the car unseen. He would then walk back up to the hole (like a shopper carrying groceries home from the store!), ducking in when conditions permitted.

M and J recently revisited the sinkhole to retrieve a water bowl that had been kept there. While there they took some pictures, to show you (and to remind me--though I don't think I'll ever forget) what it was like. Here is the hole as viewed from the tennis club's parking lot. At the far left, through the trees, you can see the side of the abandoned house. The Sinkhole Café's front door is the small dark triangle to the right of the light pole, midway between it and the double-trunk oak tree.

And here is J looking out of the entrance:

After making sure that the coast was clear, M would head down with the groceries!

Once at the feeding location, M would whistle and call me--but not too loud. Then he'd dump any dirty water out of my water bowl, wipe it clean with paper towels, and refill it with fresh water.

Next he'd pour the dry food onto a plate and pile the canned food and scrambled eggs and cheese on top, finally garnishing it with the Milk Bones. By the time he was finished, I was usually standing about ten feet away, watching him. For purposes of this illustration, they skipped the egg-and-cheese part. They also skipped the part about me being there. (Good call on that one!)

When this routine first began, M would leave me alone to enjoy my meal, picking up the dirty dishes and any leftovers when he returned with the next one. This was especially handy at times when I failed to appear right away, or if for some reason I wanted to save some of the food for later. The rules changed, however, after bears were reported (as they are from time to time) in the sinkhole and in some of the neighbors' yards. From that point on, M and J stopped leaving food in the hole. If I didn't come get it and eat all I wanted by the time M was ready to leave, I was out of luck until the next visit. But I was a quick study: I learned to cooperate. (I still insisted, though, that M back away from my table before I dug in. Hey, we weren't exactly BFFs yet! On the other hand, at this point he began saving the Milk Bones for "dessert," hand-feeding them to me after I'd finished my meal. Bonding-wise, I think this did us both some good.)

Later, in the final week or two before I let myself get "caught," something else changed about our routine. M and J got tired of risking the sinkhole run twice a day and struck a deal with our good friend Bonnie: They would feed me breakfast in the hole if she would feed me supper in the yard at the old house. It was fairly safe to do the latter after dark, and J sometimes accompanied her, giving M a much-appreciated break.

Oh--before I forget--as big a problem as it could be for M to get into the sinkhole unobserved, getting out was worse, since he couldn't see up and down the street from inside the hole--even just a few feet inside. And J was wary of their bright red car being noticed by any "unfriendlies" who lived nearby. J would generally pick M up along the road a set number of minutes after she dropped him off, and the funniest extraction I ever witnessed was once after they'd had to make a couple of approaches in the car for the drop-off. While M was in the hole feeding me, J drove home and exchanged the car for their hopefully less noticeable pickup truck. When M saw her drive up in that thing, he didn't know whether to whistle or wind his watch! Clever J!

Here's a picture that will show you how difficult it was to see the street when leaving the hole. It was always something of a crap-shoot. In the distance you can see our car parked up at the tennis club.

The Sinkhole Café wasn't the poshest joint in town, but the food was consistently good. And it was one of those little out-of-the-way places where the only crowds were the infernal mosquitoes. It served its purpose for a time, and the best thing is that when I moved to my new home, the kitchen staff came with me. For these reasons we give The Sinkhole Café a unanimous thumbs up!

1 comment:

Fred said...

Buddy: A great story. M was relying on his USMC boot camp training I suppose and J was just being her clever self.