DUBLIN – Though only about a mile from Dublin’s city center, Phoenix Park feels like an entire world away. It’s a huge green space in the heart of Dublin, home to the U.S. Ambassador’s official residence, numerous playing fields, wooded areas, and wild deer so accustomed to humans that they aren’t afraid to approach and even be hand-fed by them.
When John Paul II became the first Pope to visit Ireland, back in 1979, this is where he greeted the faithful. It’s among the places where Francis, the current pontiff, is expected to assemble them again in 2018.
When that happens, Phoenix Park will surely be elbow-to-elbow with people, the way central Dublin’s popular Grafton Street is at the moment. In their febrile shopping haste, most of the tourist-heavy mob don’t take notice of – or perhaps choose to ignore – the poor souls on the periphery.
A grimy, overweight, middle-aged man sits, legs straight out in front of him on the cement, his back leaning against a building. Around him, a mangy mutt of a dog paces uncomfortably, clearly in need of something to eat and drink, at the very least. The heartbreaking site catches my eye and jogs my memory.
I’ve brought with me to Ireland a pair of Billy Wolf NYC foldable canvas, travel-sized pet food and water bowls for a moment such as this. I don’t have them on me, though. They’re back in my hotel room, just around the corner. I dash upstairs to fetch them and hurry back to Grafton Street. I’m gone less than 10 minutes, but when I return to that spot, both the man and his dog are gone.
I scour the area in hopes of finding them, but they’ve apparently drowned in the sea of humanity. Dejected, I consider heading back to the hotel. However, I’ve still got my camera slung over my shoulder, so, I decide to stay on Grafton Street awhile and snap some photos.
It’s during this late-afternoon interlude that I spy another man with a dog… although, initially, I’m unsure if he’s homeless. He, too, is sitting along Grafton Street’s margins, very near St. Stephen’s Green, but this young man – late 20s, I estimate – appears relatively well put-together. His small dog, too, looks in much better condition than the other one. Only when I notice a couple of people drop coins in his paper cup am I convinced.
“You have a beautiful dog. What his or her name?” I say to him when I approach.
“Thank you. His name’s Max. He’s a Jack Russell/Pomeranian mix. Very friendly, too. Loves people.”
This is evident by Max’s furiously wagging tail as I crouch down to pet him.
“Careful, though,” the young man warns me, “He gets so excited he likes to bite people’s ears.”
Sure enough, Max is soon climbing up my left arm and playfully nipping at my lobes. We eventually get Max to calm down and he plops down on the pavement, giving me a chance to talk more with his guardian. He tells me his name is Paul, and he’s lived in Dublin his whole life. Somewhere along the way, he fell on hard times, but doesn’t specify exactly how.
“I live up in Phoenix Park now… in a tent,” Paul reveals. “I tried going to homeless shelters a few times, but so many of those people are on drugs and they steal from you. I had some of my stuff stolen from there before, so, I don’t go there anymore.
“I don’t do drugs… I smoke,” he sheepishly admits, holding up an unlit cigarette, “but that’s about it.”
“That can’t be good for Max, though.”
“I only smoke outside the tent, so he doesn’t have to breathe it in.”
“How old is Max?”
“He’s 11 months. I got him about six months ago. A buddy of mine has a dog and she had pups. Max was one of them. I offered to take care of him.”
Paul goes on to explain that, with the money he saves from people dropping coins in his cup, he does what he can to keep Max clean and fed. The dog clearly loves Paul, which, to me, is evidence that what he’s telling me is the truth.
“I’m trying to get my life back together,” he continues. “I’ve saved up enough to buy a phone. Now, I’m trying to pay for a place – a permanent place, a proper place – for us to live.”
He’d be happy with almost any paying job, he maintains, but would enjoy something in the service industry, like in a restaurant or hotel. In the interim, he collects donations from strangers, who drop money in his paper cup – a cup that Paul admits is the one he is normally forced to use to give Max a drink.
That’s obviously not the most sanitary method, but I have a solution at the ready. Paul’s eyes widen with interest and amazement as I unfold the Billy Wolf bowls, filling an olive-green one with pet food and a blue one with water for Max.
“They’re fantastic: easy to pack and store, lightweight, and best of all, simple to clean off and reuse over and over again.”
“Whoa, that’s incredible! I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Max quickly takes to them as well. He buries his snout into the food in the green bowl and comes up for air briefly before lapping up some water from the blue bowl.
“Well, they’re yours now, Paul.”
A startled Paul’s jaw drops.
“Really? I can keep these?”
“Absolutely. Max needs something clean to eat and drink out of, right?”
“And I can just clean them off and use them again?”
“Yup. That’s the idea.”
“Oh, thank you SO MUCH! This is incredible.”
I’ve only know them for a few minutes, but I believe Paul’s reaction to be genuine. We chat for a few minutes more before he begins to collect himself. It’s approaching early evening.
“I need to go find something to eat,” he declares.
“Do you have enough money?”
I hand Paul the rest of the bag of pet food and what remains of my bottled water for Max, along with a 20-Euro bill and my trust that he’ll use it for its intended purpose. We shake hands. I give Max a few last rubs on the forehead and scratches under the chin before we head off in different directions on Grafton Street. ETS
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