Before I was struck down by my rebellious appendix last summer, I had started a new writing project, collecting stories about pets in my three-block Baltimore neighborhood, Evergreen, founded in 1873. Many of its original residents were the construction workers and tradesmen who helped build Roland Park, the elegant, affluent quarter that surrounds us on all sides.
After Roland Park was complete, around 1910, Evergreen evolved into a quite beautiful middle-class neighborhood, popular with professors for its proximity to Hopkins, and with families for the Roland Park school district. It is unique in Baltimore because it has no rowhouses, though the duplex I inhabit is rowhouse-like, two identical dwellings side by side with shotgun layouts and a windowless connecting wall.
The three streets that make up Evergreen, Wilmslow, Keswick and Schenley, run in one long, quarter-mile block between Cold Spring Lane and Oakdale Road, lined by towering trees, leafy shrubs and bushes, and effusive beds of flowers. The author of our Wikipedia entry praises Evergreen for its sidewalks and alleys; they “promote communication between residents and allow for a close-knit community.” I would agree with that, particularly during the snowpocalypses and snowmageddons that descend upon us these days. But I might also mention that the setup is ripe for conflicts related to very limited street parking and the failure of certain residents to maintain their grounds according to neighborhood standards until they receive an official complaint.
My interest in the pets of Evergreen began with a piece in this column back in March, “A Cat Named Bruce,” and before that, the one inspired by pets in Hurricane Harvey. Thinking I would finally get to know my neighbors in some way other than as a parking and groundskeeping offender, I posted on the neighborhood listserv about my project. Not many people responded, though the ones who did had great dogs, often several generations of dogs, and priceless stories about them. I’ll try again soon, maybe over Christmas break when the University of Baltimore gets its teeth out of my neck and my new book is not so new anymore.
While I was casting about for stories, I heard a few about pets who did not live in our neighborhood, and am now thinking that if I do someday put a book together, I might be able to make a few exceptions. For example, here’s one I wouldn’t want to leave out.
On the other side of the creek that forms the eastern border of Evergreen is Blythewood, a lush and elite enclave with walled estates and expansive, English-style gardens. You would think this neighborhood would be safe from Baltimore’s infamous and ubiquitous gun violence, but here, of all places, is where a dog was shot by a cop. He was a midnight-black German shepherd named Jupiter. The resonance of Jupiter’s death with some of our city’s most bitter losses was inescapable, so I tracked this story down to the dog’s owner. He gave me this account on the condition that the family’s privacy be maintained. To that end, a few details have been disguised.
Jupiter was indeed a rare specimen, bought from a breeder at considerable expense by a family with three daughters. In addition to his regal bearing, his glossy ebony coat, his intelligent, curious gaze and perfectly perked velvet ears, he was as smart a dog as they come, watchful, affectionate, always on call to bring an errant child back to the herd, tuned into the family’s moods and unspoken thoughts as if it were a radio station he monitored in his head.
He was also an ultra-alpha, a powerful and fearless animal immediately recognized by other dogs as the king of the road, the dog park, the forest, the sidewalk, and the veterinarian’s waiting room. His bark was literally hair-raising for both people and animals. Yet he was absolutely obedient to the commands of his owners and gaga with love for their daughters. (He technically belonged to the eldest, who believed in her proprietary rights just as strongly as no one else did.) To breed such an amazing dog seemed like a duty. So, by the time of the events described here, the family had acquired a beautiful female shepherd named Luna to be Jupiter’s mate. The two had had a litter of puppies that the family raised, wormed, immunized, and placed in good homes, the children of course weeping as they left.
After he became a family man, Jupiter changed a little, becoming noticeably more territorial.
A few blocks away from Blythewood a major artery runs through Roland Park, with a commercial strip including a drugstore, a Starbucks, a grocery store and two banks. One day, one of these banks attracted the attention of a person with weak moral character, an empty wallet and a gun. Within minutes his poorly planned armed robbery was aborted and he was fleeing down the street on foot, attempting to escape the police.
The officers who answered the call fanned out to look for him, and one of them ended up running along the creek that borders Evergreen and passes through the yard of Jupiter’s family. His appearance inside the electric fence immediately got the attention of the vigilant shepherd, who began viciously barking, growling and giving chase. Terrified, the officer raced to jump on top of the picnic table, which wouldn’t be safe for long. He shouted and pulled his gun, but of course, that meant nothing to the dog, who was still coming at him.
He shot him in the leg, hoping to disable rather than kill him.
By the time the family learned what happened, Jupiter had been taken to an emergency veterinary clinic, and he was in surgery. The family flew over, ready to authorize heroic attempts. But there was nothing to be done. They brought his body home to be buried in the woods near the swing.
The girls and their parents wept and raged. How could this happen? How can your dog be shot to death in your own backyard, your dog that did nothing wrong, your dog that was the best dog in the world? Luna paced inconsolably around the yard.
Then, a few days after they buried Jupiter, a very young and rather small African-American police officer rang their front doorbell, eyes downcast. He had come to offer his apologies and his story. Though he was not a dog person, and in fact had been raised to fear dogs, he was miserable about killing a family pet. But it had truly seemed to him that Jupiter wanted to kill him. The officer had tears in his eyes.
Clustered at the front door, every person in the family felt his or her heart melt. They knew how frightening Jupiter could be. They saw how badly this man felt. And perhaps this is where the resonance with other Baltimore shootings ends. Apologies are rare, if not nonexistent. Understanding does not seem possible, nor deserved. Forgiveness is a spiritual journey most never take, despite the relief that lies on the other side.
The would-be robber was never caught, and the family moved away long ago. Over a decade later, Jupiter is remembered in the neighborhood more for his death than his life, though few, if any, know the full story. The girls are grown. Though among them they have had many cats, a chinchilla, and an electric eel, none of them has ever had another dog.