The Subway Dog

The Subway Dog

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

The Subway Dog

I was twenty years old and living away from home for the first time. For companionship, I had a dog named Beaufort, who, although gentle, weighed more than I did and had a mouthful of sharp teeth. I felt safe going anywhere with Beaufort at my side.

In order to be free during the day to enjoy walks in the park and other things I liked to do, I took a job working the four-to-midnight shift in downtown Boston. The only downside of this arrangement was that I had to ride the “T”—the Boston subway—home from work late at night. As time passed, I discovered that keeping to oneself was an important survival mechanism. I avoided making eye contact and carried a book under my arm to read while I rode.

One night, I had finished work and was heading home. Every night, I rode the Red Line from Park Street Station to Andrew where I would get off and walk the six blocks home, knowing Beaufort was waiting patiently.

That night was different.

Park Street Station has a steep flight of stairs leading down to the underground platforms. I was tired as I fumbled for a token to put in the turnstile. I knew I had one—I always did. I rummaged around from pocket to pocket, but found nothing.

“Oh, man,” I groaned.

The station was quiet at that time of night with only two or three more trains scheduled before the “T” closed at one in the morning. I walked over to the collector’s booth and pulled out a dollar.

“One token, please.”

People who ride the “T” often regard the token collectors inside the booths as only one step removed from ticket machines, so it was understandable that I wasn’t paying attention to the man behind the booth’s thick glass and the metal bars. But he was paying attention to me.

He slid the token and my change under the window. Then he spoke, “Hey, would you like a dog?”

Startled, I looked at him, not sure I had heard him correctly. “Excuse me?”

“Would you like a dog?” he repeated.

He looked down, motioning with his chin. I leaned over and it was only then that I saw the subject of his inquiry.

Inside the booth was a dog—a very small type of terrier with lots of wild, wiry hair. The dog appeared to be trembling but looked at me as if to say, Yeah, and what’s your problem?

I was surprised, and as an animal lover, a little troubled. “Where’d he come from?” I asked.

“He’s a stray; he showed up about eight o’clock. He’s been here ever since.” The big man picked up the dog and set him on the narrow counter, gently rubbing him behind the ears. “He has a collar but no tags. No one has come looking for him and my shift is almost over.”

My rational side knew that rescuing this little wanderer was noble but totally impossible: I mean, what about Beaufort?

The token collector sensed a soft spot in me. “I’ve asked every person who has come through here if they wanted him. No one would take him.”

“What about you?” I inquired.

He smiled and laughed softly, “Me? No honey, my wife would kill me.”

I couldn’t take my eyes off the dog. How in the world did he get here and why was no one looking for the poor little guy?

The collector made his final pitch: “You know, if you don’t take him, I’ll have to let him go when I leave.”

I couldn’t believe it! “What do you mean you’ll let him go? We’re downtown. He’ll get killed. He’ll starve! He’s so . . . little.”

He explained that there were only a couple more trains scheduled to come before he closed. He couldn’t leave the dog in the booth, and he couldn’t bring him home. No one else had taken him. I, in other words, was the dog’s last hope.

I was wavering, and both man and dog sensed it. Oh, Lord, what was I going to do?

We stared at each other for what seemed a very long time.

“Is it a male or a female?” I sighed finally.

He grinned. “A female. I called her a ‘him’ just ’cause it’s easier,” he explained hastily.

I shook my head and added halfheartedly, “But I don’t have a leash.”

“That’s okay, I’ve got it all worked out. Here’s a piece of twine; it’s stronger than it looks. What stop are you getting off at?”

“Andrew.”

“Oh, great! That’s only four stops. You’ll be fine—the twine will last you until you get home.”

His face flushed with excitement, the collector unlocked the heavy door, stepped out of the booth and without fanfare handed me my new pet. “Thank you so much,” the guy said with relief, “I really didn’t want to let him loose upstairs.”

The dog and I looked at one another.

“Hey, you guys look good together!” the man crowed. With that he opened the gate and allowed me to pass without paying, a satisfied grin on his face.

The dog and I walked to the next set of stairs that would take us down one more level to the subway tracks. I spoke to my new friend in soothing tones. “It’s okay, everything’s going to be okay,” I promised.

The minute the collector told me that the dog was female I had decided on a name: Phyllis, after Phyllis Diller, the comedienne with the wild, unkempt hair. It came to me immediately and was as right as rain. “Oh, Phyllis,” I sighed, “Wait till Beaufort gets a look at you.”

We descended the stairs, my new friend and I, stepping onto the dirty platform together. Park Street Station is one of the biggest and busiest train stations in Boston. It is so big that it has three platforms instead of the usual two. One side leaves Boston heading toward Dorchester and the other side goes farther into town and on to Cambridge and quirky Harvard Square. In the middle is an extra platform to accommodate the many riders who frequent the station.

As if on cue, my fellow travelers all turned to look at Phyllis and me. Even the young man who played guitar, collecting coins in his open guitar case, stopped.

All at once the whole crowd broke into applause. Looking around, I didn’t recognize the place. Most nights, people kept to themselves—like me, burying their noses in books or newspapers and ignoring everyone around them—but not tonight. Tonight everyone was smiling and clapping, giving me a thumbs-up and a right-on! Phyllis began to bark, all bluster.

A young couple two tracks over on the far side to Cambridge pointed and waved. “Look!” the girl gushed, “She took the dog. She took the dog.”

Joined by the length of twine the collector had givenme, Phyllis and I stood together, basking in the attention of the cheering crowd. It didn’t matter that we were big-city strangers in the middle of the night—for a brief moment we were all joined in the euphoria and camaraderie that only happy endings can bring.

Elizabeth Lombard

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