A Stranger’s Quest To Save The Barber’s Lonely Dog: Part One

“The dog still looks and smells completely filthy but it’s not an odor I mind, and I set to petting. He wiggles and kisses.”

2.25.15 - A Stranger's Quest To Save The Barber's Lonely Dog - Part One1


Leslie Smith is a volunteer at the Berkeley Animal Shelter in California, and originally posted this piece on The Dodo.



The barber’s dog has no hair. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. But there are big bald patches on his back and hind legs and his right eye is practically crusted shut. The dog is so filthy I can smell him in the open air from behind the chain link fence. I reach my hand close enough for him to sniff. He’s shy at first, almost disbelieving, but pretty soon we’re pals. He makes pig-like, happy cooing sounds as I pet him. I make happy cooing sounds too.

It’s early in the morning and a woman on a bike stops at the curb and looks at us.

It’s awkward, so after a moment I ask, “Do you know this dog? Do you know who he belongs to?”

She points to the sign on the building next door. Clean Cuts. “He’s the barber’s dog. I think someone comes around to feed him.”

“He looks kind of … uncomfortable,” I say. “Is anyone ever out here with him?”

“Never,” she says. “He’s a watchdog.”

The woman rides away, and I linger a few more minutes, wondering what to do next. The barber’s dog has no idea what’s going on in my head, so he just sits, all tall and proud, for everyone to see him getting his neck scratched.

When I finally gather myself to go, we’re both a bit dramatic. What’s the word for despair meets betrayal meets crestfallen? That’s the way the dog looks at me, goop obstructing his pupils. He pushes his body as far into the fence as he can and lets out a soft cry as I walk away. “You’re killing me,” I tell him. My eyes aren’t exactly clear either.

Back at home, I dial up Oakland Animal Services. “I’m calling about the barber’s dog,” I say and I give the address of the storefront next to the chain link fence.

“We know this dog,” the woman on the phone tells me. “You’re not the first person to call. Our team has been to the site and the owner isn’t breaking any laws.”

“Right,” I say. “But I’m concerned because it was pretty cold out last night and the dog doesn’t have a ton of hair. A lady on a bike said that the dog never goes indoors.”

“The dog is fed, the dog has water,” the woman says.

“But he’s filthy dirty,” I tell her. “And he’s lonely.”

“It’s not illegal for a dog to be dirty,” the phone woman says. “He has everything he’s required to have. The notes here indicate there are even two doghouses on the property.”

“Two doghouses?” I say. “He could have seven doghouses. He could have three leashes, two grandfather clocks, and a shoehorn. What good is that? He’s out there day and night alone. What if his water spills?”

“M’am. He’s not running around stray or starving so there’s nothing we can do.”

“He’s starving for attention.”

She seems genuinely apologetic. “I’m sorry, but that’s not against the law.”

“Well then what’s the number for the Crappy Laws Department?”

I don’t remember who hangs up first, but I’m pretty sure neither of us felt great about the conversation.


2.25.15 - A Stranger's Quest To Save The Barber's Lonely Dog - Part One2



I show up at lunchtime but the barbershop is dark and the door is padlocked. Today is a weekday, so I’d counted on it being open. I’d practiced asking the barber if I could walk his dog. I’d even brought a leash.

Behind the chain link fence, sitting on the old bathmat I’d brought him yesterday, was the dog. He wagged to see me and I scratched him on his itchy back. We talked for a while (mostly me), and just as I was getting ready to apologize for having to leave so soon, the side door to the barber shop opened. A young man, maybe 25 years old, stepped out.

It caught me off guard. “Is this your dog?” I asked him, not at all like I’d rehearsed.


“Oh.” I tried to think of some explanation for why I was sitting on the sidewalk with my hand through the fence. “Um. Well, I was just looking for the dog’s owner. I … uh … He looks just like my childhood dog and I guess I had this crazy idea that I could maybe take him for a walk.”

The split second between the man opening his mouth to respond and words actually escaping seemed like forever. “I know the owners. I’ll get the key,” he said. “Come by here tomorrow around this time and you can walk the dog.” And then he sprinted across the street to catch up with his friend.

Could it have really have been that easy? I turned to the barber’s dog and we did a little dance of joy. I hopped up and down and made funny noises and snorted. And the barber’s dog hopped up and down to see me hopping and he wriggled on his back on the cement and licked my hands through the chain links.

And so now I’m depending on a stranger — a man who says vaguely, “tomorrow at this time” — to make good on his word to a fellow stranger. I’ve had close friends break sturdier promises. But there is a chance he’ll show tomorrow. There is a chance.

Tonight, sitting in front of my computer and hoping it’s not too cold outside, there’s a glimmer of hope. I try to picture myself here, 24 hours from now, writing about the great walk I’ve had with the dog. There’s a spring in each of our steps as we troll the neighborhood. I can’t see it as clearly as I would like but I don’t let the image disappear. As I type, I catch a faint whiff of the barber’s dog, his stink embedded in the sleeve of my sweatshirt.

I inhale.


Except for the barber’s dog, no one’s waiting for me when I show up, so I tell myself I’m early. Then I see that the barbershop is open — and make myself go in.

“Um …” I say quietly. “Hello.”

The lone woman in the place stops shaving the old man in her chair and puts down the razor. I don’t appear to be the typical client, and it suddenly gets quiet. I can feel all eyes on me.

“I’m looking for the owner of the dog behind the fence out there.” I say to no one in particular. And then to the woman: “I was told I might be able to take him for a walk.” I know I must sound like an idiot. My face is hot and red.

“Who told you that?” the woman asks.

“Umm. A man outside here yesterday …”

The woman shakes her head and picks up a cell phone. She looks at me while she talks:”There’s a lady here who says she was told she could walk Fella … Yeah, she says someone told her yesterday … Okay … Bye.”

She puts the phone on the counter and shakes her head again. “No. The owner says no. You can’t walk the dog.”

“Okay.” It stings. But I tell her, “Okay. Thanks for … you know … checking for me.”

Back outside I break the news to the dog. There’s still a little time left in my lunch break so we make the most of it. Just the two of us, a beautiful fall day, and a padlocked chain-link fence. I’m about to leave when one of the men from the shop comes out.

“I just started working here,” he tells me. “But I pet this dog every day.”

I think I smiled. Or maybe I cried. “Bless you,” I say, belying deep atheist tendencies. And then, “Could you make sure he has water too?”

He nods and says, “I’ll try.”


2.25.15 - A Stranger's Quest To Save The Barber's Lonely Dog - Part One3



The barber’s dog is lying on the cement under the truck when I get there around lunchtime. There’s no sign of the bathmat I’d brought on Sunday morning. The toy is gone too. I’d seen both yesterday, which makes me think the barber has only been by once since Sunday. The piles of shit in the corner have also been removed.

The dog still looks and smells completely filthy but it’s not an odor I mind, and I set to petting. He wiggles and kisses. For the first time I notice a little flappy skin piece on his chest. It doesn’t look painful or cancerous (what am I, a veterinarian now?) so I figure it’s the least of the worries of the barber’s dog.

When my break is up and I have to go back to work, I dig into my bag to get the Kong I’ve stashed. He gets the hang of the thing quickly, biting and chewing on it to free the treats. I smile to see him busy and engrossed, and I want to stay and watch him as he puzzles out the rest of the goodies. But I don’t have time.

On the way home, I compose a letter in my head.

Dear HSUS,

We haven’t always agreed on things, but I know you’re trying to make better laws for animals in this country. Can you please hurry? I don’t think the barber’s dog has too many years left in him and I want him to know at least a little joy. I’m worried because pretty soon I’ll run out of Kongs and toys and bathmats to bring him. Can you tell me what I should do now? I don’t mean what legislation to support or how to act in general. I mean literally, what do I do for this dog tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.



To read part two, click here.


146 thoughts on “A Stranger’s Quest To Save The Barber’s Lonely Dog: Part One

  1. I’ve never met a dog who didn’t connect with at least a couple “special” friends who needed their love as much as they needed it…

  2. I am dying to know what happened to this poor dog! please finish up this story with a happy ending! God bless you for caring and doing something about it!

    1. Sana…I am with you. What a great person to show this precious dog so much love and attention and SHAME ON YOU BARBER OWNER! What a piece of $#*t. Sorry to be so blunt but I can’t help it. I love animals and they all deserved to be loved. You as the human are the only ones they can depend on especially since YOU were the ones who picked them to be YOUR pet. Lord please please give this beautiful dog the life he/she deserves and that means a life full of love and kindness.

  3. I hope she knows that no matter what because of her this dog does know joy and love. I hope it becomes all day instead of just lunch

    1. What you’ve done is great, but if you can find even more courage…go with a few friends and do what is morally right. Make sure the do is cared for in a different county. I’m sure there are many who will stand with you.

  4. Can this site please give more happy news for dog lovers and spread good news about dogs? I know evil exists and I’m tired of seeing it, making me feel sick. I’m about to unfollow this site because I’m sick of seeing animal abuse. It’s making me feel depressed every time i see your site even if there is a “happy ending” for these poor animals. I want to spread compassion. What do you think my fellow animal lovers Joanne Pierce Patty Baird Joan Grant

    1. We need to know:
      – about animals that are suffering and need our help!
      – cities with laws that don’t adequately punish animal cruelty, so they can be changed
      – methods others have used to save our companion animals from torture and change laws
      – And stories that inspire others to act to save those suffering

      If you want “Feel Good” stories that insulate you from the pain and realty of the cruelness that exists…read a children’s book. Let’s face it, you’re not willing or able to deal with the dirty truths that animal lovers and advocates must.
      Would you tell a social worker for child welfare, just tell me the warm & fuzzy stuff?
      Go to another site.

    2. Part of the problem is all of the people who “don’t want to hear/see” what is going on all around them.

    3. Lisa, you’re living in a dream world. If someone doesn’t write about the abuse, and if others don’t read the stories, then nothing changes. So quit thinking about yourself and how much it hurts YOU. It’s not about you.

  5. It was difficult to read this through my tears. Leslie Smith wrote this with so much love and compassion. I laughed and cried. She is an angel. Sometimes it takes a village and Leslie wasn’t alone in trying to help but she was instrumental in getting him safe and loved. Fergus is destined for a life of joy. Thanks for heartwarming story.

  6. This made me cry. You bet I’m going home on my lunch to snuggle my little girl. This was an amazing piece.

  7. This has to have a good ending, otherwise I’ll be very sad for the day……..please don’t forget to post part 2 tomorrow!!!!! I’m an avid dog lover, saving dogs off the streets for years and we have 2 rescued girls right now……this baby deserves a good owner, he suffered enough……that barber should be shot on scene……….asshole!!!!!!

  8. This animal obviously has mange and possible bacterial infection. ( the smell) Could loose his eyesight. When animals are sick and not treated how is there no laws to protect them. More required than just food and water

  9. had a similar situation with a former neighbor – a dog hoarder. really sad. response was the same. nothing was ever done.

  10. Bless you for getting involved for this dogs sake. I rescued a Chow/Corgi mix, a little “low rider” he was from a Door Knob in a garage where he had lived for most of his life. He was meaner than a rattlesnake and was going to be put down because he got loose and ran the neighborhood. So I took him and he went on the road with me in my semi and was the best dog ever. The sad part is that he was treated this way by a member of my own family. Sick is everywhere and knows no bounds. I can say this with absolute certainty, people who abuse animals also abuse humans. There is a special place in hell for these folks I hope.

  11. Get a chain cutter and take that special boy out of there & hide him away. He does not deserve to be locked up like that but the heartless owner does!!!

  12. It appears that the poster of this story – Melanie – is trying to take credit for it. In real life the writer and heroine of this saga is Leslie Smith, who ultimately saved this dog.

    1. Sorry – that was completely unintentional! There was a paragraph under the first photo giving Leslie credit that must have gotten deleted when I was rearranging the photos. It has been fixed! =)

  13. The correct author and rescuer of this beautiful story is Leslie Smith. Please give credit to the real writer.

  14. Please print the follow-up. I really hope you are able to save this dog. He so looks like he needs a friend and some love. Don’t quit trying.. When is day 2 ?

  15. While he may be having food, water and shelter needs met. His health is not. If he has an untreated wound or is suffering from skin or eye infections, that should warrant the proper humane groups to step in, I don’t understand why they haven’t???? I sure hope you have had success on rescuing this poor sole. I love my pitties regardless of how people label them.

  16. Heart broken every time I read some of this stories, and I wonder are we as a human beings so cruel and Indifferent, shame on some of us and bless the people who do care!

  17. I can’t wait to finish reading this wonderful, heartfelt story! I hate seeing any animal being mistreated.

  18. I can’t wait for part 2. Some people needs to grow a heart and soul. Poor sweetheart. Dogs are simply amazing. I love my four to death.

  19. I can’t wait for part 2. Some people needs to grow a heart and soul. Poor sweetheart. Dogs are simply amazing. I love my four to death.

  20. Neither Melanie nor Fred wrote this incredible series of articles. Leslie Smith is the fabulous writer and person who cared and followed through.

    1. The segment crediting Leslie was accidentally deleted when I rearranged the photos. It has been fixed now! =)

  21. Leslie….God bless you. I hope and pray that you’ll be able to adopt this boy! Another angle to take is to call the Police. It is a misdemeanor not to get the dog proper veterinary care if he has an eye infection, mange & open wounds. They can summons the owners & come back to check if he is receiving proper vet. care, if they don’t get the care, the dog can be taken due to the neglect. Also call ASPCA & articulate all that is ailing the dog & on a cold night, call, call, call, if the weather falls below a certain temperature, the dog is in imminent danger of freezing to death & can be legally removed due to the emergency situation. If doing it this way takes too long, you can do as others have suggested & rescue him yourself. Sadly, they may not miss him & just replace him with another dog who’ll be subjected to the same, but at least you SAVED him! Sending you many prayers & blessings! Hoping for a Happy ending…Sometimes, when people know they’re being looked at & don’t want problems they’re willling to give the animal up…Just ask….the owner may just voluntarily surrender the dog to you. Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.