Wednesday, March 6 1996
SPCA bags 'Hefty' after months on run

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

On Monday, Hefty was as free as the birds pecking by his feet. But he was lost. And alone.

On Tuesday, the big black dog with the lopsided grin was found. But, he had a shot from a tranquilizer dart in his rump and no room to roam.

After being tracked down earlier in the day by three dog wardens, he was behind bars at the Hamilton County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). But, he was not in solitary confinement.

A pig snorted happily in a cage overhead. Cats meowed next door. And, Hefty smiled.

He even let humans touch him. That's something he hasn't done in months.

Since December, Hefty has had free run of a field in New Burlington. Always keeping his distance, he trotted away when people approached. He ate on his own time. He sat when he wanted to atop his favorite mound of dirt.

From that spot, no car escaped his view. His black eyes - surrounded by matted fur and scratched for years by congenitally overgrown eyelids - would do the best they could to follow each set of taillights. Hefty would stare in their direction until the lights disappeared down the road. No car ever turned around to take him back home.

Maybe he was looking for his people. But, were they looking for him? Or did they just dump him in this field right before Christmas? That's when employees at the nearby school and passersby on their way to work first noticed him.

King of the chows

Day after day, they saw a 2-year-old chow sitting on a mound of earth near the road. When he wasn't doing his Lion King impression, he wandered the nearby woods. He drank water and ate dog food and hamburger left by kind strangers.

When he slept, he would curl up and hunker down amid the clumps of tall grass. At first glance, people would mistake him for just another black garbage bag. Because he looked like something that had blown across the road and been snagged by the thistles in the field, he landed the nickname, Hefty.

To some, he is a garbage-bag dog, a stray, a field dog, something wild. Something to be ignored. A creature to honk at when he tries to cross the road.

But to Marian Coats and Laura Daehnke, he symbolizes the desperation of being lost and the hope of being found.

Marian and Laura are Hefty's guardian angels. They have fed him and brought him such treats as a Whopper Jr. from the neighborhood Burger King.

Laura even made him a doghouse. ''He is the culmination of all the abandoned animals you have ever seen,'' says the sales rep for a local plant distributor.

''All you have to do is see a black dog sitting in a white, snow-covered field at 2 a.m.,'' says Marian, who sells sporting goods when she isn't caring for strays. ''That scene says: 'I have nobody.' ''

Now, he's found

The women met because of Hefty. Laura arrived with some dog food one afternoon and found Marian walking through the field. She had just left supper near Laura's homemade doghouse.

Both cared for the dog from a distance. Hefty made sure he kept 50-75 feet between himself and these humane beings.

His fear of people is understandable. There are plenty of them I avoid, too.

Laura and Marian talked to Hefty. But it was a one-way conversation. ''He never wagged his tail,'' Laura says.

''He never barked, snarled or showed his teeth,'' Marian notes.

He barked Tuesday . . . after he came to at the SPCA's animal shelter where he'll reside for the next 72 hours. If no one claims him by Friday morning, Hefty will be in the market for a good home.

''Barking's normal when you're ticked off, and he was ticked off,'' reports Capt. Jody Abner, the dog warden who shot the dart that downed Hefty. ''He was in a strange setting. There are all sorts of noises and lots of strangers.''

As Capt. Abner spoke, Hefty finally saw an old friend face to face.

Laura slowly opened the door to his cage and reached in. He pulled in his purple tongue, and she patted his chin.

Stroking his fur, she whispered: ''You're going to be all right. You're not lost anymore.''

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.