A tail of affection on the A train

The woman was striking as she climbed carefully down the stairs of the tattered Union Square subway station. She wore beige, clingy pants accentuated by very high-heeled black boots. She had long, dark, softly curled hair and the most beautiful tan suede jacket, which matched her pants.

But the woman walked haltingly down the stairs. She was not able to grab onto the railing. For there, folded up in her arms, was a dog whose color blended in with that of her jacket, so at first you did not see him. His hair looked as soft as a baby rabbit's. His kind brown eyes took everything in.

A few times on subways, I have caught a Pekinese peeking out of a purse, and once there was a Chihuahua in an oversized T-shirt standing on a seat. But this was the first time I'd seen a fairly large dog, not in a carrier, on a subway.

The young woman wanted to get to the A train, and everyone started giving her different directions. Mine won out, thankfully, because within seconds of seeing the dog, I was totally in love. I encouraged the woman to take the No. 6 train with me, change to the F, then change to the A at Jay Street. It meant less climbing up and down than some of the other suggestions. I volunteered to help her. She was taking her dog to the vet.

She followed me, her English halting, her eyes as large and trusting as her dog's. Within seconds of boarding the No. 6 train, several people surrounded our little scene, yakking away and beaming at the dog. You'd see groups of people about to get on the subway looking numb or forlorn, and within seconds they would break into huge smiles, their faces changing as you watched.

Some of us made sure the woman wouldn't fall over, since there were no seats and she could not hold onto anything, what with Bruno and all. We never did learn the woman's name, but we knew the dog's within seconds.

The woman and Bruno clung to me through the maze of Broadway-Lafayette. She carefully balanced those high- heeled boots on those treacherous stairs. When at times the crowd swelled, I panicked that I'd lose them. But we'd make it through.

For a while, waiting for the F train, the grungy station became almost beautiful. The woman set Bruno down so she could rest her arms. And, one by one, all sorts of otherwise mature people began "gooing" and gushing. Men in topcoats carrying briefcases turned their heads upside down to talk to the dog. They called to their mates to come and see. Everyone had to know what breed he was; "a yellow Lab," the woman said. Well, really pale champagne - an ashen, soft color.

The young woman was on her way deep into Brooklyn this Valentine's Eve. She would go to the end of the A line, then meet a friend who would take her to the vet. Bruno looked absolutely fine to everyone, and, in fact, he had no life-threatening illness. The woman had washed him in the shower using her own shampoo, and it had gotten in his eyes. Now his eyes seemed to bother him.

Then, while we were waiting for the F - which would take the young woman and Bruno to the A, which she'd ride to the end of the line to meet her friend and drive to the veterinarian - I found out that she had already been on the No. 7 train when we ran into her at Union Square Station. She had come from Queens!

When the crotchety old F train finally came and we boarded, I handed over my portfolios, purse, and a huge manila envelope full of work that should not be bent. I gave them all to the woman so I could hold her dog. "Give yourself a rest." I said.

Oh, Bruno was heavy, and awkward - much longer than he looked all curled up in the woman's arms. Though only seven weeks old, he already weighed 27 pounds. Now the gentle puppy lay full length across my chest, his head hanging over my left shoulder, his tail down the other side.

People gently propped me up against the door. The whole subway car was abuzz.

Everywhere I looked, people were laughing and talking to each other. Everyone seemed to have had a dog, many had had a Labrador, or their next-door neighbor had one. Everybody smiled and petted Bruno.

I ducked my nose more deeply into his coat - his soft, newly-shampooed-with-human-shampoo coat. Sometimes, when he stopped having his head patted by everybody else, he would turn and lick my face from side to side and throw in my neck and ears as well. His young owner apologized, but I didn't care.

"This could be the closest to Valentine's I'll get this year," I said, and everyone laughed.

As we neared the Jay Street Station and the A train, I kidded that maybe we should trade - my portfolios for her dog. We laughed even as I reluctantly handed Bruno back to her. There was much waving and hollering of goodbyes, and, in an instant, they were gone. The door clamped shut.

But our conversations on the subway had just begun. For the next few stops, it was talk of dogs - the one we had, the ones we'd lost. Two women got off with me, and we walked to Court Street together, talking about our pets all the way. Cats, too, began getting their due.

Conversations rarely happen with strangers on a subway car, much less continue as you walk along. But, for a while, a pale-gold Lab named Bruno journeyed with us and turned an ordinary subway ride into a loving event.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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