Rene Lozano is standing in front of a noisy Doberman explaining why single-handedly capturing a pack of nine dogs is not such a big deal. "Nine times out of ten the pack is gonna be chasing a female in heat," he says. "I don't care if it's a pack of stray dogs, or owned dogs. All the male dogs are looking for the female." Lozano gestures at the Doberman. "All I need to do is find the female. I mean, the female in heat will come to you. And then..." He throws his hands up. "There's your pack."
He shrugs and waves me along. We leave Pavilion F--a 3,000-square-foot concrete room in the back of Chicago's Animal Care and Control headquarters reserved for "biters"--and enter a narrow hallway. We pass another concrete chamber, a room that reeks of feces and urine. More barking, more yelping. "That's Pavilion E," says Lozano. "Lost dogs." Next, a room filled with crates of cats and rabbits, then a room filled with puppies in metal cages stacked neatly on top of one another. Lozano pulls open a door and we enter a small workshop cluttered with wood scraps, rope, tape, and tools. Rummaging through the mess, Lozano pulls out what looks like a homemade crutch. "This is it," he says, brightening as he brandishes the stick, which has a piece of rope attached to one end. "Catch pole, lead pole, side arm. Whatever you call it...95 percent of the dogs we catch, this is it.
"A 36-inch handle. Hickory wood. Electrical tape. Two metal clamps. And the rope," he says. "Look at the size of the rope." He stiffens his grip and grins. "You know we may be the only guys in the country who use this. You can't buy this anymore."
In the workshop, where Lozano makes lead poles for the police as well as his coworkers, there are several other types of poles--not handmade. "Take a look at this," he says, picking up a smaller, plastic version. "Some guys use this--a cat pole," he says incredulously. "You ever see that famous video on 'Most Dangerous Videos' where the guy gets his arm chewed off? That was a cat pole." Lozano drops the cat pole and takes up his own creation again. Like a kid showing off his beloved baseball bat, he gets into a stance--knees bent, left foot forward. He unfurls the rope. "Like a lasso," he says, pointing down at an imaginary dog.
The lead pole is not, however, the tool that Lozano used to catch nine dogs on that day ten years ago. The lead pole, Lozano says, is not the tool for a pack. "You've got multiple dogs, dogs all over the place," he explains. "I might be old school, but I use the wire."
The wire, sometimes called the snare wire, is a radically simple tool. It's copper, roughly six feet long, and no thicker than a piece of straw, with a three-inch wooden grip on one end. The wire is Lozano's trademark and it is, in fact, old school: only a handful of the 27 animal control officers who work for the city use it. Coiled it looks like a giant Slinky; uncoiled it's a three-foot hoop. It too works like a lasso: dog enters hoop, dogcatcher pulls hoop tight around dog. It has advantages over the lead pole--the wire is wider and less visible than the rope--but it offers less leverage and control. A large dog, running at full speed, could easily dislocate the shoulder of the catcher.
Few dogcatchers would even try to catch a pack alone--with a wire or anything else. A pack of dogs, especially a large pack, is difficult to corral and dangerous. Packs are unpredictable; sometimes they'll scatter, but sometimes they'll charge together in what dogcatchers call a bum rush. Packs often take at least two and sometimes four officers. Sometimes the teams use nets, traps, or tranquilizer guns.
When I asked Al Jurs, former president of the Illinois Animal Control Association and a three-decade dogcatching veteran, if he'd heard about Lozano's nine-dog haul, he was skeptical. "One dog is a handful," he said. Mike Roach, director of field services and investigations for the Anti-Cruelty Society and former head dog trainer for the Chicago Police Department, said, "Huh? He must have had plenty of help."
But among those who've worked with Lozano during his 15 years as an animal control officer for the city of Chicago, there are no doubters. At the pound, after all, Lozano is a legend. By his own reluctant estimation, he's caught more than 10,000 dogs, not to mention a pair of 100-pound pigs, a lynx, a chimpanzee, and the eight-foot albino boa constrictor whose photo he carries in his wallet. He's walked el tracks and run onto the Kennedy at rush hour to save dogs. "When I started here two years ago," said Melanie Sobel, who directs the department's community outreach programs, "I was told Rene is the best. That's just what people around here say."
Tim Allen, a 19-year animal control veteran, has spent much of his career in the field as Lozano's partner. The two men have worked on so many catches together that they have standard operating procedures for what would seem to be bizarrely uncommon situations: "Dog gets stuck in sewer," Allen says, "that's me. I've got longer arms." Allen says Lozano's a master planner. Before approaching a pack, Lozano checks escape routes, closes gates, figures out where dogs might go, finds out who the alpha is, what dogs are most aggressive, whether there's potential for a rush. "He's always got a plan A, and, if that doesn't work, he'll make a plan B on the fly," says Allen. "There's no one better to back you up."
Lozano's big catch, the nine-dog pack, went down in front of a two-story walk-up on the 2300 block of South Sawyer. He was tracking a pack of mostly shepherd mixes--a female in heat followed by eight males. Everything lined up. The female made a mistake: she went up a stairwell, toward the door of the second-floor apartment. The males followed. Standing at the base of the stairs, Lozano went to work, juggling three wires and picking off the dogs one at a time. Forty-five minutes later he was heading back to the pound with the whole gang in the back of his van. "I know what I can do," says Lozano. "If I can make the catch, I'm going for it."
"Everyone in this job gets scared at some point. Everyone gets nervous," says Allen. But Lozano, he says, never shows fear. "Even when he's getting charged by ten dogs, I've never seen him lose his head. Not once." Another officer, Miguel Hernandez, describes Lozano as "the Zen master of animal control: He catches dogs like he's fishing."
On a cold Sunday morning in February, we're heading north on South Loomis in a white GMC van with a net, two homemade lead poles, and the wire. A pack of eight to ten dogs has been spotted somewhere in or around Sherman Park, across from Arthur A. Libby elementary school. The 60-acre park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and distinguished by its classical field house and large O-shaped lagoon, is now one of the most pack-prone parks in the city. Nearby Englewood, with its many vacant lots and abandoned buildings, is also a notorious pack haven. Details about the dogs are scant and possibly exaggerated--they almost always are. People know, Lozano says, that if they use the words "vicious" and "kids" or exaggerate the number of dogs, they'll get a response.
Fifteen minutes after we enter the park, Lozano spots the pack in an alley near the school. Clustered in front of two garbage cans are eight dogs, all of them brownish or black mutts, mainly terrier and shepherd mixes. From 20 yards Lozano zooms in on his target: the bitch in heat. "There she is," he yells. "There she is. The brown-and-tan one." We get back in the van and speed up the alley. The pack enters a fenced-in backyard. "This could be easy," Lozano says excitedly, jumping out of the van, wire in hand.
"Come here, girl. Come here, girl," he shouts. The brown-and-tan dog points her nose up and looks around. She's a shepherd mix, and she's wet from the snow flurries. "She's catchable," says Lozano. "She's catchable. She might be an owned dog." He pushes two garbage cans in front of a hole in the fence. "I want to create a roadblock," he says.
He walks slowly toward the dogs. But as soon as he takes two steps into the yard, the pack darts to the front of the property. Lozano runs after them. He comes back, seconds later, dismayed. "The front gate was open," he says.
The city's master dogcatcher is five foot six and weighs about 210 pounds. With his barrel chest, neat buzz cut, and animal control uniform--badge, radio, Chicago flag, black shoes--he looks like a cop. He doesn't drink, he doesn't smoke, and the way he talks you'd sometimes think he was an old Eagle Scout. (He isn't.) "I know plenty of guys who know how to catch a dog. But they can't deal with people," he tells me at one point. On getting heartfelt letters for saving animals, he demurs: "It's just doing the job." On how, as a coworker has vividly related, he caught four vicious pit bulls in under 20 minutes: "I don't really remember that. But I wouldn't doubt it." He's a fitness nut: he plays in an over-35 basketball league (he's 41) and a 16-inch softball league, bikes to work during the summer, and works out several times a week. "If this job is done right," he says, "you need to be in great shape. You never know when you're going to have to jump over a fence."
Lozano works for one of the largest animal control operations in the world, in a city that has more dogs than Cleveland has people. In Chicago's 230 square miles there are more than 500,000 dog owners and a probable dog population of nearly a million.
Animal Care and Control headquarters--better known as the pound--is the David R. Lee Center, a sprawling 60,000-square-foot complex next to a food distribution plant on South Western. It's the Grand Central Station of animal life in Chicago. It receives almost 80,000 calls a year, nearly half of which require retrieval and impoundment. Last year, more than 26,000 animals came through the pound--13,000 dogs, 11,000 cats, and a couple thousand "other," a catchall category that includes rabbits, pigs, snakes, and even sheep and goats. The department aggressively tries to save the stray animals it impounds, says executive director Nikki Proutsos. It has three veterinarians, about 30 other staffers who feed and care for the animals, and a database of some 300 animal-care volunteers to draw on. In 2002, nearly 6,000 impounded animals were either adopted directly from the pound or sent to area adoption and rescue programs. Still, there's a reason the pound is sometimes called Dachau for Dogs. Eighteen thousand animals were euthanized there last year.
The city pound is also Centcom for the city's animal police. All animal-related calls that come to 311 are routed here, and many of the 911 calls require Animal Control assistance. Along with a shift supervisor and a bite officer (whose sole task is to evaluate the severity of the more than 3,000 bite claims in the city each year), dispatchers choose to deploy one of three types of field officer. The city has two trap officers, who, as the title suggests, set traps, overwhelmingly for problematic wild animals (such as raccoons or squirrels stuck in attics). There are three inspectors, who handle cases that require investigative work, such as charges of inhumane treatment or dogfighting. The only field officers licensed to carry tranquilizer guns, inspectors also monitor the practices of the city's pet shops. And then there are the 27 animal control officers, or ACOs. ACOs, like Lozano, are generalists who can be called upon for anything, but while they bristle at the term dogcatcher much the same way Streets and Sanitation workers respond to garbageman, they are, in fact, overwhelmingly dogcatchers. Lozano estimates that 80 percent of his time is devoted to tracking dogs.
A Chicago dogcatcher does not, however, spend his day rescuing wayward puppies. In 1984, Animal Control had a staff of 112. Today it has just 82 employees. What this means is that on a typical shift in Chicago these days, there are only five units--a unit being one or two officers in a van--covering the entire city. So ACOs often patrol vast, state-trooper-size swaths of the city (Lozano drives an average of 70 miles a shift), sometimes alone, and can generally respond to only the most serious calls: bites, injured animals, complaints of inhumane treatment, police department emergency calls, and reports of vicious animals. Lozano, who briefly worked as a dispatcher, says the department is forced into tough decisions. "We just don't have the time to look for Fifi," he says.
If Fifi runs off and joins a pack, though, that's a different story. "Packs are a top priority for us," says operations manager Carmel Fiedler, a former ACO supervisor. Five years ago Animal Control started the Stray Patrol, sending out ACOs on weekends specifically to survey trouble spots for packs. Disassembling them is important in part because strays in the city are a veterinarian's nightmare. They dig through trash and pick at the innards of dead things, and they're highly mobile, establishing urban ranges that can put them in contact with hundreds of animals. They can spread diseases, from kennel cough and mange to canine parvovirus, distemper, and hepatitis. They pose a threat not only to family pets but also to humans, who are susceptible to more than 30 canine-borne illnesses, including rabies.
But disease control isn't the city's most immediate concern. Away from the structure of domesticated life, dogs revert remarkably quickly to canid instinct--they form packs. A pack of stray mutts in Englewood functions a lot like a pack of wolves in Yellowstone. Like a wolf pack, a dog pack is a rigid social organization. An alpha male leads; submissive males, who constantly fight each other to establish the pecking order, follow. Usually there is also at least one bitch in the pack. What alarms ACOs, though, is that pack dogs are more aggressive and dangerous than individual dogs. Scientists describe their increased aggressiveness as typical of mammal social behavior. Studies of dogs yield the same results as human crowd-theory studies: a teenager alone may be harmless; as part of a group he's a punk. A submissive mutt in a pack will instinctually follow the lead of, and mimic the behavior of, a more aggressive dominant dog. If the alpha dog is vicious, the others will be vicious too.
Dogs, after all, are carnivores--and much more effective predators as a group than as individuals. Not only do pack dogs demonstrate more moxie in digging through trash cans, they're also more likely to threaten cats, more inclined to challenge the territorial borders of owned dogs, more likely to attack livestock, and, in certain circumstances, to threaten humans. While unprovoked pack attacks are rare in the United States, there have been isolated incidents. Two years ago in New York City a pack of strays mauled a jogger beyond recognition on a beach boardwalk. And in Chicago in January, two pit bulls, apparently living in the Dan Ryan Woods on the south side, emerged from the trees and attacked two joggers, killing one. The forest preserve was closed until late March, when officials declared the woods free of feral dogs. But a month later it was closed again, after several people reported loose dogs there. On April 25 the preserve reopened--with more than 50 signs posted throughout, urging people to call 311 about strays and 911 about any dog that appeared vicious or threatening. Forest preserve cops, some using all-terrain vehicles, now patrol the Dan Ryan Woods from 8 AM till midnight. Spokesman Steve Mayberry says the woods are dog-free for the time being but that there's no assurance they'll stay that way. "We've known for a long time that these dogs are coming in from the surrounding areas," he says.
Dog packs, like wealth and crime, are not distributed evenly throughout Chicago. Packs on the north side are rare; in all his years of street patrol, Lozano can't recall ever seeing one in Lincoln Park or Lakeview. But they're an all-too-common hazard of life in poorer neighborhoods on the south and west sides, where at times, packs have impeded mail delivery and kept residents in their homes. In the area around Garfield Park, Lozano remembers times "when older people were afraid to go outside."
"There are very few wild or feral animals in the city that have never been touched by man," says Proutsos. Packs of strays form overwhelmingly because of irresponsible pet owners. In areas where tenant evictions occur frequently, Lozano adds, dogs, too, can become homeless. People who move to an apartment that doesn't allow dogs will sometimes set their pets loose or dump them in a park or forest preserve.
Talking with Lozano about strays in Chicago is like talking with Jacques Cousteau about shark life in the Great Barrier Reef. Lozano can tell you where packs congregate in a given area (far south side? Vacant lots and forest preserve properties near the Bishop Ford. Hyde Park? Too affluent--you gotta head a little north, around 47th and Calumet); where they hide (in the Dan Ryan Woods? Near the train tracks, south of 87th Street); and what time they'll appear (usually right after dawn or at night). Lozano searches for dogs in the urban landscape using the same sort of tactics as a wildlife hunter. He looks for signs of dog life--footprints and feces--and zeroes in on likely feeding areas and dens. Often, Lozano says, urban strays take up residence in abandoned buildings or burrow underneath junk.
Back at the pound his expertise is so well admired that Miguel Hernandez, who has four years of experience, is referred to as "Rene's protege"; another officer, Ernie Loza, is nicknamed "Mini-Me." But on the street Lozano sometimes feels like Rodney Dangerfield: he gets no respect. A lot of people still think of ACOs as the dogcatchers of cartoons--bumbling dimwits with nets. "We can't arrest them, we don't carry weapons," he says. "They think we're a joke."
Or worse: ACOs get yelled at and even physically confronted by angry people who fear their dogs will be taken away. One south-side man whose dogs terrorized an area in Back of the Yards for several years was particularly hostile, says Lozano. Every time Lozano approached him with complaints about his dogs, the man would challenge him to a fight. Without arresting authority, there was little Lozano could do. But things are changing. In October 2001 the City Council passed an ordinance upping the fine for a loose dog violation to $300. A person whose dog attacks someone can now face a fine of up to $10,000 and up to six months in jail.
Frequently ACOs are called upon to provide backup for the cops in drug raids or tenant evictions in which vicious animals are involved. Cops appreciate dogcatchers. "They're scared. They don't want to walk down a gangway when they hear two pit bulls going crazy," Lozano says. "They know what we do. They think we have brass balls."
Two minutes after losing the Englewood pack through the open front gate, heading south on the 5400 block of South Bishop, we spot the dogs again. Lozano parks the van in the middle of the street and tells me to bring a lead pole. "You've gotta be nonchalant," he instructs me as we follow the pack. "They know. They're color-blind. But they know."
As we walk toward the pack, a red Toyota with three teenagers in it rolls up next to us. The driver, who has a thin mustache, stares at us.
Lozano turns to him. "Your dog with them dogs?"
"I don't have a dog," says the driver, shaking his head like it's the most ludicrous question he's ever heard. "But there's about 30 dogs who run around here."
A kid in the backseat chimes in. "Yeah, they be killing that dog. They be beating the shit out of that dog. For real."
Lozano thanks them for the tip. But by now the pack is gone. Out of sight.
Lozano points to the car as it drives away. "Look at these guys. You'd think they're a carload of gangbangers," he says. "But they don't like that shit around. If you talk to them reasonable, they'll be more than willing to help. You can't judge a book by its cover."
The next time we spot the pack, ten minutes later, it's moved on to the 5400 block of South Loomis, on the edge of the park. This worries Lozano. "Here they go," he says. "No...don't go in the park."
The dogs cross the lagoon, still frozen, then trot across the baseball fields at the park's center. Two new dogs, a black terrier and a golden retriever mix, emerge from a stand of cattails. There are ten now.
"Two-oh-four to main AC," Lozano says impassively into his radio. "Tell Holcomb I need his assistance in Sherman Park. There's about ten of them. I got the female in view."
Allen Holcomb is an inspector who carries a rifle. Lozano's thinking if the pack comes back across the pond, they can shoot the bitch with a tranquilizer and use her to lure the males. "We need to get the female," he says. "At this point, I don't care about any other dogs."
Minutes after he calls, eight of the dogs do scamper back across the ice, the brown-and-tan female in the lead. They cross Loomis, approach the front of the school, and then head south, running along the sidewalk. "Thatta girl," Lozano says, as we follow in the van. "If she's in the neighborhood, she's going to slip up and go into a yard. Where I'm going to grab her."
The man who has caught 10,000 dogs does not own a dog. "It would remind me of work," he says. Ironically, the only one he ever had--his family dog, Dookie--was taken away by the city for biting. The youngest of three brothers, Lozano grew up around 48th and Racine, graduated from Tilden Tech, and then went to trade school to become a welder. But in the early 80s he couldn't find a job in his field and started looking elsewhere. City jobs were known by everyone to be good, Lozano recalls--good benefits, decent pay. If a city job became available, he decided, he would take it, no matter what the job was.
The only city job available in December 1986 was an entry-level position at the city pound. The duties for pavilion management assistant (PMA) included cleaning cages, feeding vicious and sometimes rabid animals, handling sick puppies, and euthanasia. Some of the animals were deemed unadoptable; other healthy prospective pets had to be put down because of space limitations. So every morning around 7, Lozano and the other PMAs would drag a few dozen unfortunate creatures into a gas chamber. (Today the preferred method is lethal injection.)
The pound job is one a lot of people--even those who desperately want a good job with good benefits--can't take. Many new hires quit after their first day. "If you're scared at all of dogs, forget about it," Lozano says. "And if you can't kill an animal, forget about it."
Even Lozano had some trouble during his early days as a PMA. A small mutt bit his ankle. A pit bull charged him. "It was tough," he concedes. But he never had qualms about putting animals to sleep. "You see the big picture," he says. He'd see very aggressive dogs coming out of trucks every night, he'd hear stories from the field about how dogs were tortured, about how people fed them gunpowder and chili pepper and hung metal chains around their necks to make them stronger and meaner. "Someone had to do something," he says. "These dogs couldn't be on the street."
Lozano talks about his PMA days almost wistfully. "Every ACO should start as a PMA. That's where I really learned about animals." Like baseball or soccer or computer programming, dogcatching has its heroes, and Lozano, who is something of a curator of ACO lore, has his favorites. There was Rambo, whose real name was Harold Ruther. Lozano saw Rambo get pulled over the top of a fence by a pit bull. Says Lozano: "He still held on. He caught the dog." Then there's Steve Brownstein. "Brownstein," Lozano says, "is the man." A sergeant in the Chicago Police Department, Brownstein runs the city's Animal Abuse Control Team, which focuses on animal mistreatment--dogfighting, dogs used as weapons, etc. "I saw that guy walk into the middle of two pit bulls. Ripped them apart with his bare hands. Bare hands," Lozano says, shaking his head. "I wouldn't do that."
Taped in his locker at Animal Control headquarters is a photo of yet another hero, the late John Gaona. Gaona, a longtime ACO and a virtuoso with the wire, nearly had his arm chewed off by a pit bull. He survived, but was permanently disabled. "That just shows you," says Lozano. "It can happen to anybody. I don't know exactly what happened there. But he was one of the best. He was top dog."
Lozano has two key refrains about the art of dogcatching: be prepared for anything, and anything can happen. He says he approaches every situation as if it's life threatening. When I ask him about the incident in Dan Ryan Woods, he says, "That could have been me. Sure, I know a few things citizens don't. Curl in a ball. Hold your neck. Play dead. But if that dog came at me and got my jugular, I'd be dead too."
So far the pack has yet to threaten or even interact with a human. It's bitterly cold and not yet noon, so the streets of Englewood are still--fortunately--desolate.
But now the dogs are heading for the four heavily trafficked lanes of Garfield Boulevard. They're down to eight again--the brown-and-tan female in the lead, seven males following nearly in single file, like a group of schoolchildren behind their teacher. They cross Garfield without hesitation, forcing two cars to stop.
"They want some," Lozano says. "If you were horny, if you had an opportunity, you'd be in order too."
This pack, Lozano suspects, is temporary. Some stray or feral dogs burrow together, hunt together, and live together for weeks or months. These dogs develop a certain demeanor--a feral dog, for instance, will avoid eye contact with a human. But the dogs we're chasing, Lozano points out, will look at you, will respond ever so slightly to a call. Most of them, he concludes, escaped their homes to pursue the female, and once the female is gone, they'll return home. It's not uncommon for a temporary pack to coalesce around a loose bitch--a dog's scent organ is four times larger than a human's, and a male dog can smell a female in heat from several miles.
Over the next hour the chase falls into a pattern: spot the pack entering a seemingly confined space, get out of the van with the lead pole or wire, call after the female--and then watch her sneak out, pack in tow. Periodically Lozano will say, optimistically, "She's going to mess up. I know it," or "She's getting tired." There are several near misses. At one point the pack enters an alley and one of the dogs heads into an open garage, emerging in a fenced-in backyard. Lozano suspects the dog lives there and pulls out a notepad to jot down the address. "Look at this," he says angrily, as the rest of the dogs run down the alley. "Here I am taking down info for a loose dog and the pack is getting away." Another time the female and her suitors enter what appears to be a fenced-in gangway on the 5700 block of South Ada, but again the front gate is open. "If my partner was here," Lozano says, "he would have closed the front gate, I would have closed the back, and they would have been in the truck."
Eventually, backup does arrive--Allen Holcomb and his tranquilizer gun in a four-by-four, plus two vans carrying four more ACOs who've been patrolling the south side. With the other units behind him, Lozano seems confident that the end is near. He briefs his crew: there's a female, very catchable, possibly owned. But still the pack eludes them. An attempt by all five officers to corner the dogs in a vacant lot yields one male, caught by Lozano with the wire. "Once again," Lozano says as we drive away, "all that and we've got one dog. We want the female. The female is the key."
Somewhere between Loomis and Halsted the pack appears to be disintegrating. Lozano counts only five dogs left. He frowns and checks the time. It's 12:15. Nearly two hours spent on this pack. "I'm gonna call everybody off it," Lozano says as we drive up Throop for the third time. "This is a waste now." If an alderman called and complained, if a citizen kept filing complaints, if the dogs appeared to be vicious--then, he says, he could justify spending more time and resources.
Seconds later the female comes back into view. This time she's alone, in a vacant lot near the intersection of 56th and Morgan. Lozano immediately initiates a flurry of radio exchanges. Three units converge on the lot.
The brown-and-tan bitch is now surrounded. She clearly senses that this is a new, more palpable threat. She shows fear. Her ears stiffen, her mouth widens, and she dashes toward the south end of the lot, where Hernandez and Profirica Calin stand with their lead poles. She turns back and heads north, where Greg Cobbs and Eli Williams wait.
Across the street, an older guy and a teen pause to watch the rodeo. They're giggling as the ACOs lunge awkwardly after the wet dog. Lozano tells me later that when dogcatcher meets dog, most people root for the dog.
This dog's what Lozano and some of the other old-timer ACOs call a Walter Payton--a fleet-footed, quick-turning animal that can slip out of a crowd of potential tacklers. After zipping around the lot three or four times, she aims for the alley. She'll have to get past Lozano, who is waiting with the wire.
Lozano takes a small side step and extends his hoop like a matador's cape. The dog makes her move. Lozano yanks on the wire, and the bitch squeals and yelps.
The ACOs let out a collective cheer and exchange high fives. Lozano leads the defeated dog into his van. As we drive away, he confesses that he nearly pulled the wire away at the last second. The dog was 30 or 40 pounds, and she was running at full speed. "That's a lot of velocity," he says.
We head back toward Sherman Park, retracing our steps, passing familiar vacant lots and yards and then turning into a familiar alley. A call comes from Hernandez: with the bitch apprehended, most of the other dogs are scattering throughout the neighborhood. "We're giving chase to what looks like a brown chow," reports Hernandez. "We'll cut it if you want us to help you on those calls."
"Nah, that's a negative," says Lozano. "I'll take care of it. Good help, guys. Just go about your business."
Lozano spends the next 20 minutes taking care of nuts and bolts. He knocks at the door of the suspected owner of the dog that escaped into the garage. No one's home, but Lozano takes down a license plate number. He notices that the yard of the four-flat next door is almost completely carpeted with dog shit, knocks on the front door, and tells a tenant--who vigorously denies owning any dogs--to tell the owner to take care of it. "That's a fine," Lozano says. "It's out of our jurisdiction. I think it's Natural Resources."
Finally we head back to Sherman Park for one last look around. Sure enough, on an island in the lagoon, sniffing at a stand of cattails, are two loose dogs: the black terrier and the retriever mix. As they move onto the ice Lozano turns to me. "That dog," he says, "is horny."
He pulls the brown-and-tan bitch out of the van, the rope from the lead pole around her neck, and walks her a few yards in the direction of the male dogs. He tries calling them: "Come here. Come here, boy." They ignore him.
After about five minutes of watching them continue south, Lozano gives up. We get back in the van, stow away the lead poles. Almost tauntingly, two other dogs come into view, lazing on the snow-speckled grass of an outfield, their paws out, their lids drooping. Across the ice they are safe from the 210-pound dogcatcher and, Lozano says, "they know it." His eyes narrow. Two dogs out of his reach, two other dogs heading south, back onto the streets of Englewood. But it's been nearly three hours since we arrived in Sherman Park, and this is, after all, the city of a million dogs. As we drive away to find lunch, Lozano reminds me, "We're lucky we got the female. That's the key."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Saverio Truglia.