Man has explaining to do after his wife gets call about 'Girl'

March 02, 1995|By MICHAEL OLESKER

John Vicchio looks like the Marlboro Man in his golden years. He's got this rugged face chiseled and weathered by half a century working on the rooftops of Baltimore. He is 67 years old but still has muscles where his flab ought to be. Also, there's a place in his heart for a beaten dog.

The dog showed up when winter first dawned last year, and for some reason she stuck around the yards behind the 1800 block of Maryland Avenue, where Vicchio has his roofing company office. He spotted her back there. She was a German shepherd with a little huskie in her, and she was crawling under a lumber pile.

"Come here, girl," Vicchio said, moving toward her. But the dog would leap away every time he got near her.

"Come here, girl," said Mike Holden, who was working with Vicchio. But the dog would dance away some more.

This went on over the months of last winter, with the snow on the ground and the wind chill below zero and the dog with no apparent place to go.

"She was very skinny," Vicchio was remembering yesterday, "but very athletic. We've got this fence out there, but she'd jump over it like a deer. Her bones were showing, but her stomach was hanging down. I thought she might be pregnant. She was 2 or 3 years old. She was real skittish any time people got near her. Even when the temperature was coldest, I couldn't get close to her."

When the weather was at its worst, with snow and ice all over and the air frosty and raw, the dog crawled under the lumber pile and stayed. Vicchio would bring her food, but the dog wouldn't crawl out to get it until Vicchio backed away.

"Come here, girl," he would say.

"Come here, girl," said Holden.

Finally, the day arrived when the dog let the two men put their hands on her head. Then she'd dance away, then come back, dance away again, and finally begin to show some trust.

"Looks to me like she's pregnant," Vicchio said, gently petting the animal with Holden. "Let me see if I can find a vet."

In the telephone book, he found the Animal Medical Center of Mount Washington, and Holden took the dog there, with instructions for spaying, shots, cleaning, and whatever surgery might be needed for a dog clearly in discomfort.

"She's homeless," Vicchio told the woman at the animal hospital. "She might need an abortion."

"What's the dog's name?" said the woman.

"I don't know," said Vicchio. "We just say, 'Come here, girl.' That's the only name we've called her. Why don't you just call her Girl. And give me a call when you're done."

At the animal hospital, they found the dog had a severe hernia and broken ribs. She appeared to have been kicked repeatedly. But she wasn't pregnant.

From the animal hospital, a young woman telephoned Vicchio's house, where his wife, Myra, answered.

"This is the Mount Washington Hospital," the woman said.

She didn't say Mount Washington Animal Hospital -- or, at least, not so that Mrs. Vicchio heard. What Mrs. Vicchio clearly heard was: Mount Washington Hospital.

"Yes," she replied.

"I want to verify Mr. Vicchio's surgery," said the woman on the phone.

Myra Vicchio, standing, felt her knees buckle.

"Surgery?" she said. "What surgery?"

"Just a minute," said the young woman on the phone, scanning her notes until she found the correct information. "It's his Girl's abortion."

"His what?"

"She won't need it," said the woman at the animal hospital. "It turns out, she's not pregnant."

When John Vicchio arrived home that evening, his wife was, shall we say, eager to see him.

"What is going on?" she said.

"With what?"

"I'm so confused," said Myra Vicchio. "Somebody from the Mount Washington Hospital called and. . . ."

Today, Girl is no longer homeless. She's vibrant and healthy and lives with Mike Holden mostly and, when Holden goes out of town for work, she stays with Myra and John Vicchio, who straightened out the misunderstanding about John's "Girl."

And yesterday, when a call was placed to the Animal Medical Center of Mount Washington, the telephone was answered this way: "Animal Hospital."

Which should make things clear for everybody.

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