The bite of a beloved dog makes ripples in Hampden

This Just In. . .

April 29, 1996|By DAN RODRICKS

I like the little stories, the ones that live where people and dogs do. The one we have today could have popped out of any neighborhood, from Ten Hills to Locust Point; it could have happened out in Finksburg, maybe Cockeysville or Columbia. But it's really the kind of thing -- a minor incident that creates immediate social ripples -- likely to happen in a city neighborhood, full of people and dogs.

It just so happens this story comes from Hampden. It's a Hampden kind of story.

I like Hampden. It's a small town inside a sprawling city, with The Avenue (36th Street) still busy (and kind of funky) after all these years, and an evolving mixture of people -- from artisans to roofers. Much has been made of this; it has been referred to as the "changing face of Hampden." Longtime residents yawn and give the ole glass eye at the idea they are somewhat quaint. Others, mostly newer residents -- the yuppies -- find a lot that's neat in the sometimes rough-and-tumble world of an intimate Baltimore neighborhood. (That's excluding, of course, the folks who find a lot that's just kind of annoying.)

Which gets us to the dog.

Star is her name. A lot of people think Star is kind of neat. (That's excluding, of course, the folks who think she's just kind of loose a lot.) She's a mix of shepherd and chow, about 10 years old. Starting about seven or eight years ago, Star became a local celebrity for making peace with a postal carrier who used to be afraid of her. Instead of the classic conflict -- dog chasing mailman -- what Hampdenites saw was a dog happily following (( Don Williams on his delivery rounds. They've been best friends all this time.

"She waits for me every day outside Murphy's on 36th Street, then follows my truck," says Williams, who speaks of this canine with great affection. "I make 600 stops, and we'll be moving along and maybe I'll stop for a minute to talk to someone and Star will hit me with her paw to keep me going. ELLIPSES She's a nice dog."

Star is known to some as "The Avenue Dog" or the "mailman's watchdog." The Mill Corridor, a smartly produced newsletter serving all the communities along the Jones Falls Valley, published a story about the Star-Williams relationship. The Postal Service even made a fuss.

Everything was going along fine until the other afternoon, when Star allegedly bit a little boy.

Did that get the rumors spinning in the ole mill corridor. Word of the incident -- and Star's subsequent incarceration by Animal Control -- spread quickly. No one could believe that the "mailman's watchdog" would turn violent so suddenly. It was like Wishbone getting picked up by the vice squad.

The first version I heard involved teen-agers; some of the local thugs were said to have beaten Star until she snapped at one of them. That was an easy story to believe. But, as it turned out, that wasn't the case.

It was a 3-year-old boy named Therin Armstrong who was bitten -- right on the abdomen, right through his Batman T-shirt. I got all this from Therin's mother, Brenda Prichard, who lives on 37th Street.

She and her husband, their two children, a friend and her daughter were standing in front of Murphy's, right on The Avenue, about 2 o'clock Hampden time, last Tuesday afternoon. The adults were chatting, getting ready to go into the store to do some shopping. The kids were petting the dog. Next thing Brenda knew, the dog was growling and snapping at Therin; the first time, Star got a mouth full of T-shirt, the second time she managed to bite Therin on his stomach.

Brenda kicked at the dog until it ran away, then grabbed her son and took him to Mercy Medical Center. Therin didn't need stitches or anything, but Brenda was very concerned. "I saw dog saliva and my child's blood mixed together," she says.

She called 911. An officer from the Northern District came out and tracked the dog down -- Star's owners live on Roland Avenue -- and Animal Control took her to the pound.

The deal is she stays there, in quarantine, for a total of 10 days; she'll be observed for signs of rabies. It'll cost her owners more than $200 to get Star back when the quarantine period is up later this week. People feel bad. Some are raising a little money for Star's release. There's a jug with a note asking for contributions for "the mailman's guard dog" in a diner on 36th Street. The buzz in Hampden -- at least from some quarters -- is one of sympathy for the popular dog. Some people are a little Star-struck.

Which Brenda Prichard finds kind of quaint. A dog bites her kid and people try to raise money to get the dog released? "And I'm the bad guy for having this dog locked up," Brenda says.

Last Friday morning, I made a coffee run to the Royal Farm store on Keswick and went to the Prichard-Armstrong rowhouse. Therin ate a glazed doughnut hole then showed me the boo-boo on his tummy. There was a puncture hole that had started to heal, and a scratch a few inches long. His mother, who has no medical insurance, isn't looking forward to the bill for the emergency room visit. "I'd like to see people raising money to help me pay the bill for Therin's medical treatment," she says.

Hampden isn't my neighborhood, and I'm no expert on human relations, but that sounds like a good idea to me.

Pub Date: 4/29/96

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