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A Pit Bull Who Provided Lessons in Loyalty and Unfailing Love


By PETER APPLEBOME

Published: March 28, 2007

HOBOKEN, N.J.

In the pecking order of man and beast, there was no lower rung than the one shared by Randy Vargas and Foxy on the streets of Hoboken.

He was 46 and homeless, regular work like that fondly remembered machine-shop job long in the past. She was a member of dogdom's least-fashionable demographic, a 10-year-old brindled pit bull, compact as a pickup truck, ears askew, two-tone face, white neck, the rest an arbitrary mix of light and dark.

And yet in this city increasingly defined by creatures who drew the long straw - winners in real estate and on Wall Street, sleek goldens, pampered Yorkies, fashionable puggles and doodles - there was something transcendent in their bond.

Maybe in a world of opaque relationships, theirs was a lesson in clarity like a parable from the Bible. He had rescued her back when she was homeless and abused, a scared runty thing living with homeless men who had no use for her. She in turn gave him purpose and companionship and love.

Maybe it was how the relationship brought out the best in both. It brought him to life and into the world, as much a part of Hoboken street life as any young comer with his black Lab. And it made her a creature of eternal sweetness, unfailingly friendly to people and animals, tail wagging at the merest glance, a pit bull in name but not metaphor.

So if you spent any time in Hoboken the odds are pretty good you would have seen the two of them, sleeping in front of SS. Peter and Paul Parish Center, visiting the Hoboken Animal Hospital, walking down the street - the dog keeping perfect pace with him, dressed in winter in raffish layers of sweatshirts and T-shirts plucked from the St. Mary's Hospital Thrift Store, she keeping perfect pace with him.

Cheryl Lamoreaux remembered seeing Mr. Vargas resting on a condo's shaded concrete steps on a sweltering August weekend day, flat on his back with Foxy in the same position one step below. It was the perfect image of man and dog, she said, and added, "This really was a dog with a deep soul."

Everyone who knew them said the same thing: Mr. Vargas cared for the dog better than for himself.

"If it was the dead of winter, the dog would get all the blankets, he'd get the sidewalk with nothing on it," said Robin Murphy, a groomer at the Hoboken Animal Hospital. "If it was raining, he'd put the umbrella up for the dog before he'd put it up for himself."

But there's not much margin for error at the bottom rung. Once this winter, he was arrested, accused of making threatening remarks to women. The case was dismissed, and friends say it should never have gone that far. But Ms. Murphy had to rescue Foxy from the pound in Newark, where she could have been euthanized.

It all ended so fast, people still can't explain it. Aside from a dog run, she had seldom been seen off the leash, but on the morning of March 19 in the park, she was. She saw a dog she knew across Hudson Street, dashed across to say hello and was hit by a white pickup that stopped briefly and then sped off.

He held the dog, blood spurting from her mouth, and waved at passing cars, but none stopped. So he carried her 60 pounds, feeling the broken bones in his hand, as far as he could, then put her down and ran to the animal hospital for help. But it was too late.

People come by every day, some fighting back tears, to leave donations, more than $900 so far. Some come from people who knew them, most from people who felt like they did. Alone they might have been invisible. Together, they were impossible to miss.

In different ways, they're still around. Her picture is in some store windows, wearing a gray sweatshirt with a red T-shirt under it, gazing to the right like a sentry, a wondrous study in essence of dog with a touch of human thrown in. Since the accident Mr. Vargas has had good days and bad ones, sometimes being up and around, sometimes, like the other day, looking groggy and defeated under his red comforter on the street. "I feel," he told a friend, "like I have a hole in my soul."

At the animal hospital they're buying a pendant to hold some of her ashes that he can wear around his neck. Friends check on him regularly, bring him food, talk of finally getting him a place to live. There's talk of getting him a new dog when he's ready, which surely isn't now.

"It's like most relationships," he said from under the red blanket. "You have to wait for the right time."

E-mail: peappl@nytimes.com

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