Last Update: 3/14/2013 2:20:00 PM
Abandoned pit bull takes the long way home
As Steve Miller walked around to the back of the house, a neighbor called out to him.
"You better know," said the man in a deep, low voice, "they left a dog in there."
Miller had just spent two months getting his former tenants evicted from the property for failure to pay rent. It is one of several homes he owns in the city of Chester. He was there to clean it out with the hope of renting it to a more reliable family.
Taking heed of the neighbor's warning, Miller found a window. He cupped his hands and peeked inside. What he saw, inches away, was an eye looking back. It took a few seconds for Miller to make out that the eye belonged to a blue-nose pit bull.
The dog didn't bark or growl. It just looked up into Miller's face as if searching for something.
Miller went around to the front of the house and let himself in. He walked back to the room where the dog was and cracked the door open. A nose appeared. Miller put his hand down and the dog sniffed it. A few seconds later, after both were satisfied that neither meant the other harm, Miller nudged his way inside.
The condition of the house was about what Miller expected - awful.
But the dog was in worse shape.
He had been locked in a back room for maybe a week. The room was filthy with old pizza boxes, empty cans and feces.
"There was crap everywhere," Miller recalled. "He didn't have a clean place to lay down."
It was obvious the dog hadn't eaten in a while.
"He was," Miller said, "skin and bones."
He called the city's animal control office, but no one was available to pick up the dog. His son Steve arrived soon after that with his girlfriend, Mary. They both took to the animal immediately. While the two Steves started to clean up, Mary took the dog for a walk. They didn't know his name so they started calling him "Bones."
It was his son who talked Miller into taking the dog home instead of to the SPCA. The younger Steve told his dad that he had a couple of friends who would be interested in adopting the beast. So that afternoon, Steve Miller took the dog to where he was living at the time, his shop at the Ridley Marina. Besides being a landlord, Miller has his own asphalt and paving company.
He had no intention of keeping the dog. His own pet of 11 years, an English mastiff, had passed away three months earlier. Having split from his wife and living at the shop, he didn't want or need another pet. But fate worked against him.
His son's friends were all talk when it came to actually taking the dog off his hands.
"There was a fella' down at the boat yard, he had a friend, a detective in Philadelphia, who said he wanted him," Miller said." But he never came through.
"It seemed everybody wanted this dog over the phone, but when it came time to pull the trigger ..."
For a month and a half, he kept the dog, taking him on jobs and, occasionally, to the bar where he'd go after work. The owner didn't mind the dog being in the bar and neither did anybody else. He was friendly and didn't bother anybody. At the Secane Station Tavern, Bones fit in just fine.
Then one night a couple came in, dog lovers both. They made a big fuss over Bones. Miller told them how he came by the animal.
"I told them the story and they kind of fell in love with him."
Miller was lit up and so were they. So when the couple said they'd take Bones off his hands and give him a loving home, Miller shrugged and said, "He's yours."
Miller sent Bones to the other end of the bar and that was it. The couple left drunk and happy with the dog and Miller went home alone.
It was about 3 a.m. that same night when his phone rang. It was the female half of the couple. She told Miller that he needed to come and get his dog.
"It's not working out," the woman said.
The couple had two other mutts and a 2-year-old kid. The other dogs were proving very protective.
Imagine that, falling in love in a bar at 1 a.m. and it not working out.
Miller said he wasn't going anywhere at 3 a.m. and they both drifted off the phone.
In the morning, he called the woman back. No answer. He called a dozen more times that day. Still, no answer. He worried that Bones would be taken to the SPCA or simply let loose on the street. But the couple was better than that. The next day, the husband called Miller and told him how to get to their house.
When he pulled up in his truck, Bones was tied to a fence post in the yard. When he saw Miller he started shaking and wagging his tail. Untied, he jumped right into the front of the cab and was ready to go. And that's pretty much when Miller gave up the idea that Bones would ever belong to anyone else.
On the days Miller can't take him to work, he leaves him at the shop. But the dog's hardly ever lonely. The girl who runs the marina takes him for walks and people from the restaurant nearby bring him bones and make sure his water bowl is never empty.
"Everybody knows him there," said Miller.
In the summer, he chases the geese and the ducks. On the weekends, the boaters will sometimes take him out for rides. He likes to stand in the bow and feel the spray of the water and the wind in his face.
His new name is now official, but his nickname at the marina, given by people who know his history is "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air."
I met him Wednesday night at the SST. Partly in his honor, the bar is holding a benefit to raise money for the local SPCA on March 23.
Bones is a sort of unofficial mascot for both the marina and the tavern. There will be no more attempts to find him a new owner. They've been together now almost a year.
Whatever it was, this almost-lost dog was looking for in Miller's face that day, I'd say he finally found it.
"He's not going anywhere," said Miller.