Magazine article The New Yorker

DOGTOWN; Down, Boy Dept

Magazine article The New Yorker

DOGTOWN; Down, Boy Dept

Article excerpt

If you find yourself on the service road of the Major Deegan, in the shadow of the Cross Bronx Expressway, between the train tracks and the Harlem River, and you hear loud barking interspersed with the crowing of roosters, do not be alarmed. Follow your ears (and the flies) to the chain-link fence, and, while noting the "No Trespassing" and "Beware of Dog" signs, introduce yourself politely to whoever might be sitting nearby, at the entrance of what appears to be a canine shantytown--plywood huts, wire cages, tarps, and assorted vehicles packed into half an acre near the base of High Bridge.

The land belongs to the New Tabernacle Baptist Church, which for the past eleven years has run a kind of nonprofit kennel club for urban hunting dogs, carrying on a local, word-of-mouth tradition that dates to around the Second World War. A New Tabernacle volunteer named Lewis Jones (everyone calls him Lou) serves as the chief groundskeeper, tending to, among other things, a charred mound of beer cans that passes for a waste-disposal system. Fifteen dog shanties house about fifty beagles, coon hounds, and Italian mastiffs. At one point, the kennel had an official name--the Highbridge Hunting Club--but its charter has lapsed. The dogs' owners do not pay rent, although donations to the church are encouraged.

One afternoon last week, a man named Peppy (Lou calls him Lucky) was sitting on a rusty bench while facing a pen full of mastiffs that were pawing aggressively at the gate. "These are guard dogs," he said. "The rest are bird dogs, rabbit dogs." (Lou says that the mastiffs are for "hunting the big game, like lions and tigers.") A few roosters wandered around freely, speaking their minds. Peppy had on a green T-shirt with a picture of a snarling dog and the words "Remington Steel: We breed with overseas methods." He said that he'd been raising dogs in the Bronx for almost two years--an arriviste. "There's not too many places in the city you can keep dogs," Peppy said. "If you're into hunting, you heard of this place."

Soon, Peppy's business partner, Ross, arrived, carrying a couple of boxes of syringes, for applying tick and flea repellent. The two men opened the nearest padlock and began attending to their pooches, the most stubborn of whom was named Isabella. A couple of albino cats prowled the perimeter. …

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