Codger’s column: A new pal

LOIS B. MORRIS PHOTO Codger's and Crone's new housemate.
LOIS B. MORRIS PHOTO Codger’s and Crone’s new housemate.

The call, expected and dreaded, came while Codger and Crone were on vacation in Oregon this month.

One of Crone’s oldest friends, Ellen Robinson, had died. A last wish was that Crone provide a loving home for her closest companion and comfort through her long illness, a 6-year-old pure bred, apricot-colored standard poodle named Pal.

Codger and Crone flew to Chicago and rented a Chevy Tahoe, big enough for a big dog and his big bed. At his home in suburban Glencoe, Pal, who had met Crone before, gently pushed his head into her while she scratched his neck. He still favors her, justifiably. He was friendly enough to Codger, but reserved. Codger wondered if he would need to dress better for such an elegant dog. And temper his language.

On the two-day drive back to Shelter Island, Pal was quiet and sad. Codger thought about their last dog, Milo, known here as Cur, who died in January. He was less than half Pal’s size, a tri-colored “cocker sapien” mutt who expected constant treats and rubs. He helped Codger with his work, listening for hours without judgment.

Their last walk included the town path off Menhaden Lane to view the many cedar, cherry and locust trees that had been chopped down or topped, presumably to improve someone’s water view. That was more than half-a-year ago, and the crime has not been solved, which is a mystery and a shame.

Somehow, the decimation of the trees and Cur’s death became entwined in Codger’s mind. He even thought it would be a fitting memorial if the people responsible were to make some kind of restitution, as Supervisor Gary Gerth has suggested. But on Shelter Island, enforcement, much less punishment, is never a given.

And then, just three months after Cur’s passing, the Reverend Canon Paul Wancura died from terrible wounds suffered during an invasion of his home at Shell Beach. Crime and punishment suddenly became darker issues, also still unresolved.

Codger has decided not to share too much of this history with Pal, despite the easy way he slipped into his new family’s life. It would be too much of a burden too soon. Unlike Cur, a hardscrabble kill-shelter rescue who arrived with diseases and insecurities, confident Pal was raised from a pup in a tony town with love, home-cooked meals and a sense of purpose — he offered enormous solace to Ellen and her late husband, Marty, when they needed it most.

So how could Codger feel anything but amusement when Pal, on his first morning on the Island, reached up to the kitchen counter and ate Codger’s breakfast? And later, on his own, discovered an upstairs guest room with the perfect queen-sized bed for his afternoon naps when he wasn’t downstairs on the couch, which he does not share.

Codger does not know how long he should keep Pal ignorant of the issues — short-term rentals, tick control, water quality, the need for long-term planning — that he frequently discussed with Cur, who was not at all optimistic about the enforcement of the STR regulations, whatever it is they may be in anyone’s mind.

Cur would have been as dumfounded as Codger was last week when the Town Board took up the issue of giving the animal control officer, the town attorney and the fire marshal the power to issue summonses. Even the fire marshal, who investigates and reports on life-and-death matters can’t follow through with a summons? Who can? Does anyone?

There’s just so much going on for a new dog to absorb. That’s why, on their recent introductory walks, while Codger gave Pal a tour of that never stale story, Fresh Pond, he avoided Shell Beach, site of the unsolved homicide. All Pal needs to know right now is to bark at strangers at the door.

Codger and Crone did make it last Friday to the home invasion tag sale. Father Wancura seems to have lived a well-upholstered life on a stunningly beautiful site, but Codger found seeing his hats, ties and cigar cutters for sale slightly creepy.

How do you explain all this to a newcomer without sounding morbid or sensationalistic? Happily, there were two heartening events this past penultimate weekend before peace returns to the Island. Saturday’s Green Expo was even bigger than last year’s, a great success for Tim Purtell and his tree hugger-muggers.

On Sunday, the Senior Citizens Foundation held a party for the Lions’ new pavilion at Wades Beach, which was a chance for President Barbara Silverstone to introduce her successor, Chris Lewis.

Meanwhile, Codger and Crone, who had been trying out such enhanced names for Pal as Pallo and Apollo, formally introduced him as the designated dog in the family. In this space he will be known as Cur II.