A man driving a blue Chevrolet Sunbird with Missouri tags parked his car on a busy downtown street last week, left his dog and a television inside and walked away. He never came back.
Concerned about the dog's whimpering, a passerby called the Washington Humane Society on June 24. When Officer Luckeya McCaroll arrived, the German shepherd was pressing her nose against the window, creating a circle of smudge marks. Joanna Harkin, a secretary at a nearby law firm, came in time to see McCaroll coax the dog from the car.
"She was so fragile and sweet," Harkin said of the black-and-brown dog.
The dog, identified by her tags as Nathalie, went off to the Humane Society kennel, where she drank a lot of water and ate a big meal, according to society executive director Mary Healey. Nathalie continues to gain weight and is being treated for a skin condition, Healey said.
Eight days after Nathalie's rescue, the Sunbird was still parked in the rush hour zone of the 1700 block of I Street NW. An array of pink tickets was stuck under a windshield wiper, the earliest one dated June 24. The windows on the curb side have been broken, the luggage upended and personal papers strewn around.
Harkin is not one to walk away from either animals or people in distress. As founder of the Alliance for Stray Animals and People, she has taken on the cause of finding Nathalie's owner and making sure the dog receives proper care. She also would like to get the vandalized car off the street.
She formed the alliance in 1998, she said, to help stray cats and indigent people who need help caring for their animals.
"I kept watch on the car all through rush hour Thursday, and then when I came to work in the morning it was still there," she said. "I kept waiting for the man to come back so I could tell him where his dog was."
Harkin spent the past week contacting police departments and hospitals in Washington but no one had any information about a man from Missouri. She traced the car tags to Dave Norleano of Higginsville, Mo.--a town of about 5,000 people--but his phone service had been disconnected. She contacted a veterinarian in the town, who said he knew Norleano and his dog but hadn't seen them lately.
On Monday she sent a letter to Norleano's neighbors. She told them about the abandoned car and dog, and her concern that Norleano "may have met with harm while visiting Washington, D.C." She asked them to call her collect at any time with information.
So far, Harkin has not heard from anyone in Higginsville.
"It is so strange the way he just disappeared," she said. "He left the window open for the dog as though he wanted her to be saved. It is just a complete mystery."
Well, not quite.
Yesterday, Higginsville Police Detective Clayton O'Donnell said he had been contacted by an agency in Washington, saying it had given Norleano a bus ticket to come home. In a small town like Higginsville, O'Donnell said, he knows everyone, including Norleano.
"They said he was broke," O'Donnell said. "We haven't seen him yet, but we expect to."
What about the dog and the car?
"I don't know," O'Donnell said. "That's Dave's business."
Healey, of the Humane Society, said Nathalie will be put up for adoption next week if Norleano doesn't contact the society.
"She's a quiet dog who needs a good home," she said.
CAPTION: Rosemary Vozobule, the Humane Society's law enforcement director, visits with Nathalie, who was rescued June 24.