By Jeanne Starmack
Billie Jean is making herself at home at a house on the North Side.
Her blanket is beside the fireplace in the living room, and some of her favorite stuffed animals are there too.
Every now and again, she rubs her back on the rug and make sounds like a contented bear.
She likes to lie out in the driveway on her back, absorbing the sunshine.
There are some friendly cats there, and a couple of other dogs that like her fine.
There’s even a whole group of people who look out for her and love her.
She’s feeling quite comfortable now with Tess Tessier and Tara McKibben, who have taken her in.
The problem is, even though she’s making herself at home, she’s not at home. Not yet.
Tessier and McKibben love her, but they can’t keep her.
Billie Jean, a year-old hound who seems to be part pit bull, part beagle, has moved up in the world — just weeks ago, she was a hurt, homeless stray hanging around the tennis court at Crandall Park. But she still has one more move to make — to a permanent home.
She’s starting to bond with her foster family, said McKibben.
“That’s why we really need to find her a home,” she said, adding she’s worried that moving the dog after she’s bonded will be hard on her.
She’s been through some hard times already, said members of a group of North Side neighbors who got together to help her. They gathered Wednesday at McKibben and Tessier’s Goleta Avenue home to tell her story.
They all live near Crandall Park, where neighbor Moris Jadue likes to walk his two dogs.
On June 17, Jadue said, he was walking his dogs near the tennis court when he saw the midsized, brown and white dog with the brown floppy ears trapped inside the gate there.
He had seen her once before, about a week earlier, near the court.
“But she wouldn’t let me get close,” he said.
This time he rushed home, left his dogs there and returned to the court with a can of food and a bowl.
He went inside the gate, but she still would not come to him. He put the food in the bowl and slid it toward her. Then he made some calls.
“I started calling people I know who are dog people,” he said. “I got hold of Gretchen.”
Neighbor Gretchen Brown loves dogs and even sits on the board of the Bummer Fund, a fund that helps financially struggling pet owners in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties pay vet bills.
Brown came to the park to help.
“She came right up to Gretchen and used her as a shield from me,” Jadue said.
The group’s theory is that a man hurt her, but she’s now friends with Jadue and has recovered from her anxiety about men, they said.
“I took her to my house and set up a crate for her,” said Brown. The dog had obviously had a litter of puppies recently, but they were nowhere to be found. Her leg was stuck straight out.
“She held it at an odd angle,” Brown said. She was also in a great deal of pain.
Brown took the dog to the Animal Care Hospital in Hubbard, where her leg was amputated June 22. It wasn’t until the leg was off that the vet found shotgun pellets, and they realized the dog had been shot.
“The vet estimated she was like that for about three weeks,” Brown said.
Brown, who was unable to foster the dog, searched through social networks for someone who could. McKibben and Tessier answered the call.
Neighbor Sue Sexton, who is president of the Bummer Fund, said it’s gratifying to have the support of a close-knit neighborhood.
“Just to be able to pick up the phone when something like this happens ...,” she said.
“Everybody worked to get her safe,” said Brown.
The group tried to find out if the dog, now named Billie Jean after tennis great Billie Jean King, had an owner. They went door to door. They called pounds and rescue shelters. She wasn’t listed as missing, and she had no microchip.
But clearly, she had a home once. She had on a brown leather collar but no tags.
“She loves people and wants to be around them all the time,” said McKibben. “She was completely housebroken.”
The group is accepting donations for Billie Jean’s vet care — the Bummer Fund can’t be used for strays. But mostly, they said, they are concerned about finding her a home.
She’s been spayed and has had shots and tests. She gets around just fine on three legs. She’s healthy, gentle and affectionate, and ready to love someone, they said.
“She might be a mix, but she’s a purebred sweetheart,” said Jadue.
TO HELP BILLIE JEAN
A group of North Side neighbors has made it a mission to help a wounded stray dog they’ve named Billie Jean.
To donate to her vet care, make checks payable to Animal Care Hospital, 47 Hall Ave., Hubbard, OH 44425. Note on the check that it is for Billie Jean.