Smoky Hollow is a name and a place that invites legends.
It was a perfect place for Wolfy to die. He did so, two weeks ago.
But his ashes are not resting amid the hills and knolls he roamed and owned. It is an ache to the patchwork of lives who remain around the Hollow and who provided for Wolfy, his mate and pups.
“Where is Wolfy? I want to know.”
Those words crawl out from Liz Dischiavo — each word slower and more emphatic than the last. The words end, and she stares out through a window to her beloved yard and neighborhood. Smoky Hollow has been her home since the late 1940s.
The history of Smoky Hollow goes back a century and some more, a hard-scrabble, working-class thatch of — in its prime — almost 570 families one atop the other. There are still the brick roads that carried the lives of those working-class families — including Youngstown legends such as Edward DeBartolo Sr. and Judge Nathaniel R. Jones.
The brick streets are about all that remains, save for a handful of homes. College students’ lives rattle the Hollow in various ways, but they are a muffled mass compared to the bustle of generations ago.
The past eight or so years, the streets were Wolfy’s.
Officially, he was a Husky with some German Shepherd mixed in, and a mutt and a wild dog.
But to 20 or so residents and business people in the worn buildings bounded by Andrews and Wick avenues and U.S. Route 422, Wolfy was the stoic, loyal patriarch of the “Smoky Hollow Dogs.”
With his loyal mate Princess, for eight years they led as normal a life as dogs would live: a yearly brood of puppies; a steady stream of human supporters; protection and companionship.
They were fed and feted. It was just in a home that had no roof.
No roof — but lots of love.
“We’re all here to work and run a business,” said Richie Dascenzo Jr., who works with his dad and six others at Dutch Auto Body, an Andrews Avenue institution started by his grandfather Arman in 1946.
“The dogs gave you something to look forward to every day. I know that sounds kinda whacked — like we’re animal freaks. But it’s how it was.”
No one knows how it started. Or, specifically, when. It just did.
“I got my new truck in 2008, and it was the year before that I first saw Wolfy,” Richie said.
Princess was a Hollow resident, if you will. Her owner died about seven years ago, and after her family emptied the home, Princess was left behind. And she and Wolfy started their life in the Hollow.
Richie stands on Andrews Avenue and points out the dogs’ path. He points up a knoll toward YSU and Liz’s house. He points north on Andrews toward Source Products; across the street is Connell Inc., a steel company.
In those places, the dogs had a home.
“When I got here in the morning, they were here. Every day. They’d hang out for a few hours. Then head up to Source’s. Then come back to Connell’s. And it was like that every day. They had this clock,” Richie said.
On weekends, the dogs headed to Liz’s house. The dogs would eat out of the hands of the crew, but never would they let themselves be petted or held.
They were never aggressive or mean to anybody or to customers who came to the businesses.
“And they would bark when someone came into the Hollow who did not belong. They knew,” said Liz.
Of all the workers who cared for them, none would argue that it was Chris who cared the most.
Chris Mistovich-Daliman used to work at Source’s. When the dogs made their way north on Andrews, the companies would contact Chris.
“‘They’re headed your way,’ they’d say,” Chris said. “Then when they got to Source’s, the staff would yell, ‘The dogs are here.’”
Wolfy came into Chris’ life about the time her son died. Wolfy filled the void and, in return, she filled his belly.
“When he saw me get out of my car with the IGA bags, he’d do a happy dance because he knew that was beef for him,” she said.
She guesses her weekly food expense for Wolfy and Princess was more than $80.
And that was their little community for eight or so years.
It worked. It was not perfect nor uncontested, and not without a need for street smarts.
Wolfy showed up once with a bloody neck. The workplaces put penicillin and antibiotics in Wolfy’s food.
When Princess had puppies, Chris would head into the woods and abandoned homes to find them and ensure they got adopted.
A couple animal activists showed up to try and corral Wolfy and Princess, but the community would do its best to shoo them off, saying the dogs were at home in the Hollow.
It created an altercation last year between Chris and an activist.
“I flew off the porch to get between them,” said Liz, 86. “I said, ‘I’m an old hag and I might go down first, but it won’t be without a fight.’”
Cops were called.
“They came from everywhere,” Richie said, laughing. “City cops, YSU cops, animal control ...”
“They asked me for my license and ID,” scoffed Liz. “I pointed, ‘That’s been my home for 60 years.’”
One time, in trying to get Princess spayed, they worked with animal control to catch her.
But Wolfy got caught instead.
“They would not give him back to us,” Richie said. “They said we’d just set him loose again. We begged. ‘The Hollow is his home.’ But they said no.”
Then Richie paused, looked away, then looked back at me with a smirk: “So we gave a kid money to go get Wolfy. He was back here that night.”
All things end.
The Hollow died decades ago.
Wolfy died, too.
They all knew it was coming.
Wolfy hadn’t been eating as much; his stomach was distended; he was passing blood; the crew planted Xanex in his food instead of antibiotics, to ease his last days.
That last weekend was two weeks back, and the Hollow kept watch those last few days.
“I went looking for him,” said Chris of that last Saturday night, Sept. 7.
Wolfy’s one pup who stayed with them, named Andy by the crew in honor of Andrews Avenue, was the only dog who answered when Chris stood in the center of the Hollow and called for them.
It was dark. Chris let Richie and her husband know where she was going “in case anything happened.” She had Liz on the phone.
Andy stayed at her side as she searched with a flashlight all the normal hiding spots of vacant homes, garages and woods.
In the back corner of an abandoned garage, Chris said she found Wolfy, curled up with Princess at his side. He would not come for any food. Princess would not leave his side.
Sunday would be the last day, she felt.
Richie had plans for a little memorial on his corner. They wanted Wolfy’s ashes spread there and around the Hollow.
As Chris was closest to Wolfy, she was going to be the one to get him first.
“All I ever wanted to do was hold him once.”
It was not to be.
One of the shooed-away activists had been coming around on weekends and had heard of Wolfy’s condition.
She got to the Hollow first that Sunday. In her arms and into her car went Wolfy’s body.
“I cried,” said Liz. “I begged her not to take Wolfy. I said, ‘It’s Chrissy’s dog. Wait for her. Leave him here. This is his home.’”
But Wolfy was gone.
It didn’t sit well with the crew.
Chris was devastated, and still is tearful when she recalls the day that was stolen from them.
Richie has not engaged the activist. They know her. His words for her are coarse.
Liz is more coarse.
Think of any Hollywood tough guy who utters words that hell is about to come: Clint, Tony, Jack ...
Liz goes there.
“I hope I run into her,” she says of the lady who took Wolfy.
“What would you do?” I asked.
Serious, deep and angry, and looking off through the Hollow, she answered in Eastwood or Nicholson speak.
“I don’t know what I would do ...”
Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.