Man In A Dog Suit—The Secret Of Solovino


Solo vino, Solo se fue.

“Hey, Jack!!”.

My friend and neighbor Don’s big voice boomed at the fence. “Come look at this dog.”

I went outside and looked across the street at the dog he was talking about.

“Watch what he’s doing—he’s amazing.”

The stocky tan dog, pit-like but not, had appeared out of nowhere. Dumped, lost, wandering, we didn’t know. But he clearly was testing the neighborhood for somewhere to settle in. House by house, he would lie down in the parkway, observe the comings and goings of the resident, and when he got no reaction, he’d move down to the next candidate. 


The house that finally let him stay was the bright blue neigborhood nuisance-drug-cops always there- the ambulance is my doctor’s office landmark. They simply did not chase him, and it was enough for him.

I observed him in the following days. Although he now seemed to live there, he operated independently, lying in front of the house when he liked, following the occupants—when he chose— when they left with the baby stroller, coming and going when he decided to come or go.

He crossed to my side once and approached the fence. I grabbed a treat and offered it cautiously through the fence. He was tough looking and wary, and I didn’t want to lose a finger to kindness. My apprehension was not necessary. He removed the treat from my hand gently and delicately.


I began to worry about his safety. He was muscular and had that faux pit appearance ( I’d later deduce by some strong evidence and expert opinion that he was a Shar Pei/Jindo cross), and the frequency of the police showing up to arrest or snoop or question put him in peril. I could picture him trotting up to a dog-scared cop and getting shot for his friendliness. I decided to get him out of there to a safer haven. {my fears were founded—the police did in fact shoot another dog that lived there, in her own backyard, fenced in and licensed. That little pit luckily survived.)

I took some pictures of him, and started to talk him up. I hadn’t asked permission of the new “owners”. I’d deal with that when I had to.

One morning I walked outside, and the blue house residents were with the dog talking to the dogcatcher in the front yard. My heart sank as I rushed across the street. These people were not going to defend this dog, and probably were over the limit and he was the one to be sacrificed.

“ Hi, I’m Jack Carone” I began, and spilled out every animal rights and protection credential I could think of to overwhelm him with qualifications and interrupt the transaction. “I’m placing this dog in a new home.”

The “owner” looked at me as if to say “since when?”, but he didn’t contradict my claim. The ACO accepted this, and told me he’d be back in a week to check.

What was I going to do with this dog? I had just adopted a big mostly-shepherd that my ex-wife had found running the streets. Having been recruited to find him a home, I fell in love with him and had broken a 3-year no-dog policy I’d instituted after a difficult period during the passing of my former trio of dogs. I’d barely bonded with my new friend Bo, and had no intention of adding to the family so soon.

A week passed, and with no solution, I decided to take the dog, who the blue house was calling Solovino, to a horse sanctuary I was helping to operate in the Palmdale desert. This would buy me time to rehome him, while getting him out of the sights of the dogcatcher.

I went over to fetch him. Heartbreakingly, he was so attached to the security, however tenuous, of the blue house, he would not come with me, or even rise to his feet. The blue house man had to help me lift him and carry him to my car. I felt horrible to be robbing him of the meager stability he had found by his house-testing brilliance, but he was losing that and much more if he stayed.

I began the long drive to the sanctuary, where he would stay in a pie-shaped arrangement of dog yards we had built to house the many dogs we found out there who were wandering in this popular dumping ground of abandonment.

On the way, I stopped by my friend Rhea’s home, which is itself an animal sanctuary, always full of dogs. If she reads this, it’s a long-delayed confession that I was hoping she might want to take him. Although she admiringly remarked that he was “regal”, the dozen or so dogs already there, many of them tripods hopping to protect the gate, were clearly plenty. So we continued to the horse sanctuary.

When I stopped my car to get him out and into a yard, I found that he now would not leave my car. He was still desperately trying to hang onto his little piece of permanence, even though that was now 120 miles away. I had to carry him into the little triangular yard, the way I’d had to carry him to the car. I was painfully aware that the dogs there were slow to find real homes, due to the remoteness of the sanctuary and the difficulty of getting people to travel that far to meet them. I promised him I would not let him get stuck there, that it was only temporary. His stare was impenetrable, and it was hard to believe that he trusted my promise.

Unhappy Fate kept my promise to him sooner than I’d thought, as we lost the sanctuary in a coup, and I had to go retrieve him to save him yet again. There was nowhere to go but back to my home, and so we made that long trip back.

I didn’t really know him, and I had no intention of keeping him. I had a new dog companion in the house that I barely knew yet, and cats who I couldn’t risk with an unknown quantity of big mysterious dog.

I put him in my back yard, where there was a nice doghouse, got him food and water and a big soft comforter, and began the task of finding him a good home. I felt bad that he was out there alone, so made many trips out back to visit him and toss a ball. One night I slept with him wrapped together in the comforter. Although I loved big Bo, I felt a little guilty about my feeling that this independent and sensitive Solovino was possibly more my type. But keeping him after having just taken in Bo would have felt like bringing home a new girlfriend to meet my new wife.

I generated some interest, and he even visited one home to test his compatibility with the person’s already-resident dog. The visit went well, but the woman could not decide.

By now, some time, maybe a month had passed. I was having trouble excluding him from a home he was not intended to join, and I liked him a lot. I don’t recall what pushed things over the edge, but in a moment of impulse, I opened the back door , and Bo ran out to finally meet who he’s been hearing and smelling on my clothes. It was as if they had known each other from birth.

The cats were an issue yet to be resolved. I took no chances. I found ways to make sure they were never at risk with the strange dog. I kept a death-grip on his collar when they were around, and never let him free where they might cross paths. But I just couldn’t get a read on his attitude toward them. The pools of his eyes were too deep to see the bottoms.

Things couldn’t go on like this forever. If he was not cat-friendly, I would still have to rehome him. I remembered what my friend Don, the one at the fence, had done with his dog Buddha to solve the same dilemma. He had held his dog close to him, taken his kitten and held it on Buddha’s head telling the dog-—“this is my cat, and you WILL be nice!”

It hadn’t sounded very scientific to me when I heard about it, but now I was up against a wall. I held Solo’s collar and repeated Don’s tactic with one of my cats. Solovino looked at me condescendingly. Can’t you tell I’m a lover, not a fighter?

With no reaction to a cat on his head, I decided to take a chance, keeping as much control over the situation as possible while looking for signs of success. No cat had anything to fear from Solo.

I now had 2 dogs.

Bo loved the dog park, so I decided to see how Solo would do there. The first time we went, he was perfect. The second time he pulled the prison routine—pick the toughest looking guy and beat him to show everybody else they should leave you alone. I guess he picked out a dog who worried him, and ran the expanse of the park to bite that dog in the butt.

Next time was a repeat.

Hoping that was not the end of his dog park career, I enrolled him in an aggressive dog class, even though he wasn’t exactly aggressive and did not start fights. But the butt-biting was not helping either of our popularity rating. I hoped that could be rehabilitated. When we got to the class I knew he didn’t belong. The other dogs were so wild they had to be kept out of the sightlines of their classmates to not be set off into a frenzy.

The pretty dog trainer told Solo he had “cheerleader legs”. Well, we tried.

The blue house people had called this dog Solovino, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t want to take his name from him, but I also worried that it was some inside drug reference, and so I called him Solo, or Solo Mio, or Han Solo.

By now, the blue house people had moved away, I think at the invitation of the authorities.

One day, one of the kids who had lived there walked down the street and passed by the front yard where I was standing with Solo. 

“Solovino!!” he shouted, and came to the fence to greet his former friend.

“Tell me something.” I said. “ why did you guys call him that?”

“When he came, he had a tag around his neck that said Solovino. Just the name.”

I recalled that he had something around his neck when we frst spotted him, I think a womans’ fabric belt as an improvised dog collar. Solo had later been attacked by a loose dog, gashing his neck, and I guess that’s when he lost the belt.

I hadn’t had any luck in my previous searches for the significance of that name, but I decided to try again. What I found floored me.

Solovino is the name given in Mexico to street dogs, independent dogs at liberty, living as they chose with no human to dominate them.

Solo vino. Solo se fue.

He came alone. He left the same way

Someone, presumably someone from Mexico, living here, had seen in this dog the independent and freedom-loving spirit and streetwise capability of the dogs of his native land, and gone so far as to tag him with this name. Not an address. Not a phone number. For he would not be a solovino with those burdens around his neck. Whoever did this just knew who this dog was, and honored it.

When I learned this, Solovino got his real name back for good. It wasn’t a drug in-joke, it was an emblem of honor and respect, and I restored it respectfully for my new friend.


Not long after, Tanner, a little unwanted cocker came into my hands, and we were now a pack, me and the trio of perfectly compatible male dogs, who lived a lifetime without one cross word between them. We walked these Valley streets and they became a large part of my own identity, the tall guy with three dogs. It was great living with three young dogs after the aging medical issues and sad passings of my former pack.

When I’d leave the house, Bo and Tanner looked at me with big grins, never doubting I’d return. Solovino would look at me through the deep pools of his eyes. What he was saying had no words in English. I always left wondering what he was saying—or asking.

Somehow, we all became older. Bo and Solovino both began to have seizures, and we worked to control that. Early last year, Tanner died without warning. I presume his big little heart had worn itself out with happy excitement over every mundane event. I expected him to last the longest, but he left first. Maybe he was giving me space for the difficult days ahead.

Bo declined and finally had a cluster of seizures from which his big frame and heart could not recover. We said a sad goodbye last August when living was just not tenable for him. The hole he left was as big as his beautiful 90 pound almost-shepherd body. It was now just me and Solovino.

Although we had finally gotten his seizures under control, Solovino gradually, almost imperceptibly, lost his mobility. He never lost his will. We did what we had to do to live as content a life as possible. I vowed to not give up until he did. That took a long time, and I think he never really did.

About once a month for the last 6 months he would get a fever, probably due to things brewing in him due to so little movement. Each time, antibiotics brought him back to his compromised but livable baseline. A couple of weeks ago, we repeated this arc, only this time, although the fever slowly receded, he did not bounce back like before. I hoped against hope that if he was leaving he would do it on his own, a true solovino, and not make me give the horrible instructions that would preclude any suffering.

Last Friday, he seemed to cross some invisible line. The baseline was slipping. As if he was entirely spent of energy, he lay, not in pain, but too tired to move. In consultation with his vet, I administered a homeopathic remedy designed to either kickstart his energy or help him to make a transition he may have been resisting for my sake. The plan was that if he was still in this world in the morning, I’d take him to his vet, who practices in a house on a small horse property, for an assessment and a decision.

Saturday morning he was still with me. I carried him to a soft bed in my car, and made the 20 mile drive that always made him smile, even at times when smiles were scarce. Today, he was too tired to smile.

I made a soft bed in the living room of the home in which the vet has her office, and carried him to it. As I and the vet’s mother, who is Solo’s acupuncturist watched, his vet checked his vitals and for the very first time it was clear she thought he should be released. Still hoping that he might leave on his own soon, and spare us the horrible responsibility of deciding for him, I asked how long I might take him to depart. The answer was too long. With one last question, to which I already knew the answer, I asked the vet what she would do if he were her dog. Her answer dashed any hope of being relieved of speaking the words that would give permission to end my loved one’s life on this Earth. As I lay on the floor holding him and kissing his face, he slipped away quickly and gently. Some resist, he did not.

I brought him home to lie in state for a day or two, as humans do with each other, something I learned from a dear and sensitive friend, and covered him in flowers. I repeated the words of love and admiration I’d spoken to him over and over while he could still hear them, and when all that was exhausted, and all dreams that he would somehow stir and rise were over, I loaded him one more time in this form into my car and drove him to my friend’s facility to be turned to dust once more.

Solo vino.

Solo se fue.

The ballad of the street dog. He came alone, and he left the same way.

Solovino, my Solovino. You may have come alone, but you somehow came to me, and no way would I let you leave alone.

I hope you know, that you feel it, wherever you have gone, that a large unnamed part of me has gone with you. Keep it close.

When it’s my turn to close my eyes and leave a tired and useless body behind, it will help me find you, Bo and Tanner—our pack—and I’ll introduce you to all the packs and herds to which I’ve belonged in this life.

And together we’ll bark, howl and whinny again at the smiling, winking stars in the heavens, this time, forever.



5 thoughts on “Man In A Dog Suit—The Secret Of Solovino

  1. Chris DeRose

    The lesson I walk away from this is never to easily give up on your friends. This is what true friendship is. This is a very soul-searching and heartfelt story that I will keep with me for as long as I am here. Thank you for sharing this. DeRose

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Joann Thistle

    He had such a wonderful life with you. I’m so glad you shared his story with everyone. I’m sorry for your loss. I hope the memories of your life together help to heal your heart.


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