One of the most popular Solvay Smolinskis was a dog, an Irish setter named Shane. He lived next door with six other Smolinskis – Bill, Gert and their four sons (Bimby, Bobby, Jimmy and Phil).

Shane was the family’s second Irish setter and he had a tough act to follow. The first, Buster, lived about 15 years and was well-loved, but he pretty much hung around out on our street, making friends with passers-by.

Shane, on the other hand, took full advantage of a dog’s freedom in the pre-leash law era. He was – to combine two old Steve Martin bits – a wild and crazy rambling guy.

HIS FAME was widespread. That was obvious the afternoon I was in the bleachers at a youth league baseball game that was interrupted by a dog’s leisurely stroll through the outfield.

All around me, kids were shouting, “There’s Shane! There’s Shane!”

(I had the impulse to brag, to tell those next to me, “Shane’s my next door neighbor. Heck, we’re related!”)

Shane was at his craziest – and most annoyingly dangerous – at a well-traveled intersection near the Solvay library. Every day he’d spend time menacing every car that passed through. Later he’d make the rounds, which included a bakery that dumped stale bread in trash cans out back. Shane was a regular customer, picking up a loaf to eat, perhaps to bury.

LIKE OTHER Smolinski bachelors, Shane was a late night guy. So was I, but I wasn’t in their league. Whatever time I went to bed I wouldn’t find sleep until all Smolinskis were accounted for. Their driveway passed about six feet from my window and their arrivals were noisy, especially when two or more arrived simultaneously.

Shane could be the noisiest. The others, at least, could let themselves in. Shane had to knock, which he did by pushing a screen door that was slightly ajar. Thump! Thump! Thump! It was like living next door to someone who practiced the bass drum after midnight.

Shane wasn’t the only wandering dog in he family. My Aunt Wanda (Kaldowski), who lived a few blocks away, had a Kerry blue terrier named Jeff. Together they pulled off a stunt that would have impressed David Letterman.

ONE DAY Jeff wandered into the yard of a woman who hadn’t noticed him before. The woman called the dog over and Jeff obliged. She read the name and address on Jeff’s tag, then took the dog into her house and phoned Wanda.

“Your dog is with me,” the woman said. “You can drive over and pick him up.”

“Put him on the phone,” said Wanda.


"Hold the phone to his ear," said Wanda.

Again the woman didn't believe what she'd heard. "What did you say?"

“Hold the phone up to his ear,” Wanda repeated.

Finally, the woman did just that.

“Jeff, come home!” Wanda said, firmly. She then instructed the woman to open her front door and let the dog go. The woman protested, but, again, Wanda was insistent.

About a half-hour later Jeff showed up at Wanda’s side door.