Miss Lady, The Proud Mother of two litters and Mascot of 'Big Blue' with Firefighter Joey DiBernardo (left) and then firefighter, now Lieutenant Billy Ryan.
By GREG WILSON
Daily News Staff Writer
Firefighters at Rescue 3 admit it — their firehouse has gone to the dogs.
It started out innocently enough during the summer, when a tenant across E. 176th St. moved out of the auto yard and left a female pit bull penned up in the lot. Left with nothing to guard and no one to feed her, the forlorn pooch watched the firefighters come and go from behind the chain link fence. They began exchanging monosyllabic greetings.
Firefighter Tom Gambino (l.) Lt. Kevin Williams (c.) and Firefighter Joey DiBernardo show off six of the 10 puppies that Lady presented them with in August.
"Before you knew it, guys were buying her dog biscuits and food," said Firefighter Stan Sussina.
They christened her Lady, and, after the property's owner opened the gate for them, they built her a doghouse with her name emblazoned over the door.
At some point, Lady got pregnant. In August, she produced a litter of 10 puppies.
"When that happened, our responsibility grew," Sussina said.
Firefighters added insulation to the doghouse, but Lady and her brood were rapidly outgrowing it as temperatures dropped. Last Friday, before the snow arrived, Rescue 3's Bravest took Lady and her 4 1/2-week-old pups into the firehouse.
Yesterday, the puppies, each the size of a loaf of bread, rolled, played and lounged around inside a makeshift wooden pen. They will stay with their mother, continuing to wean, for another six weeks, then go to new homes.
"There was a lot of response from secretaries and other people at headquarters," said Lt. Kevin Williams.
Fire Department spokesman Jerard Allas confirmed that all 10 pups were spoken for.
"They went fast," Allas said. But the firefighters will keep Lady. "We've gotten pretty attached to her," Sussina said.
So far, only one of the puppies has been named. Firefighters call him Ray, after a fellow firefighter who they said exhibits similarly aggressive table manners.
Dale Riedel, vice president of humane law enforcement for the New York American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said abandoned dogs are all too common in the city.
"People get foreclosed on or evicted and, quite often, they'll just leave the animals behind," Riedel said, adding that abandonment of a dog is a misdemeanor. "If they're cute little cuddly balls of fur, they [are adopted] quickly, but some of the animals are pretty hard to place."
Sussina, whose family dog, Sam, is a Chow-Akita mix who was abandoned near the firehouse, said Lady's pups would "return tenfold" the love of their new masters.
"These pups are real hearty — they're survivors," said Sussina. "They survived in temperatures below zero for several days."