Stu Bykofsky: Of a man and his best friend

Abrams and his dog in Rittenhouse Square.
Abrams and his dog in Rittenhouse Square. (STU BYKOFSKY / DAILY NEWS STAFF)
Posted: September 18, 2012

SITTING ON HIS park bench, Philip Abrams calls himself the "mayor of Rittenhouse Square," even though he's there only a few days a week. The rest of the time he's in his native New York City.

In the 6-acre oasis, for which we are indebted to William Penn, there are other self-anointed mayors, but Abrams calls himself "the mayor with the dog," a laid-back Rhodesian ridgeback named Arye Oji. He says that means "lion of God." For the colorful Abrams, "Fido" would never do.

Sitting in the sun-dappled square, Abrams tells me what brought him here two years ago and where he plans to go. He has more stories than Hans Christian Andersen, but they are not fairy tales.

The Brooklyn-born Abrams went to design school and became a top-notch advertising illustrator, racking up more than a million bucks and three wives along the way.

The end began on 9/11.

He wasn't hurt in the attack on America by murderous Muslim extremists, but his business was. Many of the Fortune 500 companies that hired him, such as MetLife, cut costs and retreated to the business bunker in 9/11's aftermath, he says.

When his revenue dropped off a cliff, his business tanked and his last wife left.

Leaning on his reputation, for 10 years he did consulting work but couldn't land a full-time job. "They loved my resume; they didn't love my age," he suspects. "I couldn't believe, with my capabilities, I couldn't get a job." Depression set in.

The worst was yet to come. In October 2008, while in a crosswalk with Arye on New York's Fifth Avenue, he was hit by a car, hard. Until then, the 75-pound "lion of God" was just a pet. After the accident, Abrams trained Arye to detect seizures and support him should he fall.

Now a certified service dog, the 6-year-old Arye goes everywhere with the 51-year-old Abrams, and two years ago it was on a BoltBus to Philly. "I came for a change of scenery," Abrams says, and liked the serenity of Rittenhouse Square so much that he kept returning, like a bee to a flower. He rides the low-cost Bolt because he's living off disability insurance. Abrams has Arye and not much else.

Throughout his life he has suffered from brain trauma, the result of concussions, and he's now battling a tumor that requires surgery. He lives in New York with a friend because that's where his doctors and hospitals are, but he complains about the high cost of living.

"At this stage in my life, I have no rights. I'm at everyone's mercy."

He says that matter-of-factly, absent self-pity, because his focus is elsewhere.

Partly as a result of his own experience with injury and canine-assisted recovery, he has an idea to have returning injured soldiers build facilities to train dogs to work with the disabled. It would help the wounded by giving them a job, it would rescue dogs from the pound and it would provide service dogs to those who need them.

His goal is to make injured people feel whole, as he does. "Give a person a dog and their life will change," Abrams says, petting Arye.

Truthfully, this is more of a good idea than a solid plan.

He knows what he wants to do, but he sees no path to make it come true. He's been heard at the U.N. and has met with mayors' representatives in both Philly and New York. In tight economic times, Abrams gets an ear, Arye gets a pat on the head and they get the door. He needs help to make his plan blossom, but knows no one with either cash or connections.

So the "mayor" and the "lion of God" hang out in Rittenhouse Square, enjoying the serenity, hoping for something to happen.


Contact Stu Bykofsky at stubyko@phillynews.com or 215-854-5977. Join Stu on Facebook. For recent columns, go to philly.com/Byko.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|