WICKER PARK — On Friday, a group of "gutter punks" hopped the freight rails and headed south, but a 30-year-old man — part of a band of homeless transients that visit the area in warmer months — said he isn't leaving Chicago until he gets his puppy back.
Andrew Cook's gray-and-black spotted mutt, Spunion, was last seen in Wicker Park around 11:30 a.m. Aug. 23, according to Cook, who claims the 4-month-old puppy was taken from him by a Chicago police officer under threat of arrest.
Some in the neighborhood, though, said they are happy Cook no longer has the dog, saying gutter punks don't take care of their animals.
Cook said he and four other homeless travelers were sitting in the park on Aug, 23 when a beat patrol officer "drove up, poured out the beer of another kid and was acting all friendly."
According to Cook, the officer reprimanded him about not having a dog license or proof of shots.
Then, according to Cook, the cop said, "You have a choice. You can sell the dog to me, or I will take it away."
"I told him I didn't want to do either one and made it very clear I'm not selling my dog, and he kept saying, 'make your choice,'" Cook said.
Cook said the officer threatened to arrest him if he didn't give up his dog.
Fearing arrest, Cook gave Spunion to the officer, who put the dog into the backseat of his patrol car and told Cook to meet him at the park fountain at 4 p.m. later that day and he'd bring $150 for the dog, Cook said.
Jimmy Blank, 26, another transient, said he witnessed the incident and confirmed Cook's account.
Cook said he sat near the fountain from 3:30 p.m. until 5 p.m., and the officer never showed up.
Around 1 p.m. on the same Friday, a photo of a gray dog with black spots appeared on a neighborhood group's Facebook page with a status update announcing that the dog had been given up by a rail rider for $150 and was being washed and "deloused."
Viewed by several hundred people, the social media post received dozens of "likes" and offers for donations, which were being accepted at a P.O. box rented by the Bucktown Community Organization.
Steve Jensen, president of the Bucktown Community Organization, initially refused to answer questions about who was posting the status updates and the dog's whereabouts.
Just before the Labor Day weekend, Jensen confirmed on Friday that he had deleted the post.
When asked why he deleted the photo of the dog and several comments, Jensen said it was his "prerogative."
Jensen said "$50 and a bag of dog food" were dropped off for the dog at the P.O. box and that a foster family took the dog to four specialists and "pumped $900 into it."
A "full-body skin rash and intestinal worms" were among the puppy's ailments, Jensen said.
Jensen called the incident "last week's news."
"The real story is that the dog is in a good home. That's all I care about. I'm moving on to do the next good thing in the community," Jensen said.
Asked about the dognapping claims last week, the police officer allegedly involved refused to comment. Shakespeare District Cmdr. Frank Valadez also refused to comment.
While panhandling in front of a McDonald's at Chicago and Damen avenues in Ukrainian Village around 7:30 p.m Monday, Cook said he's not interested in the $150 and plans to stay in Chicago until he gets Spunion back.
Originally from Boston, Cook said he's been traveling for 11 years, since he was 19.
Cook became Spunion's owner in late June, when a group of travelers arrived in Wicker Park from Michigan with a litter of then 7-week-old puppies that had been born in a van.
When asked why he named his dog Spunion, which is also a slang term for a person who is "spun out" on drugs, Cook said, "It was a cute name."
Some local residents expressed concern about the pets of the gutter punks.
"If they are not bathing and taking care of their own health, I can't see them going to a vet for their dog's health," said Lauren Wilson, a Bucktown resident who was sitting in a park with her golden retriever Friday.
Tom Bellino, who owns a business in the 1600 block of North Milwaukee Avenue, said he "doesn't have a problem" with the alleged theft of a dog owned by a gutter punk.
Bellino said the gutter punks use their dogs not as companions, but as "alarms" so they know when people are coming.
The business owner said he's found used drug needles and human feces behind his business and described the gutter punks as "thoroughly disgusting."
"They've panhandled the crap out of my customers. They need to get back on the train and go somewhere else," Bellino said.