Temporary Roadside Reprieve

LONG ISLAND, NY -- Major is a young German shepherd mix who has most things other dogs take for granted: someone to love and watch over him, to give him food when he's hungry and water when he's thirsty.

The only difference is this: Major is a feral dog that lives in a small archipelago of woodland sandwiched between the south service road of the Long Island Expressway and the on and off ramps of busy Exit 39.

And his time is running out.

Since April, this blur of black and tan fur has endeared himself to the men and women who move earth and chisel concrete as they work to widen the roadway's bridges in preparation for its eventual HOV lanes.

But in particular, he has touched the heart of Anthony Peranich, who remembers what a sorry sight Major was when the crews first spotted him.

''We figured he was around 6 months old, and he was skinny and limping,'' says Peranich, who lives in Port Jefferson and works for a construction company that has been contracted by the state to do the road work. ''He was running along the expressway looking for food.'' Peranich figured it was only a matter of time before the dog got hit by a car-or caused an accident. So before and after his shift, and on his lunch hour, he made the rounds in the wooded islands formed by the busy expressway and its various ramps, leaving tin plates of fresh water and Alpo dog food.

Dogs love a routine, and Major (he was named by Peranich) is no different.

When Peranich leaves in mid-afternoon, the wily dog emerges from his den under a nearby bridge, crosses the exit ramp roadway—''He is very careful,'' says Peranich—and checks the spot where Peranich has assembled his victuals. A small wooden board propped up against a stand of saplings affords some meager protection against the elements. When Peranich arrives before his shift on Monday mornings, Major is on special alert, having long ago devoured the large Friday portion that Peranich leaves him to tide him over the weekend.

In August, Peranich arranged to have co-workers feed Major while he, his wife and their 6-year-old shih tzu—possibly the only Long Island dog to have wandered amid the pigeons in Venice's Piazza San Marco—went on a European holiday.

Once Major stopped wandering, Peranich went about trying to find someone to capture the elusive dog, who has yet to let anyone touch him.

Peranich called a local animal shelter, which sent someone out to try and trap Major. But the cage was too small, and the dog inadvertently tripped it before he was inside.

After three tries, says Peranich, ''the supervisor said, 'We don't have plans to go there anymore.''' And perhaps that's just as well: The shelter Peranich called was a town-run kill shelter, and chances are Major—who would have been unadoptable without time-consuming rehabilitation—would have been euthanized within a week.

Meanwhile, as the cars whoosh by, Major has grown closer to his hard-hatted family, sometimes coming within five or 10 feet of them.

''He's getting much friendlier, and he knows my voice,'' says Peranich, his words accented with the lilt of his native Croatia. ‘I talk to him, and he sits down and listens to me.’ But if he truly could understand those words, Major would leave behind his world of snapping twigs and wind-whipped overpasses and leap right into the warmth of Peranich's idling four-by-four. By month's end, the construction work on this stretch of the LIE will be completed. And all the familiar faces Major has grown to expect, if not trust, will be reassigned to other parts of the roadway. When that happens, Peranich fears, Major will again be forced to go on the move.

Major has a lot of things most feral dogs don't have-friends and a steady food source in the dusty bulldozer-strewn construction site that has been his home for eight months. And if Major ever becomes tame enough to accept human companionship, Peranich says, one of the women who operates the heavy construction machinery has offered to adopt him.

But as the last stones are being hoisted onto the overpass parapets and the landscapers put the finishing touches on the shrubbery, what Major doesn't have is time.