Friday, April 3, 2009

Catching Dogs Can Be A Bitch

Name: Al

Job: Dog Catcher

The city of Lubbock Human resources building was located on Thirteenth Street. I put on a suit to apply. I was taking my mother's advice. Since then I figured out that most bosses want you to look poor and needy to hire you. The job board was pretty sparse. The only thing I was even remotely qualified to do was be an Animal control officer, so I applied for that. I'd remembered seeing one of those guys on the news, chasing a dog with a catch pole, and thinking "Do people really do that?" Later that year, I would be on a news clip at a dog show, scooping up dog shit and uttering the lamentable cliché, "It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it." They made me say it. If I had my way I would've said, "I'm a genius. Why am I doing this?"

I was hired on two weeks after the application went in. All the new officers had to start as shelter attendants. Every morning, I'd scrape and hose shit from the dog runs into the gutter, feed the dogs, then clean the cat cages. Why they kept those feral cats they caught is a head scratcher. I'm allergic to cats, which is bad enough, but it's even worse when the cat comes flying at you claws first, when you open the cage. Have you ever seen a cat climb a brick wall? I have. By the time I was finished in the cat room, I couldn't breathe, and my eyes were swollen shut.

Around 11 a.m. we did the "kill" for the day. Because of the numbers, we'd just roll the cages into the gas chamber and cram as many together as we could, then turn on the gas. The dogs seemed to know when it was time for the final walk. They'd act like death row characters. Big mean rottweilers turned into scared puppies when the time came to take them in. We'd clear the chamber of gas and start yanking them out. For those of you who don't know, dead animals feel just like heavy sacks of wet laundry. The only difference is that laundry doesn’t shit and piss on itself when it dies. Most of the other attendants would just yank them out all willy-nilly, and I could hear tendons popping, which was sickening to me. I took the scruff of the neck route. I'd open a black garbage bag; hold it with my left foot and left hand, and scruff the dog in with my right hand. Swoop! Fast and easy. Then I'd swing them up onto the back of the pickup. This was quite a workout for a little guy. I got to be deceptively strong for my size. We'd then drive the truck to the city dump, weigh in (I'd usually be able to guess the amount within a hundred pounds or so), and go to a pre-determined area, where we'd toss the contents of the bed into a bulldozer scoop. Let me tell you. Dead dogs will splash nasty things back into your face when you toss them and they land on the pile.

After a month of training classes, I received my badge, gear, and truck and was put out on the street. Contrary to popular opinion, dog catchers don’t "patrol" to pick up strays. We answered complaint calls. It was a half and half proposition. Some days there would be no calls, other days you might have a hundred calls. When things were quiet, I'd find a nice secluded spot to hide, just like a cop. I'd go places that nobody could find. I had a few. I figured if I was out on the street, somebody would flag me down with some bullshit.

I really got to hate dealing with the public. People were a pain to me. We had radio codes, and a 98 was a complaint, while a 99 was a bite. I never wanted a 98 or a 99. It took forever, and while I was there, the calls would be racking up. I preferred a 90, which meant a dead animal. Dead animals don't talk, but they can be interesting. Once I had to pick up the front half of a havalina, lying in the middle of the street. The back end was missing. Once I had to muscle a stiff Great Dane into the truck. It weighed more than I did. Dead weight is a truth. My most memorable dead dog experience though was this call I got, where I found this old lady complaining of a dead dog in the alley. I went down the alley, and couldn't find him, and then she pointed him out to me. Let me preface this by saying, once something dead swells enough, it will blow up all over you if you're not careful. I was careful. It was a medium black shepherd, lying in the scrub. Its belly was three times normal size. Its eyes had been eaten away, and from its mouth poured a fountain of maggots. They looked like spilled rice. I thought it over, and got my catch pole out. The catch pole is a metal rod with two rubber grips and a spring loaded, plastic covered metal noose on the end. I fished around, and got him high on the right front foreleg and dragged him out. It was going well until I lifted him up, and the skin peeled away from the leg. I thought "If he hit's the ground, I'm finished." I managed to get him into the truck though. I always did. I never called for help.

One week out of four I was on call. This meant that any asshole could call and complain at 3 in the morning, and I'd have to go take care of something that could have waited until later. The worst times were when I'd have a busy day, finish my last call, and then get an after hours call before I even got back to the office. Sometimes I'd work 16 hours straight.

Although I detested being on call, one of my fondest memories came from one of those nights. It was about 3 a.m. (as usual) when my pager goes off. I call in, and the city dispatcher tells me that there are cows loose on the highway, and the police were there waiting for me. Cows... What the hell did I know about cows? I was from the South Side of Chicago. I drove along trying to figure out what I could do with a cow besides eat it. When I got to the spot, the cops had the highway blocked. There were about eight cows, roaming around. All of a sudden an idea flashed into my head. I could take the truck, drive it to Mexico, and not have to do this. Instead I hit the mars lights, and drove towards the herd. I started honking the horn, and they started moving. I got them off the highway, and onto the hill. We'd recently switched from trucks to vans, and luckily my van was in the shop. If I hadn't been driving a truck I would have rolled it. I got the cows back to the broken fence they'd come out of, and me and the cops fixed the fence. When we were through one of the cops said, in a Texas twang, "Yew know, yew make uh pretty good cowboy!" On the way back home, the cop passed me and flashed his overheads. I flashed mine back. That's as close as I ever got to being liked by the police.

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