The call came in just as I was beginning to think about where to have lunch -- like someplace where no dogs were hanging around -- when the call came on the radio to go to a high school where a dog was biting kids. In my experience biting dogs on school grounds are almost always gone by the time I get there, but off I went. The student body was at lunch and milling around on the sidewalks, even in the street. The problem was not a biting dog but a boy who wanted his dog to bite.
This young man was siccing his dog on people he didn’t like for some reason, but the dog was much more peaceful than the boy and a little confused by all the excitement. I went to the dog and took it by the collar. The boy went for my throat and began to strangle me. Another boy held me from behind. I would not let go of the collar. Kids were crowded all around and I knew that if I fell or collapsed, I would be kicked -- hard. An administrator was hanging out a second story window yelling, “You let that woman go! Do you hear me?” Pretty typical administration.
Finally the collar broke, the bell rang, and the crowd dispersed. The kids had tried to open my truck, ALWAYS locked -- if the dogs I’d already picked up had been turned loose in a different part of town than they knew, the chances of them finding their way home were slim, despite all the media stories about dogs with internal GPS monitors who cross the country to find their families. Frustrated by the lock on the canopy door, the students had opened the hood and torn out the sparkplug wiring.
When all the kids were gone, an administrator appeared and took me inside for a cup of coffee -- my neck was red and scraped and my throat was sore -- and to soothe me so I wouldn’t sue the school. In the meantime the AC officer from the next district over arrived, found the wires and connected my sparkplugs so the truck would run. When I got back to the shelter for debriefing, I was informed that I could press charges against the kid or not (he was a known person) -- it was up to me. I pressed charges.
By this time I’d also been told some stories. One was about kids at this same school one winter day with a rare snowfall. They were throwing snowballs at passing cars, realized that some snowballs were hard enough (mostly ice) to make dents, and began to make snowballs that included rocks. A big expensive black car passed them rather slowly. They put some good dings in the glossy paint. Out stepped one of Portland’s more notorious pimps, who slid a knife into the closest kid, wiped the blood off on the kid’s jacket, and left. No one pressed charges against him. The kid survived. No administrator saw or heard anything.
When we got to the juvenile hearing, there was a panel rather than a judge but the kid and his dad were there. The kid’s file, about a foot thick, was on the table. The panel really didn’t know what to do with the situation, which I imagine was tame compare to some of the other stuff in the file. It was clear that they didn’t like “dog catchers.” My school teacher side was at war with my officer side was at war with my author side. The boy was given probation of some kind.
Several weeks later I saw the dog loose on the street. It went into the truck so quickly its ears were flying and I began to pull out into traffic when the boy flung himself on the hood, pounding the windshield as hard as he could. Grateful he had no hard object at hand, I just kept pulling away, praying equally that the windshield would hold and that the boy wouldn’t slide off the hood into traffic. I was lucky or my prayers were answered.
This time it was “real” court because the boy and the dog were both considered wards of the adult, the reponsible party. Fines and fees imposed were the maximum allowed, several hundred dollars when a license and room and board were included, and the judge provided a stiff lecture. I had a feeling that the father gave his son a good beating that night. Again, officer argued with teacher argued with author. No wonder the kid sicced his dog on other kids. But at least the father had recovered the dog for him. I stayed pretty much out of that part of town for a while.
A quite different call came in about an old lady being menaced by a possum. Old folks called animal control quite a lot, partly because they had real complaints but also partly because no one else ever came to see them. Frail little old ladies, curled and shortened by age, would grab the front of my shirt to hoist themselves up enough that they could tip their bifocals back and see my face. “Officer, honey, you’ve got to help me!”
This old lady explained that her pomeranian, Goldie, ate her food out on the porch but a possum kept coming to eat it and threatened Goldie. (Goldie, a little puff of a dog with a tongue sticking out in the middle, danced and flirted everytime she heard her name.) The old lady herself had tried to take the broom to the possum but it hissed and showed a mouth like a barracuda, crowded with sharp teeth.
At this time in Portland there was possums everywhere. I picked half a dozen of them up dead in the streets every morning. They fitted into the ecology of leafy Portland very well, eating slugs and candy bar wrappers indiscriminately, and curling up to sleep all day in the many crevices and pockets around and under older houses. The good news was that they were not aggressive, mostly meddled around at night, and didn’t carry rabies. I used to explain that rabies is a brain disease and that possums don’t have enough brains to catch rabies. Truly, they are an ancient form of mammal, almost pre-mammal, and have a different enough chemistry not to be vulnerable to that particular virus. Later, as often happens with overpopulations, something that could infect them or some predator wiped them away, to be replaced by raccoons who are a lot more trouble and DO carry rabies.
I gave the little old lady the talk about not leaving food out and the importance of closing up any good lurking and napping spots. I left her a live trap and instructed a neighborhood boy scout about how it worked, how to open it if Goldie got in there, what to use for bait, and what to do if the possum got in -- call immediately.
It was a day or so before anything happened and then I got an emergency call -- the possum is caught! Go right away!
The possum wasn’t in the trap. It had showed up while the little old lady and Goldie were out planting bulbs in the yard and the possum had made a feint at Goldie. The little old lady, full of adrenaline and determined to save her pom, had thrown her spading fork overhand and with Frank Buck accuracy had managed to get one tine on each side of the rascal’s head, pinning it to the ground with no damage. Now the possum, looking disgusted, was in a stanchion like a cow ready to milk except that its “hands” were each gripping a tine of the fork. Then it had occurred to the old lady that it was a warm day and the possum was pinned in full sun, so she’d taken the lid off her garbage can and propped it to be a kind of awning. And she’d provided a pan of water.
This time I was struggling with a mix of amazement and amusement as I praised the little old lady. She was very proud. I took the possum by the tail -- they can’t curl up when they’re full grown so one can safely pack them along like a handbag -- and lowered it into the live trap for transport to the shelter. I felt as though I ought to have a medal or certificate for the old lady, but her fantasy was that Goldie had held off the invader long enough for her to act. Goldie pranced and twirled around with her eyes bugging out. It was an exciting morning for all concerned.