THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER PART II: SETBACKS

“I wish I didn’t know then what I didn’t know now…”
(Bob Seger - AGAINST THE WIND)


3 August 2001
Baker Shift (8X4)
Approximately 0950 Hours
4800 Palmer Avenue

Friday finally comes, and just as I had done on Tuesday, I call Animal Control just before 1000 hours. Today however, unlike Tuesday, I am back at work. I have been unable to concentrate too much all morning, and I find myself looking at my watch more than usual. I grab my cell phone, park my car at the corner of Palmer and Garrison Avenues, and make the call. This time, Caroline answers. I am polite and hoping for the best. After all, I have already called my dad to get the phone number for his vet out in Ellicott City, Maryland, and I made an appointment to bring the dog there right after work today. I start to explain my idea to Caroline, but before I can finish, she cuts in.

“Yeah Officer, I saw your note about the dog.” I can tell right away that this conversation is about to take a turn for the worse. She said “note” like it was some inconvenience to her. “Look, why on earth would you want to adopt this dog? She is old, she has worms, probably heart worms as well, she has fleas and by the way she is walking, she probably has hip dysplasia.”

Jesus. Hip dysplasia? I know what that means. Hip dysplasia is a degenerative disease that usually strikes German Shepherds, but it can affect any dog really. It occurs in older dogs when arthritis in the hip joints causes the dog to lose almost all function in their rear legs. My father-in-law’s dog from the junkyard had the same problem. It got so bad for him that by the end, he was dragging himself around their house by his front legs while his rear legs slid across the floor. And forget about climbing stairs. And we have four sets of them to conquer in our townhouse.

“Well, how old is the dog?” I want to approach this cautiously so as not to piss this woman off, since she is the one who will make “the ultimate decision”.

“I’d say she’s at least ten years old. And based on the age, I would say that we would not be putting this dog up for adoption.”

Goddamn it. Ten years old. That means that she only has about two years left, if that. And I can hear my wife now. No way we are bringing this dying dog home. No way. That is, if I can even get Caroline to allow me to adopt her at all. I am beginning to dislike Caroline very much.

“Ten years old? Well what kind of shape is she in? Can she be nursed back to some semblance of health? I was told that there were vets there that would be tending to her.”

The next words that I hear are so unbelievably ludicrous that I have trouble understanding them:

“There are no vets here. Where did you hear that? All we do is feed them and wait to see if anyone comes forward to claim them. If no one comes forward, we put them down.”

NO VETS? What the fuck?!

“The Animal Control Officer told me that there were vets on staff that would treat her during those five days. That was the reason I turned her over to you. If I had known that she was just going to be locked in another cage and left to die, I never would have called you. I would have just taken her home myself. That night.”

I notice that I have changed over into my “In Control” tone of voice, the one I use when dealing with incompetent people. The one I use when I want things to go my way. Usually works, too. But not this time. Not yet, at least.

“Well Officer, I am appalled that as a police officer, you would even consider not performing your duties accordingly and calling us to the scene of a…”

I cut her off quick.

“Ma’am, I am not talking to you as a police officer, I am talking to you as a human being.” I stressed “human being” as if she were not acting as one. “And for that matter, I performed my duties fully. Don’t you dare question how I do my job! I did call you. All I am saying is that if I had known then what I know now, I would have taken the dog to a vet myself, out in the county, and you never would have even know about her existence.”

“Well Officer, that is appalling to me. You have a responsibility to notify Animal Control when you recover a stray animal, and in all my years of doing this, I have never heard of any police officer stealing someone’s property.”

So now she is calling me a thief! Things are getting tense.

“I didn’t steal anything! And how can you refer to this dog as someone’s property? Have you even looked at this dog? If she was someone’s property, than they obviously didn’t care too much about it.”

“Well, I haven’t had a chance to actually see the dog…”

“You what? Wait. You haven’t even seen the dog? You just listed a whole litany of problems that she is suffering from, and you haven’t seen her yet?”

“Officer, we have hundreds of animals here. There is not time to see every…”

But I am not letting go. I have her on the ropes now and I am coming in for the kill.

“So let me get this straight. There are no vets there. You have hundreds of animals and no vets?”

She tries to rebound a little bit here.

“Officer, that is why we only keep them for five days. How do you know that no one is going to come forward to claim her? I can’t very well give someone’s property to you without giving them a fair chance to claim her. Besides, you already told me that you planned to steal her from the house.”

This “stealing” shit is burning me up something fierce…but I quickly have a revelation: This idea that I would not have called was not worth fighting about. I had called. You see, I learned a long time ago from one of my favorite Sergeants to “pick your battles.”

“Ma’am, this is a pointless argument because I did call. You can keep claiming that I am an appalling officer all you want, but the fact remains that I made the call and now you have the dog. All I want to do is get her back.”

“Well, I need to see her first.” She sighs loudly and at that exact moment, I win the battle. Or she gives in. Either way, then next sentence tells me that I am coming closer to getting my way. “Look, I just got back from vacation. I need a few hours to look this over. Let me look at the dog and you can call me back.”

“So, I can still possibly come and get her after work today?”

“No. Not today. I need some time. The earliest that you could come would be Monday…because of the weekend.”

Great. “Look, Caroline. I already made a vet appointment for this evening to get her looked at. I was told that you probably wouldn’t have any problem with this.”

“Well, whoever told you that was wrong.”

I want to scream: “It was one of your obviously under qualified, NON-VET staffers that told me that, you bitch!” But I don’t.

“So when would I possibly be able to claim her?”

“Let me look into this and you can call me after three o’clock today. OK?”

Three o’clock. That means tonight is over before it even begins.

“Fine. Three.”

I hang up and immediately call my wife at work. I start yelling before she even knows who is on the phone with her.

“The dog is ten years old.”

“Ten?”

“Ten. And that isn’t all…”

I proceed into the litany of health problems, and she listens. I can tell that she has made her mind up that if the dog is that sick, then there is no way I will be bringing her into our home. But at least she listens to me as I rant and rave about Ms. Marconi and her apparently heartless approach to her job.

“You would think that if they had so many fucking animals there that they would want people to adopt some of them! She is actually discouraging someone from coming forward and making her job easier!”

My wife tries to calm me down, but as usual, I am in a rage and there really isn’t much she can say to get me out of it. I need to vent.

“That bitch! They don’t even have any fucking vets there! That means that I got her out of one hell and dropped her right into another! Now I have to cancel the vet appointment that I made for tonight. At this rate, they’ll kill her before I can get her out.”

We go back and forth for a few minutes, and my wife makes some good points, as she always does. This is why I vent to her and her alone. She always manages to say something remarkable to cause me to rethink my ideas. She points out that at least the dog is eating. And even if they put her down, she will at least not be dying in that house. Plus, if she has all these problems, she probably won’t live very long anyway…nor would we want her to. The humane thing to do would be to let her die peacefully.

“You know what? I don’t care. I don’t fucking care if she only has one year left to live. You know why? Because if she has one year left, and I let them kill her simply because they do not have the space for her, that is not humane. I’ll make room for her. We will. This dog has suffered enough. She deserves to be in a place of love, not a cage in some pound. Besides, we need to get her looked at by a real vet. This woman doesn’t even know what’s wrong with the dog. We need to know if she can make it before we let them kill her. What if she can make it?”

Either way, I have to wait until three o’clock. 1500 hours. It is now only 1030 hours. Gonna be a long day.

The rest of the day drips by slowly. I have a hard time concentrating on the job at hand. After speaking to my friend and Sector One partner Mike Collins about the whole mess, I decide to take a trip over to 3308 St. Ambrose Avenue and see if I can’t catch up with that young girl’s mother. Both my wife and Mike have calmed me down a lot just by listening. Mike can obviously sympathize, and that is one of the things that makes us such good friends. I can’t say that I have made all that many friends since coming to work at the Northwest District, but then again, I didn’t take this job to make friends. Despite that, Officer Michael Collins is one of my closest. We mountain bike together almost once a week, we work well together and for a time, we share the same leave group, which means that we both work and have off on the same days as each other. Our wives have met one another during one of our bike trips to Patapsco State Park, and we share a common impatience not only with the lazy members of our squad, but most of the community that we patrol.

I head toward the dreaded house on St. Ambrose Avenue, not knowing what I will find. What I see when I arrive shocks me.

The entire second floor of the house has been completely burned out by fire. The windows look like huge, hollow black eyes on some grotesque blue Halloween pumpkin, and the first floor windows have all been smashed out. There is severe smoke and fire damage to the front of the house, and blowing in and out of the second floor left front window is a large black tarp that has been hanging over the opening inside the room. Tiles from the roof are charred and lying throughout the small front yard, like discarded pieces of charcoal. If one stays here long enough, the slight odor of smoke in the air can be detected.

As I sit in my patrol car and take all of this in, the neighbor that provided the dog food on the day that we found the dog, comes out of his house and waves to me.

“There was a fire, Officer.”

I am speechless, but I manage to mumble: “I see that. Was anyone home at the time?”

“Naw, they gone. Left right after you took that dog away.”

I figure that the mother and her children were squatters and didn’t actually belong there in the first place, and my arriving that day must have scared them into leaving. I thank the man again and assure him that I have taken the dog to a better place. I know I am lying, but I put on a convincing face. As I drive away, I have to choke back the tears. I begin to realize that, had I not intervened in this terrible situation, the fire would have surely killed the dog. That means that I have now saved her at least three times over. First from the lack of food that would have surely killed her, then from the overwhelming heat of the July weather that would have cooked her alive in that room, and finally from the fire. I start to wonder almost immediately if someone set the fire on purpose. Maybe they thought the dog was still in there as they lit the match. Unfortunately, I will never know. And I will never know who it was that wanted that dog to suffer so inhumanely.

The time is fast approaching to call Caroline back, and I am getting more edgy by the minute. I look at my watch again and see that it is now 1450 hours.

“What the hell?” I think. “Might get lucky.”

I dial the number.

When Caroline picks up the line, I immediately notice a change in her entire demeanor.

“Thank you for calling me back Officer. I have more information for you on that dog you were interested in adopting. But first let me apologize for the way we started things this morning. I had just walked in from vacation to a huge pile of papers that should have been taken care of before I came back to work. But they weren’t. So hopefully you can understand my frustration.”

Actually, I can. I even suspected as much throughout the course of the day, after I calmed down of course. I suspected that she had been so testy for that exact reason.

“Thank you for saying so Ms. Marconi. Believe it or not, I thought just that after we talked. I figured you had just sat down and probably didn’t need some police officer calling to pester you.”

“Well, let’s see if we can’t start over. So you are interested in adopting this dog?”

“Yes Ma’am. Very interested.”

I can’t believe this! We might actually be making some headway. The thought makes me very happy.

“Well, I have taken a look at her and I can tell you that she is gonna need a lot of work. She does look as if she has hip dysplasia, as we discussed, and she definitely needs a bath…but if you are interested, I am fairly certain we can arrange something.”

“Well I’ll tell you, my thinking is that even if she only has a few years left…there is no need for her to suffer any more that she already has I can’t see killing her without knowing if she had a chance to make it or not.”

“Well, if you adopt her, she will be your responsibility. You will have to get her seen by a vet.”

“That is exactly the way I want it.”

We continue to talk and as we do so, I become more and more certain that this dog is going to make it. I am going to get my chance to see to that. She finally agrees to let me come get the dog the following Monday, but first I have to agree to get her all the required shots. Caroline even offers to let me take the dog for a reduced price of only fifty dollars. We finish our conversation and I call my wife to tell her the good news.

“I did it!”

“You got the dog?”

“Monday. I can get her Monday.”

We are both pleased. I call the vet again and reschedule the appointment for Monday after work.