Saturday, February 11, 2012

Late Night Summons

The phone woke me sometime after midnight. The phone rings after midnight in this line of work. A dog goes into labor. The cat vomited on the pillow. I answer a question, put someone’s mind at ease, or tell them to call the emergency clinic because this time it truly may be an emergency. Most often I go right back to sleep. This time was different. 

A man’s voice on the phone. One of the dogs had just been killed. Could I come out and pick him up, and do the necropsy right away? Evidence would be needed. And the dog was now evidence. I’ll be right there.

Of course I’ll be right there. This was one of my dogs. And the dog’s handler was one of mine. They all are.

I care for police dogs from several departments. They present an interesting challenge. They all are trim, tightly wrapped, with that look in their eyes. Some I can work on with no trouble. Some you muzzle first. They are weapons, just like that Glock or Sig the handlers wear on their belt. They have a tough job to do, and they love their work. They are so alive! They are completely neat to work with.

And the handlers….

They say you are getting older when the cops look like kids. Most of mine are babies, because I am old. These are men and women who make you proud when they walk into a room, and I adopt each and every one. I am very protective of these officers and their dogs.  I do my very best to keep these service dogs healthy, for their lives could depend on this. Both the dogs and the officers. And I tell the officers that I am always available to them. Always.

The police captain gave me the address. He wanted to know what I’d be driving, so the officers on the scene would know it was me, and not more trouble. Thirty minutes later I parked just up the street, behind one of the three patrol cars there. 

We have some bad neighborhoods, and this was one. Side street with sidewalks but no curb. The only streetlight was a block and a half away on the main street. Good place to score drugs or rent a scuzzy streetwalker. Rundown buildings that looked worse in the near dark. Eerie quiet. 

A light shone from the open doorway of the dilapidated two story wooden house. I identified myself to the officer there. One hand rested casually on the pistol on his belt. Edgy. Come on in…he’s upstairs. Not smiling.

Police canines wear a badge. Kill one, and the other officers will tell you that it is no different to them than if one of them bought it. I believe them. 

A lighted living room opens up before me. Shabby. Random clutter. Dirty old rug. Kids’ toys on the floor. Weird feeling. It’s the smell. Spicy food. Stale cigarette smoke, stale beer, stale urine. And the smell of death.

One officer leads me across the room, right turn and then immediate right up the stairs. Open doorway at the top of the stairs directly into a bedroom. The guy had been sitting on the bed, looking down the stairs. Anybody going up the stairs would have had no cover. 

He got beat up at a party. Went home angry, gathered up seven various guns, started firing randomly out the window of that bedroom.  In the dark. Come up and get me. Ah, no.

They talked to the guy a while.  More shouting. More shots from the window. Drunken idiot is going to kill somebody. Something’s got to give. A decision…send in the dog. The time to question this order must wait until later.

The dog, a Rottweiler that I knew well, lay on the top step. The guy had a 30/30 rifle. The dog dropped when he was hit in the neck. I carried him out to my truck and drove to my hospital.

X-rays to locate the pieces of the bullet. Find them, retrieve them, save them for the officer who comes by in the morning. Sew up the damage I did. Reverently. Wrap up the dog’s body for them. The officers will take care of that duty later. The ceremony for yet another dead officer will follow. I go to bed but do not sleep. The handler goes on leave, and later resigns to go do something sane. Something else. He was a good officer. He was a nice guy. He was one of mine.

Thirty years ago, but writing this brings rain to my eyes. I walked into that house in the dark one time, and it still weirds me out. The officers do this every frickin’ night. I don’t have the hard job. I only take care of their dogs, listen to their stories, tell them to be careful out there. I try to help, because they are mine.


  1. That was absolutely heartbreaking. Thank you for your service to the human and canine officers.

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  3. This is so wonderfully written! A beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing this. I'm glad you were there for them, too.

  4. People like you are the reason that, every few months or so, I drop off a pizza at the vet ER on my beat. Personally and professionally, they've been there for me and some poor dog every time I've ever needed them. They are an outstancing bunch.

    1. We had an intern that had been a policeman in our city. I loved it when he worked overnights because all of his night beat buddies stopped by to say hi. It always felt safer with a cop car or two in the parking lot. And I know from experience that the ER vets and staff appreciate your gift of food.

  5. Tears for me as well. Run free at the bridge, valiant dog from so long ago.

  6. Thanks for the story. Working dogs and their human partners are amazing.

  7. This is why I love working dogs...they aren't golden retrievers, but what amazing animals.