Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Reverend Love

I think it is time for another memorable character story. Which would you like? There have been several memorable characters drop by our practice over the years. They’ve enriched the experience.                                                                                                                          

The Reverend Love was a +/- 400 year old man, slight of build and quiet of demeanor. He headed up a tiny church, about the size of your garage, in the old, poor, unsophisticated end of town. He was polite in the African American lived a lifetime in a prejudiced society and didn’t make waves kinda way. I was a child of the 60’s love everybody kinda guy, and he tolerated me. He had attended this practice for years before I got here. He smiled a lot, but you could see the weight of a world’s mark in the stoop of his shoulders.

Reverend Love had two backyard German Shepherds. Back in the early 70’s there were only two kinds of dogs in our practice. The Poodles lived indoors, and the Shepherds lived in the backyards. Backyard Shepherds were expected to keep folks out of the backyard, because without one, people would drop by and borrow things from your house and yard, and they never did bring em back.

Training such a dog involved about any unspeakable abuse that would turn a dog irredeemably vicious. He might have a doghouse of sorts, or not. Under the porch would do. These dogs ate what they got, which often was what was left after a big family was done eating. They would, often as not, attack and maul your own kids, so you kept the offspring out of the backyard. Sometimes the chain was long, other times kinda short. Just enough to reach the fence, and any fool stupid enough to jump over, but not long enough to hang themselves. That kind of chain.

The clever dogs wouldn’t bark if someone walked up to the fence. All you’d hear was that chain dragging, and then it would stop. The dog was waiting for you to hop in. Right there. Sometimes he’d sniff the crack between the boards. Can you spell deterrent?

Back then a rabies vaccine was good for two years. The county dog license, for which you needed a rabies vaccine, ran from Jan 1 to the next New Year’s, and they granted a grace period through the end of February. So we gave lots of rabies vaccines in February. The backyard Shepherds got out of the yard once every two years, to get that vaccine and thus their license. They didn’t behave well once out of the confines of their yards. For $6 a dog, I gave a physical exam and a rabies vaccine. Filthy, screaming, un-socialized, untrained, terrified, psychotic dogs who had never set foot on a floor or walked under a building’s roof were dragged by their chain, shitting and pissing, into the exam room for their turn. The owner often carried something stout to smack the dog.

The nastier the dog, the more cursory was my physical exam. My goal was to survive. I didn’t approve of the switches and clubs, but if the owners at least tried to hold their vicious dogs off me, I appreciated that.

Reverend Love was a mere wisp of a man, and both of his backyard Shepherds were 90-100 pound dogs. No way could he keep either from killing me if he brought them into the exam room. But he had worked out a system that worked every time. He’d come in without a dog, pay for his two vaccines, and then quietly inform me that he’d knock on the side door when he was ready for me.

The old hospital sat on the corner of the main drag and a side street. We had a front entrance on the big street, and a side door by the other. Near the side door stood a power pole. About ten minutes was all it took. A quiet knock on the side door meant that Reverend Love had his dog ready. And I’d step out, syringe at the ready.

Picture an ancient dented listing Ford pickup truck sitting at the curb (actually, we didn’t have a curb, but who’d admit that?) with one lunging snarling barking wild-eyed insane giant German Shepherd straining at the chain holding him in the bed of the truck. The truck would rock from side to side, the chain clattering. I awaited the “PING” sound of a chain link parting, knowing it would be the last sound I would ever hear, save for my brief futile screams.

The other dog was tied rather snugly to the power pole with a length of chain. The thick leather collar on the dog’s neck was cinched down directly to the pole, and then the good Reverend would sorta wrap the dog around the pole and then run the chain clean round the dog and pole, oh 30 or 70 times until the dog could not so much as twitch the tip of its tail.

“I got him ready for you, Doc.”

All I had to do was find a hind leg muscle between the loops of chain, and complete my task. My physical exam consisted of a quick verification that the dog was still alive. Which I confirmed readily by listening to the sound, the deep throaty growl of absolute hatred and frustration that escaped from the dog’s well-confined throat. I never looked into his eye, for that would be a vision of Satan himself, and I didn’t need to meet that dude yet. I didn’t so much hear the growl as feel it as it reverberated through my kidneys. It chilled my blood.

“Thanks Doc. Give me a minute and I’ll get the other one ready.”

Moments later, another soft knock on the door, and another sound effect machine from a Stephan King movie awaited me, tightly confined to that power pole. One more quick poke through the wall of chain, and then back indoors to sign two rabies certificates.

“Thanks Doc. See ya in two more years.”

Thanks your own self, Reverend Love. You be the man!


  1. Sorry, but I don't think anyone who treats a dog that way, or condones it, regardless of his motivation, is "the man".

    1. Different world back then. Most everybody in the bad neighborhoods had dogs like this in the yard. Don't see much of this anymore. Just as well. We were happy just to survive these dogs. At least the good Rev was good at keeping us safe. Trying to talk any sense to the owners was like talking to a wall.

    2. I agree, and "different world back then" doesn't fly. I remember the 70s too, and no, this was not acceptable or normal even back then.

    3. Every neighborhood has a different normal.

    4. This was also a time when spanking a kid in public was acceptable. Don't think they even had child protective services back then. We have progressed a ways since then. Humane treatment of animals has come a long way also.

    5. The Reverend got his dogs vaccinated, which is more than can be said for a lot of dog owners these days.

  2. Love hearing about the characters you vets deal with. Keep the stories coming.

    And yeah, guess I am showing my age as when growing up I saw many, many dogs that spent their lives on the end of chains in the front/back yard. Socially acceptable back then but very, very sad. I would actually be surprised if any of them actually even made it to the vet for vaccinations.

  3. In the ummm, hood, these dogs were all part of the security system. And many of the owners were doing as much as they could to feed themselves. The dogs were not pets, they were tools. Not everyone has the same bond I have with my animals.

    I do have to interject that when I lived in the ghetto, my dogs saved us from being robbed. One night, I remember our dogs barking some and when it stopped, I just rolled over. The next day, the back door going from the laundry room to the fenced in back yard was open, as was the garden gate. Apparently, someone was able to jimmy open the outer most door, but the sight of a barking duo of dalmatian and 80 lb lab stopped them cold.

    When I do rabies clinics in the deep city or deep country, I see animals like this. I have almost been bitten several times. So, it is very dependent on the neighborhood.