I live in a small town. A total of just under 13,000 people call Uxbridge home. The village, or as we say around here, “downtown,” has a classic brick town hall, circa 1879, an elegant old library, and several other historic buildings.
1893 Thayer Library Photo: Garry Armstrong
Our closest neighboring town, Millville, makes Uxbridge look like Metropolis.
Their town hall is a unit in an old condo building. The center of town is a sub shop. There’s no sign to indicate you are in Millville, so it’s easy to miss it and when you get there, it will be closed anyway. The following notice is posted on Millville’s website:
Due to budget constraints, effective immediately the Town Clerk’s office will only be open on Mondays from 9am-1pm and Wednesday evenings from 6pm-8pm for public assistance. If you cannot be at the Municipal Center during these scheduled hours, please call the Town Clerk’s Office to schedule an appointment.
There are approximately 3100 people living in Millville, spread out thinly.
Perhaps 7 years ago — I don’t remember exactly — the town of Millville decided they needed a Deputy Animal Control Officer. I don’t remember how I heard about the job. It may have been a tip from our local animal control officer who knew I liked animals and needed part-time work.
This was about as part-time as a job could be. The pay was $1200 per year, payable semi-annually. Before taxes.
Millville already had a Senior Animal Control Officer who was theoretically in charge, but passionately fond of golf. I suspect he also had a fulltime job somewhere the rest of the week. So, in exchange for $600 every 6 months, I would have the official title of Deputy Animal Control Officer and would be on call 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.
I’m basically an optimist. I figured Millville is tiny. How many calls could there be? I took the job. I was sworn in, just like in the movies, hand on the bible. I promised to protect and serve.
A mere couple of hours later, I got my first call. A homeowner had found an almost dead skunk by their trash bin and wanted it taken away. Since it was my first call — and a weekend — my “senior officer” thought maybe he should come along, show me the ropes as it were. Luckily, the skunk did the right thing and went from nearly dead to absolutely dead while I was trying to figure out what I was supposed to do. I was informed by my erstwhile boss that the skunk had probably been rabid and I should not touch it. If the skunk had not died on his own, I would have been obliged to shoot it.
Me: “Shoot it?”
Boss: “Yes, shoot it. With the rifle.”
Me: “Rifle? What rifle?”
Boss: “Oh, didn’t I mention that? We have a couple of rifles in the office. When an animal is behaving suspiciously, you have to shoot it.”
Me: “Behaving suspiciously?”
Boss: “You know, approaching people rather than running away. Acting weird. Most of the animals you’ll get calls about are rabid. There’s a lotta rabies around here so you don’t want to get close. Just shoot’em.”
Rabies. Shoot the animals. $100 a month. I was getting that creepy feeling I get when I think maybe I’ve signed up for something, the implications of which I had failed to fully grasp.
After we bagged the skunk — literally, using gloves and shovels provided by the town of Millville — to send to the Worcester county animal medical examiner, I promised to go to city hall as soon as they reopened to discuss guns and the other equipment I would need, like shovels, leather gloves, heavy-duty plastic trash bags (the non-human version of body bags), tags for the medical examiner. Forms to fill out. Oh, and where to put the corpses. Turns out, you can’t just stack them up in city hall.
My boss was not concerned I had never handled a weapon more powerful than our Red Ryder Daisy BB rifle and I’d never shot anything currently or previously alive. I was also puzzled about what I was supposed to do if I got a call, actually needed a rifle, but it was locked up at city hall which was pretty much always closed. Would the offending animal make an appointment for a more convenient time? Or wait for me to call someone, get them to unlock the gun cabinet, then hang around while I drove over to get it, then drove back to shoot him? Are the rabid animals of Millville that cooperative? Was I supposed to keep the big hunting rifle in my house in case I needed it? The rabies thing had me spooked, too.
When I was finally able to get into city hall, I demanded they give me a rabies vaccination. There was no way I was going to handle rabid animals, living or dead, without a vaccination. They pointed out rabies vaccinations are expensive and I was only the deputy. They suggested I pay for it myself.
Me: “How much will it cost?”
Clerk: “Around $450.”
Me: “That’s four and a half months pay.”
Clerk: “Well, we don’t normally pay for it.”
Me: “I’m not doing this unless I’m vaccinated.”
It turned out that the animal medical examiner could also provide me with the appropriate vaccination, so Garry — who had begun to look both bemused and worried — drove me to the doctor. While the doctor prepared the inoculation, we got a rundown of exactly how common rabies is in our neck of the woods. He said that just the previous week they’d found a deer with rabies. Chipmunks, skunk, fox, coyotes, squirrels, deer … even opossum who aren’t mammals … get rabies. The only exceptions are rabbits who are naturally immune. Go figure.
While he was at it, he asked both Garry and I when we’d last gotten tetanus shots and since the answer was “elementary school,” he threw in tetanus vaccinations for both of us. On the house.
The following day, I got a call that a really big turtle had wandered into the road and was blocking traffic. It didn’t sound too threatening, so armed with my shoulder-high heavy leather gauntlets (but no rifle), I drove to the site and met the snapping turtle from Hell.
A common snapping turtle.
Keep in mind that there is water everywhere in the valley. Not only the Blackstone, but all its tributaries, feeder creeks, lakes, brooks, ponds, pools, and swamps. Snapping turtles are called common for good reason. They live just about everywhere you find water. Undoubtedly, the big snapper had wandered into the road, lost his bearings. Someone needed to grab the turtle and carry him back on the other side of the road which was where the river was. That someone was apparently me.
Wikipedia has this to say about “The Common Snapping Turtle”:
Snapping turtles have “fierce” dispositions; however, when encountered in the water, they usually slip quietly away from any disturbance. Snapping turtles have evolved the ability to snap because unlike other turtles, they are too large to hide in their own shells when confronted. Snapping is their defense mechanism … The common snapping turtle is not an ideal pet. Its neck is very flexible, and the turtle can bite its handler even if picked up by the sides of its shell. It will make a hissing sound when it is threatened or encountered; however, in the water and unprovoked, they are fairly docile toward humans.
This turtle had not read Wikipedia. He was not in the water, not docile and yeah, that head and the neck to which it was attached was indeed extremely flexible.
So there I am, by the side of the road, trying to figure out how I could grab him. He was approximately 30 pounds of very pissed off turtle. Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, he seemed pretty agile to me. He could move. Okay, maybe he’d lose a footrace to a rabbit, but he could trundle along at a nice pace. And he had that snaky neck and was clearly determined to bite me.
Meanwhile, an entire construction crew, these big brawny guys who were supposed to be repairing the bridge, were watching me. They did not seem eager to help. In fact, they were the ones who called in the first place.
I eventually herded him across the road. I looked at those jaws, looked at my leather gloves, did a quick mental calculation as to strength of gloves versus power of turtle’s jaws, decided the gloves weren’t all that sturdy.
Have you ever tried herding a turtle? Of course not. You can’t herd a turtle, but I did. I don’t know exactly how I got him across the road. I know there was a big shovel involved, but otherwise, it’s a blur. The next thing I remember doing after getting the turtle over to the river side of the road, was calling the clerk and resigning.
The turtle was enough for me. I figured if I didn’t get out quick, they’d have me hunting rabid coyotes with a large gun and I’d shoot my foot off.
They tried to bill me for the rabies shot. We settled for not paying me. I think I got the better part of the deal.