I live in a small town. Just under 15,000 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 (1885), and a few other historic buildings.
Our neighboring town, Millville, makes Uxbridge look like Metropolis. Their town hall is a unit in a 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. 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.
Approximately 3500 people live in Millville. Perhaps fifteen years ago, the town decided they needed a Deputy Animal Control Officer. I don’t remember how I heard about the job. It might have been a tip from our local animal control officer who knew I liked animals and needed part-time work.
This was extremely part-time. 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 full-time job elsewhere. So, in exchange for $600 every 6 months, I would have the official title of Deputy Animal Control Officer. I 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 few hours later, I got my first call. A homeowner had found an almost dead skunk by their trash bin and wanted it taken away. It was my first call — a Sunday morning — so my “senior officer” thought 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 lot of 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 to send to the 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 outside city hall.
My boss was not concerned that I’d never handled a rifle. I mentioned I’d never shot anything living. “No problem,” he said. That left me puzzled about what I was supposed to do if I got a call and needed a rifle. As they were all locked up at city hall which was always closed (I didn’t have a key) exactly how was I supposed to get a weapon if I needed one?
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 and 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 to city hall, I demanded a rabies vaccination. No way was I going to handle rabid animals 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 provide me with the appropriate vaccination, so Garry — who had begun to look alarmed — 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.
“Why,” he said, “Just last week they found a deer with rabies. Chipmunks, skunk, fox, coyotes, squirrels, deer… even opossums get rabies.” It would seem the only exceptions are rabbits who are naturally immune.
The following day, I got another call. A big snapping 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 (no rifle), I drove to the site and met the snapping turtle from Hell.
Keep in mind that there is water everywhere in the valley. Not only the Blackstone, but all its tributaries, 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 river side of the road.
That someone was me.
This turtle was not in the water and docility wasn’t on his agenda. His beak was sharp. His neck was flexible. He looked mean.
There I was, by the side of the road, trying to figure out how I could grab him. He was approximately 30 pounds of pissed-off turtle. Really big snappers have been known to top 200 pounds. Moreover, this turtle seemed pretty agile to me. He could move. Maybe he’d lose a footrace to a rabbit, but he could trundle along at a good pace. Also, he had a snaky neck that allowed him to turn his head backwards and a sharp set of jaws which looked perfectly capable of removing any number of my fingers. He looked entirely willing and able to remove a few pieces out of me and laugh all the way to the river.
Meanwhile, an entire construction crew — big brawny guys who were supposed to be repairing the bridge — were watching me. They didn’t seem eager to help. In fact, they were the ones who had called in the first place.
I eventually herded Mr. Snapper across the road. I looked at those jaws, looked at my leather gloves, did a quick mental calculation about the strength of the gloves versus the power of the jaws. I decided the gloves weren’t enough.
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 did it. 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.
That turtle and the rabid dead skunk were more than enough for me. I figured if I didn’t get out quick, they’d have me hunting rabid coyotes with a big 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.