I never hunted as a child or adult. No slingshots, bows and arrows or Super Soakers. Wait. Pretty sure we didn’t have those kind of water guns when I was little. The Girl Scouts didn’t have badges for dealing with deer that attack community members and their small dogs.
Wild turkeys blocking traffic, swarming bees, raccoons in the shower… With no veterinary or wildlife training, little to no resources to call upon or tools to use, I have approached these calls for my service in earnest, problem solving the best I can. There have been many firsts for me in my job.
Death Marks The Spot (2004)
“S6 from Adam ___, Channel 2. S6 go to 2…”
Oh Dread. I had seen the call holding on the MDT. Animal matters. I can’t stand them, and why does this officer always have to call me??! Composure, Mary. You are supposed to be in charge. In charge. I worry about that on the way over too. Some calls I take my time to drive the distance. Not the exigent ones, not the gotta get it done quick ones, mind you. Just the ones I have the time. The responses in which I am called upon to make an uncomfortable decision. This would be one of them. I just need an extra 30 seconds to think.
The animal was sitting in the middle of the road. Some soul had placed a construction clapboard barrier in front of the animal to shield it from cars or oncoming traffic of any sort. That was kind of ’em. It took me a few seconds to scope out the officer who was standing in the shadows nearby, as far as he could reasonably get from the animal and still be doing “his duty.” This is going to be great, I thought with sarcasm.
Me – “Hey.. Oh, It doesn’t look too good, huh?”
Officer – “Nope Sarge. He’s been bleeding out of his mouth.”
This officer drones. He has that kind of slow, deliberate voice that makes you want to jolt him, and get him to react.
Me – “Did you try to nudge it a little and see if it will walk away?”
Officer – “I’m not getting close to that thing. It probably has rabies or something.”
Super. He’s afraid of it. The frustration at my impending decision, the creature’s inevitable doom was
compounded by my officer.
Me – “Noone says you have to touch it. Just see if we can coax it out of the street.”
He stands there and glances at me, then at the animal and back to me. All right, I get to take charge.
I walk over to get a closer look. I hadn’t been real close to an opossum in a long time, infact in the moment; I was trying to remember how to spell it. He/she was hunched over, deep red blood dripping steadily from the mouth, the pool on the asphalt growing. Ugh. I take out my ASP (expandable baton) and get as close as I was comfortable. Hmmm. What if he/she lunges at me suddenly. Isn’t that what they do? Play dead? I am spooked now. Super.
I started to be a teacher, a trainer, a mentor. A Sergeant. Here are our choices. I began to process out loud. “I’d prefer if there was a way that it could leave on it’s own power and curl up somewhere and die if that’s what it is going to do.” I hear my own worry. I used IT when I spoke to the officer. The he/she was in my private thoughts, my private process.
He/she wasn’t moving anywhere and gave me a low hiss or growl, although that may have been my imagination. I scanned the neighborhood and thought of the eventual crack in the night, the piercing blow to the quiet. I got the catchpole from my trunk, reacquainted myself with it so I was ready and headed to the animal. I slipped the noose easily over its head as I had made the loop real big. Then I cinched with trepidation till it was just about snug. The opossum started to resist, fight even, and I knew I had to cinch it tighter or my plan was for naught, and my officer would witness my failure. I tightened it. Was he/she choking? Aw geez, this is awful. Keep it together, Mary. This is a task. I had no idea of right and wrong. All I could feel was pain, remorse, my own pain for being in this position. As he/she tussled against the rope, I looked about for a safe spot to dispatch this animal. Just say shoot, will ya?! Sometimes our PC (politically correct) Berkeley language sounds ridiculous. Challenging! No, we have them at gunpoint, Dammit. What is so wrong with the truth, I hear myself thinking.
Now his claws are out, he has stiffened all fours, as I drag him along the roadway. He’s trying to dig in, get away from me. I can’t stand this. I drag him up to the traffic turnaround and feel a small measure of relief that I cannot hear his claws against the concrete anymore. This is a soft place. It even smells better. Redwood chips, I think. Ok, we are here. The officer has followed along.
“So..Are you ordering me to shoot it, Sarge?” the officer asks. Frustration again. I think soften, Mary, before I answer. I think this is difficult for him too, and all I have been thinking about is the animal and myself. “I am not ordering you to do it, I am giving you supervisory approval as the animal is clearly suffering.” I am nearly quoting our Use of Deadly Force policy. “You want me to do it?”, he asks. “Yes. Yes. I can’t ’cause I am holding the catchpole, ok? First call upstairs and advise them that we will be dispatching an animal in this area so if they get any calls from community members regarding loud reports/gunshots.”
I look to this officer who is standing there with his Smith & Wesson poised. “I’m going to shoot at the heart, right behind the shoulder blade. If it wasn’t so late, I would call my Dad and he would do it for us. He knows how to do this stuff. He would take a stick and there is a way to whack it on the back of the head.” I thought about this officer, his dad, he the son of someone prepared to shoot an animal in the midst of the city.
I waited. I had no ear protection and it was going to be loud. I hoped for only a few shots because I loathe gunshots without muffs on. I turn my head, my arm stretched to its capacity with the catchpole and possum it’s extension. I feel small, a child awaiting a fright. Unable to close my eyes or ears tight enough to get away. At the last moment, I tilt my head to the left onto my shoulder in hopes of shielding at least one ear from the explosion. Pow! When the sound dissipates, I look to the creature, writhing. The officer is still poised assessing whether he needs to shoot again. This is just the death, the twist of life leaving. The tail is the last to settle. We both lean forward like curious kids, apprehensive that the animal is still breathing. No, it’s gone.
“Get a bag. We have to pick the body up and you’ll have to drop it at the animal shelter.” The officer ambles off to his patrol car after holstering his gun, and I stand alone looking at the animal. I did that. I had to decide its fate. Why me? I remembered the dragging from moments before. I was hurting him/her, I know it. I was getting sick to my stomach. The officer returned with a paper bag, and I lifted the possum with the catchpole, all the dead weight awkward to maneuver above the bag. I watch liquid pour from the animal as I drop it into the bag. Urine.
Suddenly we hear a voice. A man in his pajamas was walking sheepishly towards us. I was hunched over trying to get the noose loose and I turned in my slumped posture to acknowledge the man. “I heard a gunshot,” he says softly. “Sir, that was only us,” I reply. Only us, now that sounded stupid, awkward, like oh, it’s just a common thing us peace officers capping off rounds and shooting animals about town. Pajama man continued as he drew closer, “That was a tranquilizer gun right?” I could feel a twinge of rage. Don’t make me have to own this. Justify this to you. I haven’t even had time to deal with it myself. Dammit. I quickly ponder a lie. It would be so easy, but no, the truth is easy too. My job is about telling the truth. I talk to him for a few minutes, sharing diplomatically the options we have. NONE, I think silently. He seems resolved to my explanation finally. “Sir, do you happen to have a big trash bag we can have?” It’s my officer. He doesn’t seem to understand that we are fortunate that this community member is not rallying the neighborhood group to confront us regarding our inhumanity. “Sure Officer. I’ll go get one.” This man trots back a half a minute later and hands us what looks like a white tall kitchen trash bag. It’ll have to do. “Thank you sir. And have a good night,” I offer. “Ok Officers, night” he says as he retreats into the darkness.