The woman had been waiting for him. She was on the front porch, with ten grimy dollars clutched in her hand. “There he is, ” she said, pointing to the dying dog on the grass. “His name’s General.”
Kentro spoke to the dog, tried to get him to stand. The dog could hardly lift his head. His first day on earth might have been one year or fifty years ago, but this day was his last.
“He just got sick and then he couldn’t walk anymore,” the woman mourned. “I don’t know about dogs; they all die on me.”
Kentro gently put the rope around General’s neck and tried to coax him to walk to the truck. His legs kept slipping out from under him, but he managed to get there. Kentro lifted him into a compartment on the side of the little white truck and closed the door.
Kentro took the woman’s money and had her sign a slip. She wasn't bad. She just couldn’t afford or couldn’t bother with puppy shots. At least she could afford the $10 it costs to have an unlicensed dog picked up and put to sleep.
The next woman on Kentro’s route that day wasn’t bad either. She carried out her homely little mutt just past the puppy stage, when they’re all cute—expressing gratitude that “Now she’ll find a good home.” As she put the dog into the truck she confided, “She’s a real nice dog, but she eats like a horse. I just can’t afford to feed her.” At that moment her daughter came rushing out the door, crying, “Mommy, . mommy, my puppy, my puppy!” She didn’t sound sad, this little girl. Because it wasn’t the puppy in the truck she was worried about; it was the little round puppy she was chasing up the sidewalk. That one looked as though he’d eat like an elephant in a few months. It costs nothing to have the dogcatcher pick up your dog if it’s in good health—just call it a stray.
“Oh no, how can he justify it?” said a friend of mine, when I told her I had spent the day with the dogcatcher. “Killing all those dogs!” How he feels about “killing all those dogs” was expressed in a regular column, “K-9 Capers,,” that he contributed to the San Diego Police Department paper, Fall-In. Sample:
A DOG'S LAMENT
- I’m the dog that nobody wants—the dog that no one loves. I’m the one loping down the street, dodging cars. No vaccination, no license, dirty looking—never had a bath. Most times I have mange, distemper, sores— and I’m always underfed and hungry. Once in awhile someone takes me in. But even then things don’t fare well for me. I'm beaten up, sworn at, and kicked. Once, instead of putting a collar on my neck, someone twisted on several turns of wire, and never removed it. Kids pelt me with rocks and boards. I even get shot at.
- Yes, I’m the dog you humans are always complaining about. I’m the one you say attacks children. I’m the one you report as rabid to the police. I am an outcast. I am a no-good. I am a menace. This is my story. I am the dog that never had a decent break.
- My beginning? I came from a long line of outcasts. I don’t know who or what my ol’ man was. My mother starved to death, and I was alone at a young age, where only the strong survive. I thirsted for friendship with Man. But he only made life more miserable for me. Because of his attitude, I developed a very unfriendly disposition. I didn’t trust anything or anybody. I fought other dogs, stole, and once bit a boy who clobbered me with a chuck of cement. I got away, and he was compelled to go through the series of shot, because they thought I had rabies! Ha ha.
- This is the way I have lived for years, and I was getting tired of it all. Then, the inevitable happened. I got caught by this dogcatcher. For some reason or other I didn’t resist him. I expected the worst now. But, something about his voice, his manner, the way he handled me, made me less afraid of him. Oh, if I were young again, and had met this man! But, it’s too late now. I’m old, and I’m ready to go. This dogcatcher visits me in my kennel, and for the first time since birth I- have experienced love for man, this man.
At the beginning of his day, Ray Kentro gets into the truck and starts shuffling through papers. “These are the slips we have to make out on all the dogs. See this here? This is a bite. See?— German shepherd, black and tan. Most of the bites are from German shepherds. Next, from poodles. Of course, people start shaking when you just mention Dobermans, but there aren’t enough of them around to make a big percentage of the bites. See that number?—208, 25th of February. That means that on the 25th of February this was the 208th dogbites I had to go check on. Every month we get 3-4,000 dogbites—48,000 a year. But we haven’t had a case of rabies in years. That’s really our biggest job, rabies control.”
We drove to the address on the slip to check on the dog that had been placed on quarantine ten days before for biting. Kentro knocked on the door, and a man and a dog answered. “Oh, hello there. Hi, big fella. Is that your dog, Deldo? Okay, thank you, bye now.”
Is that all there is to it?
“Oh, yes, that dog’s all right. If he had rabies he would have been dead by now or in the throes of death. It’s only in the last ten days of the 4 to 6 month incubation period that the germ is in his saliva and a human can get it from the bite. So we watch them for ten days after they’ve been reported to have bitten. Yeah, if they’re dying of rabies, they get crazy and bite. But a lot of your ordinary bites are just accidental, you know.”
Back in the truck, Kentro examined the slip for his next call. “Now see this one? This kind of thing makes me real mad. See, this says ABA, ‘animal bites animal.’ And the slip says ‘Your pet is reported to have bitten the person above.’ Well, they get real mad at me, but I doctor up the slip, cross out ‘person’ and write ‘dog.’ Well, you know what could happen if I didn’t? This ever ends up in a courtroom, some lawyer could make a laughingstock of everybody.”
When we went to call on the dog-bites-dog, the woman was particularly uptight. I got the . distinct impression this was some kind of family-dog feud, with the dogcatcher as the main weapon. “Oh, yes, we try to avoid those feuds. We’re just interested in the bite.”
We were out dogcatching in Encanto that day. This is the part of town where it is all right to have horses and cows in your back yard. It’s been called the Tobacco Road of San Diego. Right in the middle of that road was a little black dog, just meandering. “Hmm, haven’t seen that one before. Never chased him home. He doesn’t recognize the truck, or he’d run quick.” Kentro took his rope and started walking toward the dog, who walked just a little more quickly to the other side of the road. As soon as he got to the sidewalk, Kentro turned around and came back. “Welp, I can’t catch him. See that sign? He’s in National City now, outside city limits. That could be trouble in court if anyone saw me taking him. Well, I just hope he’s not too far from home and doesn’t get run over.”
Do all the dogcatchers use lassos?
“Well, no, just me, really. It used to be regulation that we all had to carry (tranquilizer) guns in the truck. Well, I told them if I have to take it, I will, but I will never use it.
“Last New Year’s Eve one of the men was drunk and reading his New Year’s resolutions. And he was standing on the table and he said, ‘This will be the year Kentro shoots his first dog!’ Well, I’ve been a dogcatcher for 13 years, and I’ve never shot a dog yet. I don’t believe in it. You see, I don’t believe there’s any such thing as a vicious dog. A dog reflects his family, his upbringing. If he’s been brought up mean, that’s the way he’s learned to behave.
“Once we were out in East County chasing down a pack of wild dogs. There were about five men, and we had cornered the leader in a yard, and they were all heading in with their (tranquilizer) guns. So I said, ‘Hey there, wait a minute, I’ll get him.’ So I went up there after that Doberman, and I sat down and started talking to it. Oh, my pants got all soggy from sitting on the ice-plant, but after about five minutes he came right up to me and I just slipped the rope around his head. Then I yelled down to them, ‘You can put your guns away now!’ ”
After the white deer was killed by one of the County Animal Shelter’s men, dogcatchers no longer carry tranquilizer guns. Kentro knew the deer well. “I used to take my little daughter out with the binoculars, and we would watch her. The deer used to have a mate, you know. I think someone got him a few years back with a bow and arrow. I got a few calls on her. I’d just chase her up into the canyons. Oh, she was beautiful. There is nothing so beautiful as a deer on the run. When the deer was shot, my daughter looked at me and said, ‘I don’t like you any more!’ I said, ‘Hey, wait a minute! I wasn’t even there!’ Oh, they should have taken her to the Emergency Animal Clinic in Mission Valley. Dr. Nagy could have fixed her up. They did an autopsy on her. She didn’t die directly of the tranquilizer; she died of fright. Yeah, well, now they don’t carry guns any more, so at least I’m glad for.that. I can’t see that, just sitting in your truck and shooting a dog. I like to match wits with a dog.
“I chased this one shepherd for five days, up around University Hospital. He was sniffing around the cars, probably looking for his owner. I think someone purposely let him out up there. Now, that was a terrible thing. Finally I got him to come. Oh, he was a real nice dog. He would sit and hold up one hand like this. He had a license, so we kept him five working days, but no one came. It was a pity to put a dog like that to sleep. They shouldn’t have turned him loose like that, just because he was old and grey around the muzzle, you know.”
Just as we spotted a horse with his head in a garbage can, we got an emergency call—an injured dog on the freeway. Injured dogs get top priority. Whatever the dogcatcher is doing, he drops for an injured dog. When we got there, the dog was gone. Maybe he had not been that badly hurt. But if the dog had been there, and had had reparable injuries, we would have taken him immediately back to the Shelter to the Vet. If he had been dying, Kentro would have gotten the syringe he carries in his truck and eased the dog out of his misery.
I asked him why they can’t put all the dogs to sleep like that, if they must put dogs to sleep. Why do they use those aluminum things—“Euthanair” chambers— that look like industrial washing machines which eliminate all oxygen from the animal’s life and cause him to “black out, like he was a pilot 60,000 feet above ground, deprived of air?”
“Well, the kennelmen by law aren’t allowed to do that. And if we did it that way the Vet would have nothing else to do all day. She has to travel between three shelters and take care of all the injured dogs. We put between five and fifteen dogs to sleep every day down at Azuza Street, so you can see she just wouldn’t have time.”
We headed back to the Pound. I asked Kentro whether he liked it better, now that he was a “public officer” working for the county, rather than a member of the police force as before.
“Oh, it’s better now, I think. When we were in the Police Department, we were the low men on the totem pole, the rejects. We were the black sheep of the family; nobody wanted to remember we were around. Whenever we wanted something, they would wait until the end of the year and if there was any money left over, we would get it. It was nothing to be driving a truck with 200,000 miles on it.
“Years back, I used to go out at 6 in the morning and come back at 9 with 12, 15 dogs. Now that they’ve got the $20 penalty, plus shots and license fees if you don’t have them, people are more careful with their dogs. Of course, the sad thing is that it’s the dogs without a license that get the shaft. We can’t notify their owners, if they have one; and lots of times if an owner can’t afford a license in the first place, he’s not going to be able to afford to get his dog out.”
Upon leaving the shelter, I curbed the temptation to adopt three or four cats and a rabbit. Although cats by law are wild animals and the dogcatchers don’t pick them up, people do bring them in. If they are not claimed or adopted (for the cost of spaying or neutering), well...
That is the trouble with visiting the Pound or the Humane Society. Always there are so many adorable animals, and so many people bringing them in and taking them out. But it is dangerous to get too friendly with any one animal; the next day, he may not be there. And he may not have found a home.