When I was a young man, I attended official cop school, otherwise known as The University of Illinois Police Training Institute. Week after week, after week, after week, a select number of young valiants such as I were sequestered from the world, the victims of excessive indoctrination and instruction into the art and function of becoming police officers. A huge amount of subjects were covered, from how to deliver a baby, to public relations, to crime scene investigation, to choosing the correct donut. The amount of subject matter was immense.
The instruction that remains most vivid in my mind after all these years was from an FBI instructor named Kip McLaughlin, who told me two things. Number one: be courteous to all, officer, kind to those who deserve your kindness and, even though you serve the public, remember that you are nobody’s servant. And two: Always remember that if somebody wants to kill you, they have a 90% chance of getting it done. Make your 10% as fat as you can. Those statements were easily worth as much as the endless theoretical facts that were pounded into us because theory is just theory. Practical education can only come on the street. That’s why veteran officers give rookies a hard time. It’s fun, and the rooks, for the most part, can’t find their way out of a crowd of three. Stuff almost never happened in the real world the way we’d read about in all those books.
Eventually, after nearly a year of instruction and study, it was determined by the powers that be that Officer Lewis was fit to be removed from the 7am to 3 pm shift and sentenced to life on the three to eleven shift, or PM watch, the busiest shift of the day. It was late March of 1969, a lovely spring afternoon, and I was spending my last few hours on the day watch with a 20 year veteran officer named George Hyde. George loved running radar, a function of policedom that I personally despised, as was doing so in an older residential area, when the radar alerted us of an oncoming vehicle coming on in excess of sixty miles an hour in a thirty mile per hour zone. When the 1968 Mustang flashed by our position, George fired up the red lights, I kicked on the siren, and we gave chase, more or less.
Our squad car was a two-year-old Chevy with nearly a hundred thousand miles on the odometer, and countless hours of idle time on the exhausted motor. It had roughly the same acceleration capabilities as a school bus. It was nearly four blocks before we closed on the little yellow mustang. Its driver, a blond-haired lady, deep in thought with her radio blasting, remained blissfully unaware of our presence when we finally crept up behind her at sixty-three MPH. As we changed lanes to possibly move up beside the woman and get her attention, we noticed her dog. A gray poodle it was, the mid-sized variety, a miniature as opposed to a toy, hanging dangerously out of the open passenger-side window, its ears wafting and tongue lolling in the breeze.
“George,” I said, “that dog is gonna fall outa that car.”
No sooner had the words left my lips, than the dog left the Mustang. Headfirst, the poor pooch, no doubt enraptured by the passage of wind and scent, fell over the door and onto the street, its small body whirling and bouncing down the pavement like a demented furry dervish. George slammed on the brakes to keep from running over the ill-fated creature and, when he came to a halt, I jumped from the car to see to the dog as he accelerated away to again catch the mustang, whose driver was not only oblivious to us, but unaware her doggie was no longer in her company. The pup, its eyes fixed and glazed, its tongue dangling loosely out of its mouth, hung in my hands like a dishrag. I carried the poor lifeless body to the side of the road and tenderly laid it on the parkway between the street and the sidewalk. Several pedestrians who had witnessed the event approached and stood around me and the dog, silently observing the tableau before them. One lady was even sniffing back tears. It was sad and it was awkward. There was nothing for any of us to do but look at each other and wait for George to return with the lady and her Mustang. For long minutes we stood there, the small crowd growing a bit with curious onlookers. When boredom overtook sympathy, the group began to break up. At that point in time, as Lazarus from the grave, the dead dog resurrected, fixed its manic eyes on me, bared its teeth, and charged.
I had been bitten by dogs. I didn’t like it. I whipped out my trusty nightstick. While I had no intention of bludgeoning a twelve-pound poodle to death, especially in front of ten or fifteen onlookers, it was also not my intent to allow the crazed canine fanged access to my fetlock. Instantly realizing its worthlessness, I pushed all of my police training aside, called upon the hours spent in my youth watching Walt Disney’s Zorro episodes, and began to fence with the perturbed pooch. It thrusted. I parried. It pounced. I retreated. It snarled, I yelled. The crowd, once more fully involved in the incident, began to oooh and aaah, some shouting encouragement to me, others to the dog. The battle raged for what seemed an endless time, and I, because of a now perforated pantleg, was on the verge of shifting my response from Zorro’s technique to something more along the format of Arnold Palmer, when George and the blond lady arrived.
She bolted from her Mustang and, taking sides with the recently dead poodle, joined in the fray. She got in a lick or two, a diamond ring that cost more than my house doing some damage to my right ear, before George managed to lift her off her feet and throw her a short distance away. She was an attractive woman, well dressed and groomed, with a barrage of vocal talent that zoomed from obscene to unintelligible in only a few sentences and, when she charged me the second time, good ‘ol George put her face down in the grass and handcuffed her. The dog, meanwhile, collapsed again.
I returned the dog to the parkway and sat beside it, talking quietly and stroking its head. A tow-truck was summoned for the Mustang, a sergeant arrived and took George and the lady to the station, and I was left with the pup and the squad car. Presently the pooch again opened its eyes, crawled into my lap and began to shiver. I wrapped the dog in a blanket from the squad car’s trunk took it to a veterinarian, then went to headquarters. By the time I arrived, the lady had some control of herself. Her verbiage had reduced to just swearing and abuse, and she was no longer attacking anyone. I advised her of the situation and the fact that the dog was conscious and that I had taken it to a vet.
Her reply, liberally interspersed with negative assessments of my mother’s sexual habits, my family lineage, and my own proclivities, basically indicated that she had been unjustly used, she most certainly had not been speeding, I had effected attempted murder on her pooch, and that I should be glad I took the canine to a veterinarian because I was a public servant, and she was the blankety-blank public! If I had a problem with that, her attorney would make things even more clear to me. We were fortunate that she was not suing us for the way she’d been so badly mistreated. Meanwhile, she was leaving to go pick up her car, which we had unlawfully impounded! George and I looked at each other.
Speeding, disturbing the peace, battery on a police officer, resisting arrest, and wanton endangerment of a domestic animal.
Servant? I don’t think so.
By the way…the dog recovered nicely, and much sooner that its mistress.