No matter whether the route is suburban or urban, animals are always there.
Like many other meter readers I used to carry around big bags of pet food and gallon jugs of water in my ’79 Mercury Capri. Some meter readers were dog magnets but I was a cat magnet.
I rescued more than 25 cats from different situations and found homes for all of them.
I was reading a house near the yet-to-be-completed Auraria Campus and came around the corner to find five kittens in the 95-degree sun. Their mother was about 10 feet away and a squirrel was approaching the three-week old kittens. The mom and squirrels ran and I was left with five filthy dehydrated creatures. They had scrambled from under the house a few feet away for whatever reason. I went to the front door and asked about the kittens but they didn’t speak English and just waved dismissively at the kitten I was holding.
I finished my route and came back about an hour later with a big cardboard box. The squirrel was back and the kittens had scrambled back out into the hot sun. I realized I had to check under the house for any remaining kittens or else they’d be left behind. Blindly I put my hand under the edge of the house and felt around. I had to lay on my belly in the dirt swept clean by an old broom leaning nearby but it was no good, by the time I was done I was as filthy as the kittens.
I quietly packed them out and took them to my vet, Westminster Vet Clinic. I had a good relationship with them and would bring in pathetic specimens that they would spay, neuter and give shots all for $20. The vets there could whip off a set of testicles in just a few minutes and I would take the sleeping patient home.
I always found homes for the cats but the litter of five kittens had one that remained with me. I named him Boyfriend. He was with me for 7 years.
Every cat I rescued ended up having a good life. Most came from dubious surroundings and circumstances.
I was reading meters near Morrison Road and Federal when I noticed something in the street. It was a cat, obviously injured. I went over and the cat was still alive so I ran to the nearest house and knocked on the door. I asked if they had an old magazine or box I could put an injured cat in. The woman told me to get lost and just leave the cat in the road to die; there were too many of them in the neighborhood anyway.
She shut the door in my face and I went around the corner to where she had a stack of old newspapers. I took a few of them a rigged up a type of sling. I gently moved the cat onto the sling while cars went past me. I picked up the cat (this trick also works with broken limbs on people; use a magazine, secure it with tape to immobilize the break) and walked back to my car. Lucky for me there was a vet about 2 blocks away and I took the kitty there. They rushed it back to the surgery area. I called a few hours later and they said the cat would be fine that its hip was broken but they already had someone to adopt it. They called the cat Meter.
One lady over on the north side of Morrison Road had a really keen setup for her dozens of outdoor cats. She had transformed an old shed into a kitty condo and on cold days all the cats lounged in relative warmth on stacks of newspapers and discarded baby blankets. No housecat had a better life than those felines.
I was reading near the old Children’s Hospital on a row of houses facing south whose facades were in contrast to the restored homes on the streets facing west and east. I’ve always had a funny feeling about houses on streets that run east and west. They’re not situated as well as houses that run north and south. It’s a funny feeling that I can’t explain.
Anyway, I was in the basement reading the gas meter and it was mostly dark down there. A little female calico came up and started rubbing on my leg and then moved to a tall storage cabinet in the corner. She was insistent, pawing and scratching at the closed cabinet doors. I opened the door and inside are 6, tiny and weak kittens.
I went upstairs and casually mentioned the cat and kittens and the lady’s response was she didn’t want the cats and was hoping they were dead by now. I bid the lady farewell and got to the closest phone (no cell phones then) I could find and called Animal Control. They were there within 10 minutes and I watched from the other side of the street as the technician carted out mama and her family.
Dogs seem to fare the worse than cats in cold weather and I’m astounded by how poorly people treat their animals. Almost every meter reader got to be on a first-name basis with Animal Control during the winter.
Few breeds are as misunderstood and mistreated as pit bulls. But like with all things, the dog depends on the owner. In Denver it seems like the required accessory for every pit bull is a heavy chain around its neck and cold weather meant the dog couldn’t get to somewhere warm. Most makeshift doghouses are flimsy shacks and I saw hundreds of dogs shivering in the cold.
Public Service used to supply meter readers with dog treats: Lollipups. Dogs hate them. They do, however like Milk Bones. I used to plan out my route each morning and count out how many dog bones I’d need that day. I used to buy a box each week and figured it was cheap insurance against a dog bite.
There is a house just off Federal near the old Columbine Steak House that had rows of pit bulls on chains stationed all around the house. These dogs were the real thing.
What’s funny about being a meter reader is sometimes you get bored and are up for a challenge. Counting steps in between meters, seeing how many meters you can read in 2 minutes, trying to read meters with your eyes crossed, stuff like that. Making friends with 8 truly vicious pit bulls seemed like fun.
It took 3 months and those dogs were tail wagging, tongue-lolling goofballs when they saw me coming.
The owner was home one day when I was reading and he was truly astounded at his dog’s reactions to me. He’d gotten the dogs because he was a “business man” and wanted to keep his merchandise safe. He was disappointed that his dogs were under the spell of a box of Milk Bones. The dogs disappeared a few months after that and a new, dog-less tenant moved in.
September is the worst time of the year for young animals. Oh, the days are warm but the nights are starting to get chilly and by the end of the month the weak and sick have been weeded out.
That happened one chilly September day, you know the kind of day, you need a jacket but the sun is still warm and promising although snow is just around the corner. I went into a hair salon on 20th Street in downtown and was let out into a small courtyard where the meters lived. There was a lone tree in the middle of this courtyard and ground came alive with cats scurrying up the tree and out of reach. The only thing left was a kitten: Feral, dirty, huddled and obviously cold. The others had been trying to keep this starving kitten warm but bailed at the sight of me. The kitten took a quick glance at me and looked away, resigned to its fate. I picked it up and slipped it in to my jacket and zipped it up. I finished reading the meters and the kitten ended up in a warm, loving home where he never had to spend another night outside.
I love cats but snakes are creatures I can’t abide. There’s a house down near Broadway and Ellsworth that had snake paradise in his basement. I got in trouble for not reading the meters there but one trip down those stairs was all I needed to balk reading those meters. Snakes have a certain smell and the venomous snakes are the worst. I needed therapy after being in an enclosed space with those things. I asked the guy if one had ever gotten out, what would he do? He told me he was trying to find some sort of viper that had gotten out. I’ve never left a house so fast.
Just up from that house was a house with two BIG German shepherds. These dogs were nuts and would throw themselves at the big picture window whenever anyone would go by. I was walking the same direction as the mailman who was unfortunate enough to walk up the steps to that house just as the dogs threw themselves against the window breaking it into a thousand pieces. The dogs apparently retreated into the house, bloody and unhinged by their dirty deed. The mailman left a trail of mail all the way back to his truck.
Many people have dogs for protection and these days I see fewer and fewer Doberman Pinschers. Oh, I see those little shrunken versions of those big beautiful dogs but so few of the real Dobermans.
There was an elegant Victorian house on Pearl Street just off Alameda that had an easy to open gate. No message came up on my computer saying anything about a dog. A beautiful Doby was waiting for me by the meter. He regarded me with speculative appraisal but seemed friendly enough. I said hello but kept an eye on him. After a moment he trotted off and I though all was well. The funny thing about Dobermans is that they’ll let you in the yard but won’t let you out. He sat in front of the gate wasn’t going to move. Milk Bones wouldn’t even sway him. I finally had to slowly walk around to the back of the yard and climb over the 6-foot fence to get out. As I brought my leg over the fence he threw himself against the fence with alarming force.
Meter readers have lists of dogs they consider most dangerous. My list from worst to best was: Cocker Spaniels, Chow-Chows, Dalmatians, German Shepherds, Pit bulls.
I hate Cocker Spaniels. They’re deceptive and seem friendly but they’ll bite you and grind their teeth while they have your leg in their mouth. Chow-Chows are very straightforward – they’re vicious and dangerous animals but will give you the chance to get away. Dalmatians are crazy; they’ve been inbred so much they’re psycho. German Shepherds are guard dogs and are big enough to knock you down. Pit bulls you can negotiate with. Sometimes.
I was reading for another meter reader named Devin, it was a 16 near Mississippi and Mariposa and the owners, two brothers, were standing outside of the gate to their property. They had a Chow that had made trouble before they proudly told me so I asked the owners to hold him while I went in and read the meters. We have owners hold dogs all the time but we don’t trust owners more than we trust their freaking dogs but I went in anyway.
Next thing I hear is yelling. I mean blood-curdling yelling and that Chow is coming at me doing 100. At that time I used to carry dog spray and I pulled it off my computer, shook it, aimed (remember, I hit everything I aim at) and pushed the button. Out came a stream of red-hot pepper spray and I got the dog right in the eyes. He shook his head twice, growled and showed me a row of pearly whites. I sprayed him a second time with no effect. I did what anyone would do – I threw the pepper spray at him. Hit square on the bridge of the nose. That just pissed him off and he charged. I clocked him a good one with the computer right across the bridge of his nose and rattled his caboose. I decided to run and went for the fence which was an old wire fence that when I stepped on it, it gave way and I hyperextended my knee and landed on my back. The owner had just come around the corner and caught the dog before he got over the fence.
I limped around the property, knee useless and I was cursing, actually creating curse words I was so mad. When I came to the front of the property the brothers were engaged in a knock down fight. I called them both fuckers and limped back to my car.
The next morning I came in with a huge splint on my knee, unable to walk, work or get my own Pepsi. Devin seemed surprised when I told him I was in the yard with the dog – he never went in there, he said ROF. Though I couldn’t walk, I still managed to come over the table where we were sitting and went for his throat. I was going to kill him.
A friend of mine, Mike grabbed me and carried me out of the meeting room.
“Now, now, you don’t want to kill Devin today,” Mike said.
Devin got into a lot of trouble for me getting injured. He should have had a comment on there about a vicious dog and fucker brothers. It’s been more than 20 years but my knee still hurts.
That episode gave me a personal truth that I held with sincere belief: Never, ever run. Stay, get enraged, fight, fight dirty but never run.
This post is part of a series on my days as a meter reader for Public Service Company of Colorado from 1989 – 1995.