Back in the 1960s I was known locally as the dog killer. Before you get all humpty and start a furious dose of complaints, let me explain.
My wee hometown of Shettleston wasn’t a middle class suburb; it was a sprawling inner city scheme with a big steel factory, some shops and a whole heap of working class people, some quite poor.
Poor people like dogs. I have no idea why skint folk would want yet another mouth to feed, but they do.
We had a dog called Major who was rather economical with his friendship and loved nothing more than biting strangers and priests. (I suspect my Catholic-hating mammy taught him that one.)
I loved Major with all the passion a small child can have for her pet.
I would often question his need to attack the kids next door who were unfortunately mentally challenged. I always felt bad when he barked and snarled at them. They just didn’t move fast enough for him; he smelled their weakness and hated their stupidity in forgetting he was a ‘biter’ and continually snapped at them. They would try to stroke him and I would scream: “Don’t!” Major’s jaws would clamp at their fingers and the look of contempt he gave them was horrifying.
“Your dog is bad,” the blonde girl who looked at the ceiling when she spoke stuttered.
“I told you not to go near him. He is on the leash for a reason – he bites people,” I argued back.
The minute Major was out of the entrance to the flats he would pull on that leash and practically drag me down the burn hill towards the green park that skirted our streets. The flatness of the park stretched all the way up towards the housing scheme at Barlinnie Prison.
I was told never to let him off that leash, but he would beg and scratch at me to let him roam free. “Major, if I let you off the leash, you wont bite anyone or run away will you?” I begged him and bent down to his face. He stared at me with big glassy dog eyes and would lick me, then put his bony skull against my knee. I would relent and pull the leash off.
Major would slowly walk off sniffing and peeing on the stony ground at the football pitches. Then, without a blink of an eye, he would turn on his tail and break into a run. I would scream after him; he never looked back; he just ran and ran in a straight line towards the old houses up in High Carntyne. I was hysterical and exhausted with chasing him. Finally I would give up and sit on a patch of cold grass and weep my eyes out.
I was in trouble. Major was off and running and I had let him go. He would bite people, he would get knocked down by a car or just die in the cold night and it would all be my stupid fault.
I remember staying out in the rain for hours just shouting his name across the park. I couldn’t go up to High Carntyne as it was out of bounds and I needed to get home. Finally I would give up and stumble home with a dog leash in my hand only to find Major sitting at our front door snarling at the neighbour’s kids. He was mad as a brush.
I became the dog killer when older people in the area spotted my amazing dog handling skills – or they were out of options and just needed a child who wasn’t scared of dogs in general.
You see, back in those days people didn’t brush their dogs’ teeth, or tie ribbons in their hair, or carry them in handbags. Dogs were mainly cross breeds or mongrels that lived for ages and were largely healthy robust creatures. They raided bins, ate scraps, went for walks on their own and sometimes belonged to three different families that all fed them in rotation. Dogs were sassy and clever in Glasgow in the 1960s, but they did get old and needed to be ‘put to sleep’.
That’s where I came in. People couldn’t afford to attend a vet’s and get the dog injected; they used the local police office to get rid of their old dying pets.
I was the one who used to walk the aged, ill or incredibly mental dogs up to Chester Street Police Office and pretend I had found a ‘stray’ dog. The routine was that, if you handed in a dog, they kept it for a day and then, if it wasn’t claimed, it got put to death by a local vet via the police.
The local coppers knew the routine and, depending on who you got on the desk, you could be faced with a stony stare.
I had to give a story about how I found it, where I found it and where I could be contacted. For my troubles I got two shillings per dog from the owners; it was a lucrative business for a poor kid.
One day, my old pal Mr Gibson gave me his spotted Dalmatian called Prince to be taken up to the police office.
Prince was going blind and was very old. My only worry was that Prince was very distinctive with his white coat and big black spots and, although the police didn’t usually ask me too many questions, I knew Prince might be a problem. Old Mr Gibson assured me they wouldn’t bother much and I could take the dog without worry and, if it all went wrong, he would come and help me out.
I didn’t quite believe him, but he did promise me he would let me play with his pigeons if I did the job. He had loads of pigeons that lived in his upstairs loft and they were fascinating to me (back then… I hate them now).
The bother started when I walked Prince down the street. He was now collarless. This ensured his stray status, but there was big ring of baldness round his neck that indicated he was previously collared and I had an old blue and red stripped tie with gold emblems on it that belonged to Mr Gibson round the dog’s neck. It looked like I was taking the dog to school.
As I passed the local bar, a man walked out, stared at me, looked at Prince and grabbed me by the arm.
“What you doing with Prince?” he demanded.
I recognised that he was Mr Gibson’s son John and he wasn’t happy to see a school tie round Prince’s neck. He knew this was the walk of death to Chester Street for the animal.
“Get him back up the road!” he shouted at me.
“Your Da said I had to take him. I don’t like it either but he is blind and his back end is dragging.” I spoke as if I was medically enabled to give such detailed diagnosis. Poor Prince simply hugged up against me and I felt bad. I had a routine of not hugging them too much as I was worried I would get too involved and fail my duty. I understood that really sick dogs needed to be put to sleep, it was cruel to keep them alive and the two shillings always came in handy.
“You are a wee dog killer, Janey Currie!” he shouted at me and ran off.
I felt really awful. All the way up the road, people kept stopping me and asking why Prince was wearing a school tie and where was I taking him?
Finally I got the police office. The big double black doors slammed behind me and I waited for the Desk Sergeant to notice me.
Sergeant Campbell was a giant of a man; he had steely shiny white hair and a big curly brown moustache that was trimmed neatly.
“Hello, Janey, why is Prince wearing a Masonic tie?”
I stared at Prince and wondered what ‘Masonic’ was, then shuddered inside as I knew he knew Prince. I suppose it was easy to know Prince he was always out and about and was a proper big Dalmatian. Mr Gibson was playing a trick on me or underestimated the police’s good nature.
“Erm, I found this dog wandering the streets and he… had this tie on his neck when I found him,” I lied.
The big policeman looked at me over the rim of spectacles and smiled.
“Did Mr Gibson give you him to bring up here to be put down?” he whispered.
“No, erm… It looks like Prince doesn’t it? But it isn’t Prince. This one I found near my school,” I stuttered.
The policeman leaned over the counter and bellowed “Prince!” and the dog leapt up and down, wagging its tail so hard its body wiggled with the momentum. He seemed to be so happy to see the Sergeant. The poor dog then eased itself down, moaning loudly as its back legs bent to accommodate its weight.
The Masonic tie got tangled round my wrist; I tried not to look up at the policeman. I sat on the floor with Prince trying to work out what to do next, when I heard footsteps and saw the sergeant come towards me.
Poor Prince stood up to welcome a friend; he was such a lovely old dog.
The policeman took the tie off my hand and folded it neatly and held it back to me saying, “Tell old Mr Gibson we will look after Prince and make sure he gets put to sleep as soon as possible. You make sure he gets his tie back OK?”
I hugged old Prince and watched the policeman lead him gently away and vowed that was the last time I took a dog to its death.
© Janey Godley, October 2009