The Fugitive: wandering dogs and absconding cats at the vet hospital
Every hospital, provided it’s been in business long enough, has at least one story about The Fugitive. Usually reserved as a cautionary tale for all new employees, it’s one most of us don’t want to relive.
Our hospital has one famous case of a dog who escaped its collar and leash, tore through the hospital in a panic and fled through the back door at the exact moment the back door had been opened to dump the morning’s mop water.
The panicking dog headed straight for the busiest adjacent street and disappeared, blocks away, into the heavy brush bordering the nearby railroad tracks. We followed him that far…then the trail went cold. He was recaptured by his owners...days later. He had apparently been wisely shadowing the tracks but was found miles away in an unsafe industrial district.
This was before the advent of microchips. And so we expected the worst. We were lucky.
In case you don’t know the rules, the hospital is legally responsible for any abscondee emerging from within its doors. No matter that the dog’s collar was loose enough for an elephant to get its head through. No matter that the owner was currently controlling the dog. Our facility was not secure. And that’s ultimately our responsibility.
The great escape stories abound at vet hospitals so that receptionists will remember to offer noose-style leashes to owners of unwieldy dogs wearing insecure gear. They exist so that lab techs will keep doors closed. They are re-told to kennel staff every time the back door to the outside world is found unlocked or open for more than a few seconds.
My favorite fugitive story is of the kitty named Midnight. About five years ago Midnight escaped my(!) arms and knew exactly where to go to gain her freedom: through the back door left slightly ajar by a hose being used to help scour an extra-soiled kennel.
Midnight made it over a wall and all the way to a thick bramble of mature bougainvillea bushes at the next-door apartment complex. By the time I emerged, my pants were ripped, my skin was torn and the cat was now under a parked car in a busy parking lot.
Scrambling commando-style under the car I miraculously grabbed her tail then her scruff, sustaining four or five bite wounds in the process. I spent the rest of the day at the emergency room getting fed a big dose of IV antibiotics. It was worth it (and not just because the bougainvillea thorn punctures were probably deeper than Midnight’s bites).
The owner, quite far from being angry or alarmed by Midnight’s near-death experience, sent me a generous gift certificate for a celebrated local Italian restaurant. (The way to your vet’s heart, incidentally, is through food.)
By comparison, yesterday’s fugitive was tame. Overnight, a poorly latched kitty condo had been quitted by the day’s previous enucleation case. “Lockdown” was immediately declared. But thankfully, the freaked-out one-eyed kitty had made her way only as far as the surgical suite. We found her comfortably nestled among the dental equipment.
It’s frightening and potentially fatal but it’s also inevitable—we are human after all. And while it’s no consolation, I’d like to think it happens to the best of us.
PS: Sorry for the disturbing photo...I just couldn't resist.