It's dead, in the road: 'Dr. Death' gets the call

November 27, 1992|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Staff Writer

Tom Greenbank checks his notes: cat in Savage, deer and cat in Ellicott City, deer in Lisbon.

That's a full night's work for Howard County's one-man road-kill crew.

"Friends call me Dr. Death and that sort of thing," Mr. Greenbank says. "They go, 'Oh, geez, how can you do that?'

"Hey, you know, what can I say? Somebody's got to."

Mr. Greenbank, a 40-year-old former Marine, has picked up dead animals in the county for three years.

In Baltimore and in the other counties around Baltimore, that repugnant job is mercifully shared by workers from various city and county departments. State workers pick up carcasses on state roads.

But when you spot a dead deer next to a Howard County road, you know that Tom Greenbank will probably get the call.

He works during the day for the state police, repairing and maintaining its entire motorcycle fleet as well as the undercover cars and cruisers in Montgomery County.

He takes a break each afternoon and calls the county animal control division. He scribbles notes as he gets his assignments for the night.

Then he rides his motorcycle or drives his car home to Highland in the southern part of the county, and slides into his Chevrolet S10 pickup. It pulls a small, open trailer.

Armed with a flashlight, plastic trash bags and thick gloves, he embarks on a journey not for the fainthearted. Sometimes it's sad. Sometimes it's grisly.

But Mr. Greenbank doesn't seem to mind -- most of the time.

"There are times I am retching, yes," he says. "I don't think anybody alive could stomach some of this stuff.

"Say you've got a deer that's been lying there in 90-degree heat for a week, and you've got to bag it. Now that's a bad one.

"But again, it's part of the job."

He lives in a modest house on the same 60 acres where he grew up. He says growing up on a farm probably helps him tolerate his night job; birth and death are commonplace on farms. He has two children at home, and his mother lives on the property. He also has a dog and two cats. He doesn't hunt. He's an animal lover, he says.

So why does he spend his evenings picking up dead animals? For the money.

He won the job by submitting a bid after a friend gave it up three years ago. He gets paid per carcass.

He doesn't like to say how much, because he wants to win the job again when bids are due.

"There's no way in the world you could make a living doing this," he says. "For me, it just means I don't have to cinch my belt so tight."

He hasn't taken a vacation in three years because he's on call seven days a week. But only once has he gotten called on a weekend, when a county police car hit a horse.

Usually there are dead animals to pick up two or three nights a week. He says he averages 30 to 40 a month.

"I've had dogs, cats, raccoons and all kinds of other animals," he says. "I had a buzzard once. That was one of the more ironic ones I've ever had."

More than half are deer.

That's because animal-control wardens, when they have time, pick up some of the smaller animals during the day. They leave him the big ones, and the smaller ones left over.

All aren't on roadsides. Many are on private property.

On this night, Mr. Greenbank is crawling on his belly under a deck in Savage to retrieve a decomposing cat. In Ellicott City, he removes a furry kitten -- "gray tabby," his notes read -- from the bushes outside a house.

He loads up a deer, a once-handsome buck, on Old Columbia Pike in Ellicott City.

With one deer and two cats in his trailer, he drives back to the Beltway around to the southern tip of Baltimore. He delivers the carcasses to Valley Proteins Inc., a rendering plant that will process them into animal byproducts.

He stops for a late dinner at Taco Bell.

"It's not for everybody," he says of his job. "It's not for most people."

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