All-God's Creatures Sam Treasure spends his days on the streets rounding up the stray and the unwanted. The veteran dogcatcher tries to minister to lost humans, too.

December 21, 1998|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,SUN STAFF

On a cold, crisp morning, Sam Treasure patrols a leafy neighborhood in northwest Baltimore, looking for a medium-sized white female who has been causing trouble.

"She's threatened a couple of children," he says, turning his truck down another street. "Grabbed one by his ankle. Didn't break the skin, thank goodness."

Treasure spots a couple of cats, several kids dragging off late to school, folks putting out garbage. But not his suspect.

He turns again, down an alley. The white truck, its sides studded with cages, slows to a crawl.

His targets tend to pop up suddenly, he says. "That's how I spotted them yesterday. There was three of them with her. I chased them all the way to Duvall Avenue, but I couldn't corner them in no place. They know the trucks, they break as soon as they see them. They know how to run through the yards, to go in the front and out the back."

It's another chapter in the never-ending search for delinquent dogs. Sam Treasure is a veteran animal enforcement officer, a public servant better known as The Dogcatcher.

In his 28 years at the Bureau of Animal Control in South Baltimore, the 61-year-old warden has gained rare insight into the city and its many creatures. He has protected people from vicious and ignorant animals and animals from vicious and ignorant people.

He has rescued emaciated dogs, found help for tortured cats. He has been a final friend to thousands of pets who, for one reason or another, outgrew their welcome. And he has comforted their owners.

Each day provides fresh proof of the world's unpredictability: its snarling strays, its well-intentioned souls. But Sam Treasure, as a dedicated member of Brooklyn's Church on the Rock, chooses to minister to all he finds, whether they inhabit spit-spot rowhouses or alleys with more rats than garbage cans.

Driving through a drug-infested corridor of Pimlico, Treasure shakes his head at the teen-agers who should be in school. From his perspective, this neighborhood has as many needy humans as animals.

"I had a prostitute jump in the truck one time," he recalls. "I said, 'Look, ma'am, you're a beautiful woman. There's something else out there you can find to do. Don't go doing stuff like this, you can wind up with a disease!' "

He gave her a religious tract and $2 to buy milk for her children. Treasure has nine of his own, as well as 23 grandkids, two great-grandkids and two more on the way. He thinks of them whenever he sees young lives spoiling on the streets, sees the work to be done.

His next assignment is to pick up T.J., a not-wanted cat who belongs to an elderly woman with a notary-public sign. She seems embarrassed as if this transaction were a bad smell she hopes no one will mention. After all, she is consigning a healthy, unsuspecting pet to probable death. Some people who call animal control to pick up pets are so ashamed they tell wardens they "just found" them.

With T.J. in the truck, Treasure turns his attention to a dog whose owners leave him outside to wander. He's a nuisance, a neighbor complains. When the warden catches him with a steel-reinforced rope, he sees that the dog has no tags. No one's at his home. Treasure leads him to a cage in the truck.

"I'm glad you got that dog," calls out an elderly woman in curlers, raking leaves in a nearby yard. "You have a nice day, now."

Treasure tips his cap.

The next pickup is a not-wanted near Garrison Middle School. When he arrives, Mada Dean is waiting out front in her nightgown and slippers, gospel music spilling from her house. She seems dazed. Her landlord has ordered her to get rid of Chelsea, the skinny chestnut-colored dog who is straining at her leash. Chelsea also has five tiny puppies in the garage.

"We've had Chelsea five years," Dean tells Treasure. "The landlord, he won't let me keep her. She's no trouble. Just some people don't like animals."

Treasure nods sympathetically. "I don't know if they told you this on the phone," he begins gently, "but there's no guarantee what happens to the dog. You understand? In other words, I can take her right in and "

He stops abruptly as Dean's eyes fill with tears. He takes her aside for a private moment of consolation. Then he turns his attention toward soothing Chelsea and the box of puppies Dean's companion brings toward the truck.

"You can at least try to get her adopted, don't just kill her," Dean sniffs. "She's real smart, she's real obedient, she's housebroken and everything. She'd be really good once she got her nourishment back together. The puppies were taking a lot from her."

Treasure settles the confused and skeptical dog into a cage with her squeaking, squirming babies. "There you go, girlie," he says.

So far, Chelsea's life has been mostly bad news. Before she found Mada Dean, she was used as bait to train pit bulls for fighting. Then she got pregnant. Then she alienated the landlord: Maybe she barked a lot, maybe a neighbor just had something against her. At this point, it doesn't matter.

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