The Rabid Dog and the Little Girl Next Door

I think I’ll begin this year’s series of blog posts by thanking the little girl next door who gave me the last half-century or so. I don’t remember her name and I’m not even sure that I knew it then. I was only five or six years old when she saved my life, so the lapse is forgivable.

We were living in a little house in Danville, Illinois, which was one end of the Central and Eastern Illinois railroad, for which my dad worked. (The other was Evansville, Indiana, where we lived later.)

It was a summer day and I was playing in the back yard when a big dog ran up to me. He seemed big to me, anyway, and friendly. Shivering and drooling with excitement to see me, like really friendly dogs were supposed to do.

So I leaned over to say hello and he licked me on the lower lip, which I thought was very nice of him, and then he ran on off.

He only made it across the street.

At that moment around the corner came a group of men—five or six, as I recall—all carrying rifles as if this were some sort of old western movie and they were a mob. Not that I made that connection at the time. They were just grown-ups doing what grown-ups do, mostly mysterious stuff, and a little scary.

Then it turned really scary, because in this case what they were doing was tracking down that dog so they could kill it. Which they did, right across the street from me.

The gunshots, of course, brought my mother running—but this was a different world and she didn’t do what you’d now expect. Instead of tackling me to the ground and calling 911 (which didn’t exist anyway), she stood there with me and we looked at the armed men gathered around the now-deceased pooch.

I guess one of them yelled over at her that they’d just shot a rabid dog, which was apparently not particularly distressing to her either, and we calmly started back inside.

Fortunately we were not alone. The little girl next door, who must have been at least a couple of years older than me, had been standing on her side of our mutual fence also watching all this. And she stopped my mother cold with these words: “I think that dog bit your little boy on the lip.”

My mother leaned down, saw that my lower lip was bleeding, and clearly did find that very distressing indeed. She picked me up and headed on foot down the street to our doctor’s office which was only about two blocks away. Didn’t lock up. Didn’t even close the back door. We just went.

The doctor was in and saw us immediately. (Like I say, a different world.) He gave me the first rabies shot in my stomach right then. I remain to this day the only person I personally know of who’s had the full series of rabies shots.

They weren’t fun, by the way. I remember vividly that the needle he used looked like it would be more appropriate for a horse.

But it would have been a lot less fun if it hadn’t been for that little girl. A bite on the lip like that, literally just inches from my brain, by an actively rabid animal? A bite that my mother almost certainly either wouldn’t have noticed or would have dismissed as just another little owie?

I might have started presenting symptoms within a couple of days. And once symptoms are displayed death is certain within a few more days. There is no effective treatment, even now, once you’re symptomatic.

So, wherever you are, little girl, if you still are, I thank you very much for my life.

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