NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas (AP) — His coworkers at the Comal County Road Department call him "The Undertaker."
For six years, Robert Davidson's job has been to drive a truck around the county and scoop up the dead animals that litter the roads.
In a typical month, he'll retrieve about 60 deer and a smattering of just about anything that prowls the Hill Country: raccoons, opossums, bobcats, porcupines, armadillos, foxes, family pets, even vultures that got hit by cars while dining on road kill.
"This isn't the most flashy job, but I asked for it and I got it. The reason I wanted this job — I'm out here by myself," said Davidson, 61, dressed in his usual starched shirt and starched jeans, with a cowboy hat and spit-shined boots. "They trust me to go out and do my job and I do. Plus, this job doesn't have a lot of stress. That's something I don't need."
No stress, but plenty of rotting carcasses.
On a recent weekday Robertson patrolled about 200 of the 1,200 miles of county roads, accompanied by an assistant he pulled off the brush and paint crew because his usual truck, which has a lift in the back for large animals, was in the shop.
Chris Underwood was somewhat reluctant to join The Undertaker.
"I got volunteered into this," Underwood said. "I'm low man on the totem pole. I've only been here two months."
A fellow employee had described to Underwood what it was like helping Davidson retrieve a dead deer and goat from the Guadalupe River.
"I remember that," Davidson said. "They'd been there for a while and they just disintegrated. Every time I grabbed it, the skin or whatever would just slide off."
In another instance, Davidson recalled using a front end loader to retrieve a 600-pound cow.
"It was all bloated and it popped," he said. "All the guts and maggots spilled out."
But the job is not all glamour and excitement.
On this day, the pickings were somewhat slim. By lunch, Davidson and Underwood had collected two deer, some scattered pieces of another badly decomposed deer, parts of two feral hogs that had been butchered and dumped beside the road, an old washing machine and a chicken.
Residents, patrolling sheriff's deputies and road workers report road kill locations to the road department. Davidson stumbles on others while driving to and from calls. Vultures often give the locations away long before he spots his quarry.
At the end of each shift, he drives his macabre load to the county landfill and dumps it.
The county made his job a full-time position more than a decade ago, when a growing population brought more road kill and rising demand for its speedy removal.
Often, vehicle-injured deer stumbled away from roadways before expiring, but it was deemed improper for the county to spend taxpayer money to get them off private property. A few years ago, however, the county changed its policy to allow The Undertaker to enter people's yards to remove dead animals.
"We don't want rotting animals out there," said Road Superintendent Gene Szakacsy. "It's a health hazard and it can smell. This is a courtesy we provide to county residents.
"I can tell you, it's probably one of the least attractive jobs we have," he added. "It takes a strong constitution and mindset to do something like that."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press
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