Origins: It sounds like the outline for a modern day Mack Sennett two-reeler: An intoxicated driver is making his way home when suddenly a "deer jumps out and hits his car." Believing the animal to be dead and not wanting a good deer to go to waste, the man loads it into his back seat and continues on his way. The deer is only stunned, however, and within short order it revives, begins thrashing around, and bites the driver on the neck. The hapless driver stops at a phone booth to summon help and is immediately set upon by a hostile dog who bites him in the leg as he desperately tries to fend it off with a knife and a tire iron. He finally achieves temporary safety by locking himself in a phone booth, from which he calls 911 (while being held at bay by the snarling dog) to request a "bambulance," darting in and out of the booth in drunken desperation as he tries to avoid the angry mongrel while looking for landmarks and street signs to help describe his location to the harried emergency dispatcher.
Maybe this scenario hasn't quite made it to the silver screen yet, but it has provided amusement to thousands of listeners over the years because it was all captured on audio tape. Or was it?
Multiple versions of this call have been circulating via traded cassette tapes (and later over the Internet) since the 1970s, and transcripts of the call have appeared in countless newspaper columns. As expected, many different cities and states have been cited as the location where this incident supposedly took place. When the "bambulance" call spread throughout Missouri in 1989 (in a version claiming that it had taken place in Missouri),
A hoax is indicated from internal evidence on the tape, such as the dispatcher's referring to "911" even though Poughkeepsie had no 911 service back in 1974. The fact that there are multiple versions of this tape in existence doesn't exactly inspire confidence in its authenticity, but this is not conclusive disproof, as some people might have
A 1999 article in 9-1-1 Magazine states that the most common version of the "bambulance" call (the one linked in the "Additional Information" section below) came from a 1991 phone call to the Cypress Creek EMS, an ambulance provider in the Houston area. The call was a joke, created and pulled off by Mickey Dawes, a representative of the company who provided the software for Cypress Creek's 911 system, "as a prank to loosen up a dispatcher nervous about using the unfamiliar, computer-aided dispatch system." Dawes had supposedly pulled this stunt more than once: The first time in 1980 when Dawes was a police officer in Newburgh,
9-1-1 Magazine's account sounds right in some details, but not in others. It explains why the legend seemingly originated in Poughkeepsie (even though the most common version of the tape is clearly not from the Poughkeepsie call) but it doesn't explain how this recording could have been circulating back in the 1970s and how Poughkeepsie dispatcher Al Clouser could claim he fielded the original "bambulance" call back in 1974 when Mickey Dawes supposedly didn't invent the prank until 1980. Nor does it explain why Clouser would maintain to Elaine Viets many years later that the call was real, since someone surely must have clued him in that it was all a prank by then. (On the other hand, nothing in the account of Viets' sleuthing, as related by Brunvand. says that Clouser claimed the call was genuine; merely that he had indeed handled such a call and believed it to be real at the time. Perhaps as befitting his now "legendary" status, Clouser didn't want to ruin a good story with extraneous information such as his finding out later that the whole thing was a joke.)
Other equally amusing (and equally apocryphal) legends about "believed dead but merely stunned" animals have also been known for many years (see our Deja 'Roo page, for example), but our other favorite "phone call about a deceased deer" anecdote comes from a Herb Caen column:
Dispatcher: ''Dead phone? Call 611.''
| "Bambulance" 911 call |
| The Deer, the Dog, and the Bambulance |
Last updated: 3 August 2011
Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Baby Train. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993. ISBN 0-393-31208-9 (pp. 270-272). Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Truth Never Stands in the Way of a Good Story. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois, 2000. ISBN 0-252-02424-9 (pp. 76-83). Caen, Herb. "Man Playing Typewriter." The San Francisco Chronicle. 5 April 1994 (p. C1). Larson, Randall D. "The Deer, the Dog, and the Bambulance." 9-1-1 Magazine. Roeper, Richard. "You Never Know When You're on the Record." Chicago Sun-Times. 21 June 1993 (p. 11). Viets, Elaine. "A Man, a Deer, a Dog, and 911." St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 3 January 1989 (p. D3).
Also told in:
The Big Book of Urban Legends. New York: Paradox Press, 1994. ISBN 1-56389-165-4 (p. 48).