Dogs and cats. And skunks and snakes? Unpredictability is predictable in this job.
By KL Snyder | Photography by Kelvin Andow
Officer Lisa Kelley of Rochester Animal Control sums up her job: enforcement of the city’s animal ordinances and care of the animals at the shelter.
She should add: and expectation of surprises. In her 17 years as an animal control officer (ACO) for the city, she’s come across surprises aplenty.
For example, she responded to a call about an unidentified flying creature that had crashed through someone’s upstairs bathroom window. Wondering what she would find, Lisa “carefully opened the door and found a wild turkey. I put it into a pet carrier and relocated it.”
Besides turkeys, cats and dogs, Lisa has dealt with “ferrets, all kinds of birds, rodents, bats, snakes (domestic and wild), geese, chickens, goats, sheep, horses, raccoons, skunks, opossums, deer, fox and probably more I cannot remember.”
The work is never done either
A part of the police department, Rochester Animal Control has three ACOs whose responsibilities include cleaning kennels, feeding the animals, posting photos of found strays and pets eligible for adoption, microchipping, plus lots more.
Out in the field, the ACOs investigate reports of barking dogs, aggressive dogs and dog bites, pick up dead animals and help pets whose owners have died. During warm months, the officers check on pets left in parked cars and then locate the owners and “educate them,” ACO Katie Wilson says, “on local ordinances and pet safety.”
Most calls involve dogs running loose. How do you catch a roving Rover? Lisa recommends patience and treats.
To avoid appearing a threat, ACO Erica Crowson will lie down and avoid eye contact. “I look at the ground in front of the dog,” she says. “You have to gain their trust, get them to take treats.” Sometimes that takes three hours.
ACOs handle dangerous animals “slowly and carefully,” Lisa says. “We have good equipment, including snare poles, gloves, snake tongs and live traps.”
“You never want to turn your back on an aggressive dog,” says Erica, who in eight years on the job has never been bitten.
She, Lisa and Katie, who joined animal control in May, see too much neglect and abuse. In one of Erica’s grisliest cases, one owner had stabbed his dog in its neck, nicking its jugular vein.
“We knew the dog well,” Erica says. They’d found her running loose four times, and four times the owner had reclaimed her. Erica answered the abuse call and found the terrier bleeding out, her owner high on drugs and hallucinating.
“I did what I could for the dog,” Erica says. “I knew if I made one wrong move, she would die.” Plying her vet tech skills and police medical training, Erica got her patient, alive, to the emergency vet.
There’s a tail-wagging outcome: The dog healed, bore no grudges against humans and got adopted by a police officer.
No goats allowed
Rochester Animal Control Shelter can hold 30 cats and 40 dogs. And no exotic pets. But just because exotics aren’t permitted in the city limits doesn’t mean the officers don’t encounter them. The ACOs try to quickly find other shelters interested in taking members of Rochester’s banned species. “Sometimes we take the animals home with us,” says Erica who once harbored a goat.
As for dogs and cats, the shelter keeps them seven days. Then they become city property and can go up for adoption for a fee of $15, which includes microchipping.
An arrangement between Animal Control and Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC) benefits both organizations. RCTC’s Veterinary Technology program provides medical tests, care and supplies and vaccinations for distemper and rabies. And it helps with spaying/neutering and microchipping.
In turn, the animals help teach the students, says instructor Cathy DesLauriers, CVT. “It’s a learning experience for the students and a socializing experience for the animals, and socializing makes them more adoptable.”
She and colleague Kimberly Rowley, DVM, also do behavior assessments on the dogs. “If they have aggressive tendencies, are hyper or strong, we let the officers know,” Cathy says. “We might recommend that a dog would do better in a household with no small children. And the officers listen to our recommendations.”
A helping paw, a good companion
Further aid comes from animal rescue organizations Paws and Claws Humane Society (PCHS) and Camp Companion.
PCHS covers the cost of emergency vet services for Rochester Animal Control and takes pets that have been at the city shelter so long they’re in danger of euthanasia. “We also spay and neuter the Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes that come through their door,” PCHS manager Tanya Johnson says.
Camp Companion helps ACOs capture strays and assists with feral cat colonies, says the agency’s director, Michele Quandt. “I’ve visited many animal control facilities, and Rochester has a good one with a clean, safe environment and officers doing everything they can to advertise their animals.”
Publicity by Facebook. “Mention our Facebook page,” Katie says. “We encourage people to like our page because that helps get the word out.” OK, Katie, here it is: facebook.com/RochesterMNAnimalControl
A call for volunteers
Rochester Animal Control is understaffed. “We’re supposed to have four officers, but we’ve got only three,” Erica says. “And because the city is growing, we could really use more help.”
A few volunteers would aid. “We have none right now,” Katie says, “and we could use some to help with cleaning and socializing. Also, we take donations—blankets, towels, unopened treats.”
“And money,” Erica says.
Downsides and upsides
The worst of the job is euthanasia. The shelter puts it off unless the pet is very aggressive or very sick. “Even putting down the aggressive ones, knowing their potential danger and that nobody wants them, is still a bad feeling,” Erica says.
“I always get choked up,” says Lisa.
Difficult, too, is seeing neglect and abuse and dealing with the villains who inflict it.
On the other hand, ACOs get to reunite animals and owners and, Katie says, “see the love people have for their pets.”
“People are so thankful when we find their dog safe and healthy,” Erica says.
Another perk, says Lisa, “is coming to work in the morning and the animals are all so happy to see you.”
“Animals and law enforcement,” Katie says, “I’m exactly where I want to be.”
KL Snyder is a freelance writer, dog-owner and soon-to-be volunteer at the Rochester Animal Control Shelter.
When is it too hot to leave your dog in the car?
Rochester Animal Control Officer Lisa Kelley has a request and a guideline:
“Please don’t leave your dog in a car when the temperature is above 60 degrees. We get so many calls on this, it’s ridiculous. Sometimes the dogs are fine, but this is Minnesota and the weather can change at any moment. I understand the good intent of taking the dog for a ride, but a ride is very different from sitting in a hot vehicle for any length of time.
And in turn, please don’t call animal control when it’s cool outside and the dog is fine in the vehicle. I understand the concern, but this is a case-by-case issue. Sixty degrees is a good rule to follow.”
Sally the St. Bernard/something else
“We meet the abandoned, neglected animals,” says Rochester Animal Control Officer Erica Crowson. Animals such as 3-year-old Sally, a blend of St. Bernard and—
“We say St. Bernard/terrier, but it’s just a guess. She is huge and not trained and there’s no one to work with her and she jumps on people.”
Still, Sally has potential. I visited her in September, three months after she’d come as a stray to the city shelter. She lived in a double kennel with an opening between the sections. I was on the other side of the bars, and she stuck her tongue between them and licked my hands and arms. When she ducked her head in a play bow, I got the hint and ran back and forth in front of her kennel. She chased along. What fun!
Then I had to leave. She gave me that sad-eyed look dogs do (she excelled), sighed and sagged against the bars. I felt as crushed as she looked.
Animal control’s $15 adoption fee can fetch you a gem. I’d have taken Sally in a nanosecond if I didn’t already have Chester, the best dog ever, and another spaniel named Snicket who’s beginning to grow on me.
And Sally? Sally bewitched another dog lover and got adopted.
Rochester Animal Control Office/Shelter
2150 Campus Dr. SE