- Associated Press - Thursday, April 3, 2014

QUINCY, Ill. (AP) - The dogs were two of the thinnest Steve Scherer had ever come across in his 11 years as a Quincy animal control officer.

Scherer responded to a call March 11 of two dogs that were loose around Seventh and Oak. When he arrived, Scherer found a black Lab-pit bull mix unable to move, lying against a house, with a brindle Lab-pit bull mix digging into a snack of shredded meat from a nearby tavern.

“I was worried one of them was going to die in my truck on my way to Katherine Road (Animal Hospital),” he said.

The dogs were so emaciated that their ribs, spines and hips were visible. By Matt Hopf.

“When you see that, you are looking at dogs that are a mess,” Scherer said. “(The black dog) has a collar, so that means someone owned these two dogs. This isn’t an accident.”

Scherer said it is unlikely he will ever find the owner.

“They were probably abandoned in a house,” he said. “That’s what I expect.”

Scherer learned later that both dogs were expected to make a full recovery.

“They’re going to feed them up and get them to a rescue or get them adopted,” he said.

Karen Roush of Katherine Road Animal Hospital said both dogs were friendly.

“They’re very good dogs,” Rousch said one day last week. “They’re potty-trained. We took them out this morning. They went all night without going.”

The dogs were luckier than a boxer that Scherer recovered earlier this winter.

“Someone called on Seminary Road, and there was a dead dog laying back behind her house,” he said. “It was covered in snow, and it just laid down and died. It makes you sick to your stomach.”

Scherer said he can’t dwell on some of the discoveries he makes.

“In all honesty, I don’t think about this that often, because you can’t,” he said. “I have to go in to work the next day.”

One city, one officer

Scherer, a 33-year city employee, has been the only animal control officer since January 2012, when Mike Goehl resigned after nine years to work at Central Services. Goehl’s position never was filled, and it was eliminated in November 2012.

Scherer and Goehl used to divide the city in half, but now Scherer is responsible for the entire city.

The city handled 2,111 animal control calls in 2013, a 37 percent drop from just two years earlier. The number of domestic animals recovered over the same period dropped 50 percent, from 1,180 to 589, and the number of wild animals recovered dropped 47 percent from, 274 to 145.

Quincy police Sgt. Kathy Schisler, who oversees animal control, said Scherer works eight-hour days Monday through Friday and he is always on call unless he is on vacation or out of town. In those instances, a regular patrol officer has to handle animal control calls.

Because patrol officers don’t have the equipment to handle animals in their cars, they typically have to return to headquarters for the animal control truck.

“If it’s a friendly dog, they still would have to come to headquarters and get the animal control truck because we don’t want to transport animals where we transport prisoners,” Schisler said. “It’s dangerous for the dogs. It’s not just, ‘We don’t want to have fleas in our car.’ Our seats are slick, and it’s not a good place for an animal to balance.”

Patrol officers would field minor calls when the city had two animal control officers because neither worked nights or weekends. Scherer and Goehl would rotate who was on call.

Warnings or tickets?

Five residents recently blasted the city’s animal control response at a City Council meeting, saying the city does not properly respond to calls or enforce city ordinances. But the Police Department says it does the most it can with the resources it has.

Many of the complaints centered on a dog that was removed from a home on South Sixth in January. The department has forwarded the case to the Adams County state’s attorney’s office, but officials have said the dog’s owner was following a plan to improve the conditions and care of the animal.

“It could have ended in a much better way than what it did with the media circus,” Schisler said.

She said some residents think the department should write more tickets but she believes that would solve few problems.

Steve’s goal all along has been to educate people before he writes a ticket,” she said. “He may give a verbal warning and then a written warning. He’s got spreadsheets that if two years ago he gave a verbal warning to somebody, if he looked up their name in it, he would know that he gave that person a warning for that particular dog.

“Taking the money by writing them a ticket is not going to give them money to get the dogs a shot. So he’ll say: ‘I’m going to give you two weeks. You need to get the dogs shots.’ “

The department also needs proof to write a ticket if a dog has escaped its owner’s yard, meaning there has to be a witness.

“There’s a lot of people that don’t want to take the time out of their day to testify in court,” Schisler said.

Scherer doesn’t let the recent complaints about animal control bother him.

“I don’t take it personally,” he said. “They do mean well. They all care about animals. They’re just expressing it in a different way.”

Scherer said people don’t know what he can do legally or how he works to achieve results.

“Animal activists think I should just take a dog, and I can’t do that,” he said. “The people I’m taking the dog from think I should never take their dog, and sometimes I have to. So I’m making one end of the spectrum mad at all times.”

Scherer said he can immediately remove a dog only in extreme cases.

“The circumstances are not always that way, and I’m going to work hard with you to solve a problem,” he said. “If you work with me, we’re going to be just fine. Or you’re going to get fined, if it’s a repeat thing.”

Proactive versus reactive

Scherer was dispatched to an alley near 11th and Cedar on March 12 for a report of a pit bull that was loose. After checking the alley, he saw a backyard gate open where he knows a pit bull lives.

After driving around the neighborhood, he found the dog sitting near the house. The dog bolted once Scherer approached with a catch pole. After a quick chase, the dog returned to its yard, and Scherer made sure the gate was properly secured.

It was not the first time that Scherer and that dog had met.

“I’ve pepper-sprayed this dog before,” he said. “I don’t pepper-spray many things, but I’ve pepper-sprayed this dog. She turned around and gave me battle.”

Scherer attached a written warning to the home’s front door, stating that he would return to issue a fine.

Scherer said in talking with people he has met at training exercises throughout the country, it’s not unusual for cities to cut back on animal control officers.

“It’s not good,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in favor of it, but I understand. You’ve got to have a budget, and you’ve got to make decisions.”

Scherer said a city the size of Quincy should have at least two animal control officers. Since he became the only officer, Scherer said, he can’t be as proactive as he once was.

“I’m much more reactive because I have to get across the entire town,” he said. “When we had two (officers), we had the town split in half, and our response time was a lot better. We also would have a lot more time on our hands to go out and find things.”

Scherer said that even when he is off duty, he still needs to anticipate being called into work, even while running errands on the weekend.

“In my mind, I process this: What’s the most important thing in case I get called in?” he said.

Scherer said it can be fatiguing at times, especially in August, when he get lots of calls for bats. But he continues to respond to calls and checks problem areas as often as he can.

“It’s not the same thing every day,” he said.

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Online: The (Quincy) Herald-Whig, https://bit.ly/1jnlUJU

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Information from: The Quincy Herald-Whig, https://www.whig.com

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