- Associated Press - Saturday, June 6, 2015

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) - Melissa Poe, who is fairly new to animal control, recently was called to remove a snake from a guy’s basement.

Poe didn’t find the snake. But you can be sure she’ll get another chance. People who work for the Animal Control Authority eventually encounter with just about every animal.

Animal Control officers come home with some interesting tales. And hopefully not tails.

“We had a squirrel with a yogurt cup stuck on his head one time,” said Alyssa Nesiba, who is the lead animal control officer.

One day, a bird got caught up in kite string in a tree, The Grand Island Independent (https://bit.ly/1JsVMYN ) reported.

Another time officers had to collect a baby pig that had fallen out of a truck.

“I was lucky enough to not have to chase it,” Nesiba said. “But we had an officer running up and down the ditch. I don’t know how fast baby pigs run.

“Of course, we always have bystanders standing by getting a kick out of what we’re doing,” she added. “There’s no graceful way to chase four-legged animals. We’ve decided that.”

A cat is the toughest animal to deal with, especially a feral cat, said animal control officer Justin Gaunt. “Basically, it’s like trying to get ahold of furry chainsaw.”

Not long ago, Gaunt encountered “a stray cat with his head stuck in a can of dog food.” It was a feral cat, a type of animal that normally objects to receiving help.

In this case, the cat was fine until Gaunt removed the can. Then the cat took off in a hurry. “That was a first for me - a cooperative feral cat.”

Recently, “I almost got attacked by a bird,” Poe said. “There was an injured baby bird that fell out of a nest and I went to grab it.” The baby bird “kind of squeaked, and the mom came after me.” Fortunately, the bird didn’t touch Poe, who fled.

The Animal Control Authority has contracts with the city of Grand Island and Hall County. The operation is based at the Central Nebraska Humane Society.

Right now, there are three animal control officers, but they’re looking for a fourth. The officers report to Laurie Dethloff, executive director of the humane society.

The animal control officers spend much of their day corralling dogs and cats at large. But they deal with many other creatures - wild, domesticated and exotic.

“We see everything - a lot of raccoons, a lot of possums, the occasional robin,” said Gaunt. At Hall County Park, they often find baby hawks that have fallen out of their nests, Gaunt said.

They also check on the welfare of a lot of pets. In addition, they handle bite cases and aggressive animals, and assist other agencies, such as the Grand Island Police Department, Hall County Sheriff’s Office and the Health Department.

The officers are normally on duty from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. But they are on call in case something serious happens, such as bite and attack cases.

Tools used by animal control officers include catchpoles, nets, gloves, slip leashes, pepper spray and a bite stick. The latter is basically a police baton for animal control officers. Dogs will chew on the metal baton instead of a person’s arm.

But their arsenal also includes a coffee can, cat food and Vienna sausage. To collect a bat indoors, control officers use a coffee can or a net.

Poe, 26, worked with cats at the humane society before she joined Animal Control. Although she’s a cat expert, she’s becoming more familiar with dogs.

They all use the same technique in catching a dog, she said.

“You just have to sit there and talk to them, and get to be their friend,” she said. “Give them treats. We use Vienna sausages a lot.”

In addition to noisy dogs and cats, a call might involve a goose with a broken wing or a raccoon or rabbit acting oddly. Animal control officers also might help baby robins that have fallen out of their nests, squirrels or skunks.

Soon, they’ll be getting a lot of possum calls. A mother possum may die, leaving all the baby possums roaming around. “So we go and get them,” Nesiba said.

The control officers work closely with the Wildlife Rescue Team, a nonprofit organization. They also work with a raptor rescue organization.

There’s also a sad side to working with animals. Not only are some pets mistreated, but they might be left alone for a long time without enough company, food, drink or shelter.

If someone reports that an animal is being neglected or mistreated, an officer shows up “to verify that they’re not, or get them out of situation if they are,” Nesiba said.

Last year, the employees served a search warrant to seize a dog that was not receiving medical care.

Nesiba likes to see an animal gradually improve after living in a “not-so-great situation.” Some mistreated animals slowly learn how to behave like a normal dog or a cat. They also learn to trust people, she said.

Animal control employees don’t usually remove cats from trees. “Technically, we are not supposed to go high, low or in water,” said Nesiba, 22.

For felines stuck in trees, the officers get a lot of help from Grand Island firefighters.

Both wild and domestic animals wind up in window wells. Woodchucks are frequent visitors. “They tend to make their way into window wells and not know how to get out,” Nesiba said.

What draws animals to window wells? “In my opinion, it’s just a comforting space to them - down low, away from people. Usually there’s leaves and things down there,” she said.

Once, Nesiba handled a turkey buzzard call. But she’d rather not deal with turkeys.

Over a three-week period, a flock of gobblers worked its way through Grand Island.

If people call about turkeys, Nesiba is completely honest with them. She tells them, “The most I’m going to do is come into your yard, shoo them out and go on my way.” If turkeys were involved in something serious, though, she’d do a lot more.

Except for feral cats, animals know when you’re trying to help, and will let you, said Gaunt, 42. He’s been an animal control officer for almost a year.

On the same day, about three hours apart, the staff encountered two raccoons behaving strangely. The raccoons were separated by half a mile near North Road.

“They were just acting really goofy and lethargic,” Gaunt said. They suspect the behavior was due to environmental reasons - something the animals had eaten or been exposed to. One of the raccoons had to be put to sleep. The other one was released after returning to good health.

Many people worry about rabies, but in Nesiba’s three years on the job, she has never encountered a case.

If a bat has come in contact with a person, the officers will send the animal to Kansas State University for rabies testing. If an animal has not touched someone, but a citizen still has concerns, the staff will send the animal’s body to KSU, but the concerned person has to pay the $40 fee.

Even though rabies is rare, there are many other diseases that could strike an animal, Nesiba said.

Animals are often struck and killed by vehicles. If the officers are called, they will remove a small, dead animal.

Even when an animal isn’t killed, a story can still be sad. Recently, a rabbit had his back legs cut off with a weed eater, Poe said.

When the officers seize an animal, they will take it to the Humane Society or give it to a foster owner. When the pet is healthy, it will be put up for adoption.

Wild animals are often released outside of town.

Animal control work is interesting because the officers never know what the day will bring.

“Yeah, it’s fun,” Poe said. “It’s always something new.”

___

Information from: The Grand Island Independent, https://www.theindependent.com

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