by ALEXANDRA RETTER
The missing dog was older, and he could not see or hear very well. His owner had been looking for him all night. Someone found him in the morning near a loading dock close to a highway and the river, and he was soaking wet due to the rain that had been falling throughout the evening. The person contacted Winona Animal Control Officer Wendy Peterson and watched over the dog until Peterson arrived and called his owner so they could be reunited.
“The good samaritan that kept him probably saved his life,” Peterson said.
So went one of the happier days in the life of an animal control officer. In Winona, those who help with animal control include Peterson, who has been an animal control officer for about 27 years, and Community Service Officer Jackie Heiden, who has been in the city for about five years. A typical day includes responding to calls about everything from lost pets to animals in traffic, in addition to following up on animal-related calls, such as dog bite calls, taken by co-workers on different shifts. Other parts of the job include patrolling local parks to ensure community members know where are allowed, as well as the pet-related rules — including rules about where dogs need to be on a leash — that have to be followed in the city, and transporting rescued animals who need care to a veterinarian.
Some days feature more unique experiences. On one recent day, three cats were rescued in the span of 24 hours. In one case, a cat was trapped under a car, and members of the fire department, police department and city’s central garage ultimately helped free him after hoisting up the vehicle. It took about two hours to rescue the cat. “It was neat how everybody worked together to get him out,” Heiden shared.
Another kitten was found running in traffic. Heiden ended up adopting him, and she said he is doing well. “He gets extra treats,” Heiden stated. “He’s spoiled.”
The third kitten was found stuck in a storm drain. All the cats were checked by a veterinarian and adopted, Heiden said.
Not only cats have been found in storm drains. Sometimes ducklings will fall into a storm drain and get separated from their mom. One duckling was rescued after Peterson got the idea to use her smartphone to play a quacking recording, which lured the baby from the precarious spot.
“I was just kind of excited to see he came to the noise,” Peterson noted.
When ducklings are stuck somewhere, they are kept together in a cage near their mother until they all are rescued, Peterson explained, so their mom does not get scared and leave with only some of them before they all are safe. The fire and street departments have helped with removing drain grates, she added.
Calls that are more on the strange side are received sometimes as well. Peacocks were sighted on multiple occasions in the area of Saint Mary’s University over the course of about two to three days, and Peterson was part of the effort to help them. The peacocks would let Peterson and one of her colleagues get pretty close before flying away. After a few days of trying to catch the peacocks, the flashy birds must have found their way home, as the city didn’t get any more calls about them wandering the grounds. “It was interesting to see them,” Peterson shared. “They were pretty neat.”
In another instance, a young and very frightened raccoon somehow found his way into a girl’s bedroom in the upstairs of a Winona home. The person who called about the raccoon was excited and adamant about having him removed, Peterson said. “He seemed healthy,” Peterson stated. “I think he just happened to wander up there. He just wandered into the wrong place.” The masked intruder was released outside after Peterson got him into a cage.
A sugar glider was found in a box after someone moved out of a dorm on a different occasion. The sugar glider was taken to the vet for a check-up and adopted by a sugar glider enthusiast.
Calls involving people being reunited with their pets who had gone missing, like the dog found at the loading dock, are some of the most sweet, Peterson said. “Both the pet and owners cry with joy,” Peterson noted. “It’s like losing a family member, and the reuniting of the two is very heartwarming and joyful.”
A girl lost her cat when he slipped out while workers were completing a project at her house in one situation. “She was making signs and looking and calling every day,” Peterson explained, adding that she gave a detailed description of her “very furry and fluffy” friend when she called.
The girl and her cat were reunited once someone called Peterson and told her a cat had been hanging around their backyard for some time. The backyard was near the girl’s house, so the cat may have been scared away from the house and gotten lost when he ended up in the backyard and couldn’t find his way home, Peterson shared. When Peterson received the call, she immediately thought the cat must be the girl’s, she said, and she began the process of getting the cat back home to her.
Helping animals who are frightened and in the middle of traffic, assisting animals who are stuck on ice and lending a hand to a skunk on a window well are some of the trickiest calls, Peterson noted.
“And then in traffic, we try to get some traffic control and do the best we can,” Peterson said. “We try not to chase them, but once they’re already in traffic, we have to shut it down the best we can.”
Turtles are among the animals who have been helped out of traffic, Heiden added. Additionally, fire department personnel often help with rescuing animals who are stuck on ice, Peterson stated
Cases in which pets are hit by a car or train, as well as instances of neglect and abuse of pets, are the saddest calls to handle, Peterson and Heiden agreed.
Animal control and the police department often receive calls about dogs or other pets left in vehicles for extended periods of time, Peterson shared. Some of the calls end unhappily.
“Most of the time, they’re [pet owners] gone, or they’re there very shortly, or we’re able to track them down,” Peterson noted. “There have been dogs that have died when left in a car overnight in recent years. And I tell people, ‘Leave your pets at home when the weather is extremely hot or cold.’”
Completing a resilience training recently, as well as having the support of co-workers, helps with working through the emotions that come from difficult cases for Peterson and Heiden.
“It’s nice because Wendy and I have each other to talk to if we got a call like that, or other people [in the] department … it’s easy to go to them if you need something,” Heiden said.
Amid the more challenging moments while on the job, as well as the more joyful ones, Peterson and Heiden enjoy having the ability through their work to ensure the well-being of animals, they said.
“There’s something new every day, and most animals we come across are friendly,” Heiden said. “So, it’s enjoyable to go out and get them and take care of them, and get them reunited with families.”
“We want to make sure nothing is suffering unnecessarily,” Peterson added.