Archive for Monday, July 26, 1999

DEATH

July 26, 1999

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The Lawrence Police Department is hiring a third animal control officer in response to community concerns about stray animals and vicious dogs.

Pointing to bite marks on the pull rope she uses to lasso stray dogs, Lawrence animal control officer LaDonna Commons says work seems to have picked up since the death of a Yorkshire terrier a few months ago.

Who knew that a pit bull would cause so much ruckus.

After a pit bull allegedly attacked and killed the terrier May 21 in the 600 block of Illinois, Lawrence residents bared their teeth at what they said were lax city ordinances that didn't do enough to prevent such problems.

Since Lola's death, animal calls have increased for Commons and fellow officer Shelly Hedden, though they're quick to point out that summer is always their busiest season.

The two women have spent the past two years -- Hedden the past two and a half -- making a living picking up discarded and neglected pets, responding to animal bites and dealing with diseased strays.

"It has its ups an downs," Hedden said, noting it's tough to see animals at their worst.

Wrangling dogs

The animal control officers work for the Lawrence Police Department under the supervision of Sgt. Doug Bell.

This year through the end of June, Hedden and Commons responded to 912 total complaints and handled 48 bite cases.

The women picked up 308 dogs, taking the majority to the Lawrence Humane Society shelter. They issued 129 citations to dog owners, mostly for allowing their pets to run loose.

On the feline side, the officers collected 109 cats through June, taking 107 to the shelter and two to veterinarian offices. They issued four citations to cat owners.

The women also corraled one snake, four opossums, a pig, a rabbit, two guinea pigs, one ferret and a squirrel. The animal control officers generally don't respond to wild animal calls unless someone's been bit.

Beefed-up ordinances

Displaying the tools of their trade -- pull ropes and tong-like contraptions -- the women say they hope new ordinances the city is drafting will make their jobs easier.

Puncture marks decorate the handles of the pull ropes, evidence that not all dogs go quietly with animal control officers.

"This is my second one," Commons said, holding one of the red-handled pull ropes, designed to keep animals at a safe distance.

City commissioners recently approved the first reading of an ordinance that would require both dogs and cats to be kept on a leash or inside a fenced yard when they are outside. They've also given the thumbs up to additional restraints on vicious dogs and a "pooper scooper" ordinance requiring pet owners to clean up their animals' messes.

"I think it's going to help out our jobs," Commons said of the ordinances, adding that she hopes they will encourage pet owners to act more responsibly.

Third officer in works

In further response to the community's reaction to animal problems, the police department is hiring a third animal control officer, Sgt. George Wheeler said.

That should enable officers to work day and evening shifts, Bell said.

Hedden and Commons currently work only during the day. Police officers take animal-related complaints after hours.

"The police are the only 24-hour agency that deals with law or code enforcement," Wheeler said, explaining why animal control falls under the police department's authority.

The department also is in the process of buying a third animal control vehicle to augment the two trucks Hedden and Commons now use.

Animal control officers take training through the National Animal Control Assn. in Columbia, Mo.

"We learn about signs of aggression for our safety and protection, and go through the laws," Commons said. "It's a weeklong course."

The officers each have taken two courses through the association.

Bitten in the line of duty

Both women say they've been bitten by strays. The department treats their bites just like anyone else's; the offending animals have to be quarantined at a veterinarian's office for 10 days.

Bell said working with animals -- and disgruntled pet owners -- certainly can be stressful for the women.

"They're going to help," Bell said of the proposed new ordinances.

Bell said he was glad the city decided against breed-specific rules.

"Right now we're having a pit bull problem, but that's because of irresponsible owners," Bell said.

-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is dgruver@ljworld.com.

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