There are angels among us, and I have had the good fortune to ride with one. As a board member of the Louisiana SPCA, I am encouraged to go behind-the-scenes to learn about the many responsibilities of our city’s open-admissions shelter. Monday was my day for animal control.
I was met at the door by animal control officer Beth and her rescue Pomeranian mix, Pancake, who sometimes accompanies her to work. Beth brought me back to the tiny animal control office and introduced me to Angel, the officer I would ride with. His warm smile and gentle voice immediately put me at ease and dispelled any “dog-catcher” stereotype.
We arrived at our first stop before 9:00—a vacant lot on Patterson by the levee where Angel says people frequently dump dogs. A trap had been set to capture an injured stray who had been reported roaming the area. We spotted the large black and white dog limping on the perimeter. He saw us, too, and made a quick get-away, in spite of the apparently dislocated left hind leg dangling at an unnatural angle. We followed him to a heavily weeded area but were unable to locate him.
We returned to the trap, where Angel cleaned out the food bowl, refilled it, and placed it back in the cage. He tenderly picked debris from the top of the cage and covered it with a ragged sheet and towel so the dog would feel secure if trapped. Angel would return at the end of the day and repeat the process if needed.
Our next stop was to interview the parent of a dog-bite victim. In spite of the scheduled appointment time and phone calls to the parent, no one answered our knock on the door. Angel is a patient man, and several knocks later, a young woman reluctantly answered the door. She said her sister, the person we needed to speak with, wasn’t home. After explaining the importance of interviewing the parent about the incident, Angel gave her a card and requested her sister call for another appointment. He would follow up in a few days if he received no response.
By 10:15 we were on our way to check on a report of “exotic” animals in unacceptable living conditions. The exotic animals found in response to a previous complaint had been roosters, exotic because they are illegal in Orleans Parish. The owner had been given a week to remove the roosters and clean the area.
We arrived at a home situated on about four acres across from the Mississippi River levee. This time Angel’s knock on the door was answered quickly. The owner had been expecting our visit and ushered us into the back yard where we met her husband. He said he hadn’t known roosters were illegal and had given them away and improved the living conditions as directed.
The yard was fenced. More than a dozen chickens roamed freely. A separate area held a goose, two ducks, and a wading pool. Rabbit hutches containing about fifteen rabbits were located beneath a few trees next to chicken coops. Angel inspected the hutches and found that the area was clean and that the animals had sufficient fresh food and water. Angel thanked the owner for complying quickly.
Our next stop was a follow-up to a complaint from a woman about the neighbor’s dogs—reportedly a pit bull and a Chihuahua—who come through the fence and trespass into her yard. We arrived at 10:50 and were greeted by a small black cat on the front walkway. Angel spoke softly to the kitty as we made our way to the porch. He rang the bell and knocked. No answer. No sounds of dogs barking. A few minutes passed, and after ringing the bell and knocking again, Angel went to the side of the house to look through the fence for the dogs. Again, no sounds of barking dogs.
As he came around the house, a young woman with a little girl opened the front door. She was not happy to see us, and I doubted she would cooperate. The police had been out over the weekend, she said, and she was “fed up” with the neighbor’s complaints. It was the neighbor’s fence, she said, and the neighbor refused to fix it.
I watched as Angel listened attentively to her side of the story. When she finished venting, he asked if she would mind if he looked at the fence. To my surprise, she agreed and let us into the back yard. Still, no sign of dogs. The wooden fence had one slat missing. The dog owner had barricaded the breech with heavy flower pots.
Angel asked her where the dogs were. “In the house,” she replied. Would she mind if we went inside, he asked. To my surprise again, she let us in the house. There we met Lulu, an English Bulldog mix, and Hibachi, a white Chihuahua. Finally, the dogs barked. The owner talked to them and the bulldog settled down to wiggling and wagging his tail. The Chihuahua continued barking from his kennel, and the child pet him through the wire.
Angel asked questions about the dogs’ ages, how long she’d had them, etc. Once he got her talking about her dogs, she realized we were not there to confiscate her pets, and she visibly relaxed. She willingly went to get her ID for him to record on the case file. She couldn’t find the dogs’ rabies vaccination certificates, but said they were up-to-date. Angel suggested she call her vet to get copies and fax them to the shelter. If he didn’t receive them in a week, he would check back.
At 11:30 we headed back to the Louisiana SPCA. It was time for me to go home. Angel would return to the streets until his shift ended that evening. He is one of only five animal control officers who service all of Orleans Parish. They are truly angels to the lost, neglected, and abused animals of our community.