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Animal-control officer tries to teach public

No one

Big Dog
Stockton,CA -- The small puppy stood nervously among the brooms and buckets in a Montezuma Elementary School janitor's closet Thursday.

Animal Control Officer Rita Coleman, 48, tried to coax the pup out with the slightly higher-than-normal pitch voice that most people unconsciously adopt when talking to animals.

Receiving no response, she scooped up the dog, a female border collie mix.

"This is therapy for me," said Coleman, snuggling the pup.

In spite of being adorable, the dog may have little chance of being adopted.

"Puppies no. But some big pit bull with a spiked collar, everybody's calling," Coleman said.

She placed the dog into one of several compartments in the truck-mounted unit at the rear of the Dodge Dakota.

Before Coleman could leave the school lot, a skinny and probably pregnant pit-bull mix appeared.

Pit-bulls are a big problem in the city, according to Coleman.

"Most of our calls are about dogs running loose, and most of those are pit-bulls," she said.

There was no luring this dog - even with the meat Coleman purchased from a nearby Taco truck.

"These are the things we do for animals that we don't tell anybody," she said.

She used her truck to herd the pit, which crossed busy Mariposa Road to a home, where it started to bark.

"Good morning. Is this your dog?" Coleman asked the woman who answered the door before citing her for having an unlicensed dog, warning her for having a loose animal and handing her a flyer on shot clinics and spaying and neutering.

"I try to be a public-information person," she said.

The decisions are sometimes dicey.

If Coleman were to take "Trinity," the dog likely would be euthanized.

Since there were no signs of overt abuse, she will work with its owner on fencing and other issues.

"All day long, you have to wrestle with these decisions," she said. "Pets pay the price for irresponsible animal owners."

Coleman headed back to the shelter, where she put the collie, by then crying in the truck compartment, through the intake process of scanning for an identifying microchip, weighing, tagging, photographing for online identification and computer logging.

In 12 years of working for animal control - first as an office assistant, then as a dispatcher and now in the field - Coleman has seen just about every animal-related situation.

She is the only woman of seven officers in the field who are part of the Stockton Police Department.

Coleman works "at large," covering beats for absent officers and roving between beats to handle difficult situations such as chronic barking.

She chalks up her successes with these cases to having a calm demeanor, good listening skills and willingness to work through problems - skills likely much practiced while raising four children.

"I like the way I have evolved," Coleman said.

Other calls Thursday included scraping up a cat flattened on Airport Way, checking a backyard dog trap and picking up a pit-bull puppy abandoned at a boarded-up residence that had been broken into.

She stopped at a rental property on Scribner Street, where tenants moved out without taking their two dogs, one of which already was captured.

"I never thought I'd have to worry about somebody else's dogs," said Doris Williams, the property owner, who called Coleman a problem-solver.

The remaining dog stayed unbudged under a wooden porch. Coleman slipped the snare loop around its neck, dragged it to the truck and lifted it into a larger compartment,

"That's a cardiovascular workout," she said, panting nearly as heavily as the dog she dragged. "You have to be strong and physically fit," she said.

Animal-control officers assume health risks that include bites, scratches, fleas, ticks, ringworm and even mange.

Risk can be reduced,

Coleman keeps her rabies vaccination current and often uses hand sanitizer.

But mostly, she thinks about how she is doing her job.

"The one thing about being safe on the job is never being in a hurry," she said.

Coleman believes that her job title may be a misnomer.

"I think animal control is a little harsh. We're not in control of anything," said Coleman, who would prefer to be called a public-safety officer.

She definitely doesn't want to be called a dog catcher.

"I don't want to catch them. I want to catch the owners and have them live up to their responsibilities," she said.

Contact reporter Michelle Machado at (209) 943-8547 or mmachado@recordnet.com.



Little Dog
I like her attitude.
Where I live the AC officers who are women also have a good outlook. Many also rescue in their private lives. Wish I could say the same for some of the male AC officers here. Some that I have had dealings with are down right nasty. They act like all dogs should be killed.
If you are that jaded time to get a new J. O. B. :eek: