AR-News: Animal-control requests swamp D.M. police unit
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Wed Oct 8 08:53:31 EDT 2003
After staff cuts, authorities have had to put some calls for help on hold.
By TOM ALEX
Register Staff Writer
Calls to Des Moines police about stray animals have piled up since city
officials cut in half the number of officers who handle such complaints.
"It is not OK that they can't send someone out to help me," said Charlene
Beattie, whose call about a pack of stray dogs that was menacing her daughter
last week waited several hours for a response.
The number of city animal-control officers was cut from 10 to five in July,
part of a larger set of cuts that trimmed $4.7 million from the budget.
Two of the five remaining officers have wrestled with illness recently,
further straining efforts.
Police officers try to fill in, but they are neither trained nor equipped to
handle some of the calls, said Sgt. Max Halverson, who heads the
"A pack of dogs went after my daughters about 8:30 a.m., and when I called
police about 10:30 a.m., they said they wouldn't have an animal-control officer
available until 3 p.m.," Beattie said.
Beattie, who lives in the Irving-King neighborhood, watched anxiously as the
snarling dogs crossed the street. "My 5-year-old was wrapped around the legs
of my 8-year-old. It's just lucky I got home in time," she said.
Halverson said he tells unhappy citizens that police are doing the best they
can with the resources available.
"Calls for service haven't gone away," he said. "People haven't all of a
sudden become mindful of the laws and ordinances. So some of these calls are going
to patrol officers."
Animal-control officers were called 1,208 times in August. They picked up 602
dogs, cats and other animals. That compares with 2,472 calls and 967 animals
in the same month a year ago.
Maj. James O'Donnell said animal-control officers no longer pick up dead wild
animals or dead birds on private property. Property owners now are instructed
to use a plastic garbage bag to pick up the animals and put them into a
Animal-control officers will respond to complaints of bats in homes or
businesses, but they will not hunt for them. Many callers are told to contact a
Police officers will help on barking dogs and handle them as
disturbing-the-peace complaints. Animal-control officers, meanwhile, no longer respond to
calls about snakes, unless the offending reptile poses a "known danger." O'Donnell
said there are no figures to show how many times police officers have had to
handle animal complaints since the cuts were made.
Nancy Cook said she was discouraged when no one was available to help with an
injured red-tailed hawk that had flown into a downtown building and was
staggering around on a busy street.
Cook, an employee of Kirke Financial Services, and co-worker Mike Richards
called animal control shortly after 3 p.m. At 4 p.m., the call was still on hold
while officers answered a report of a sick animal and another of an animal
Bill Stowe, the city's public works director, guarded the bird for about 40
minutes. Eventually a passer-by found wildlife biologist Marlene Ehresman of
the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. She took care of the situation, and at
last report the hawk was on the mend.
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