LIFE AS A DEPUTY ANIMAL CONTROL OFFICER – Marilyn Armstrong

I live in a small town. Just under 13,000 people call Uxbridge home. The village, or as we say around here, “downtown,” has a classic brick town hall, circa 1879, an elegant old library, and several other historic buildings.

Our neighboring town, Millville, makes Uxbridge look like Metropolis.

Millville town center.

Their town hall is a unit in an old condo building. The center of town is a sub shop. There’s no sign to indicate you are in Millville, so it’s easy to miss. When you get there, it will be closed anyway. The following notice is posted on Millville’s website:

Due to budget constraints, effective immediately the Town Clerk’s office will only be open on Mondays from 9am-1pm and Wednesday evenings from 6pm-8pm for public assistance. If you cannot be at the Municipal Center during these scheduled hours, please call the Town Clerk’s Office to schedule an appointment.m

There are approximately 3100 people living in Millville.

Perhaps 9 or 10 years ago, the town of Millville decided they needed a Deputy Animal Control Officer. I don’t remember how I heard about the job. It may have been a tip from our local animal control officer who knew I liked animals and needed part-time work.

This was about as part-time as a job could be. The pay was $1200 per year, payable semi-annually. Before taxes.

Millville already had a Senior Animal Control Officer who was theoretically in charge, but passionately fond of golf. I suspect he also had a full-time job elsewhere. So, in exchange for $600 every 6 months, I would have the official title of Deputy Animal Control Officer. I would be on call 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.

I’m basically an optimist. I figured Millville is tiny. How many calls could there be? I took the job. I was sworn in, just like in the movies, hand on the Bible. I promised to protect and serve.

A mere couple of hours later, I got my first call. A homeowner had found an almost dead skunk by their trash bin and wanted it taken away. It was my first call — a Sunday morning — so my “senior officer” thought he should come along, show me the ropes as it were.

Photo: Greenshield Pest Control
Photo: Greenshield Pest Control

Luckily, the skunk did the right thing and went from nearly dead to absolutely dead while I was trying to figure out what I was supposed to do. I was informed by my erstwhile boss that the skunk had probably been rabid and I should not touch it. If the skunk had not died on his own, I would have been obliged to shoot it.

Me: “Shoot it?”

Boss: “Yes, shoot it. With the rifle.”

Me: “Rifle? What rifle?”

Boss: “Oh, didn’t I mention that? We have a couple of rifles in the office. When an animal is behaving suspiciously, you have to shoot it.”

Me: “Behaving suspiciously?”

Boss: “You know, approaching people rather than running away. Acting weird. Most of the animals you’ll get calls about are rabid. There’s a lot of rabies around here so you don’t want to get close. Just shoot’em.”

Rabies. Shoot the animals. $100 a month. I was getting that creepy feeling I get when I think maybe I’ve signed up for something, the implications of which I had failed to fully grasp.

After we bagged the skunk to send to the county animal medical examiner, I promised to go to city hall as soon as they reopened to discuss guns and the other equipment I would need. Like shovels, leather gloves, heavy-duty plastic trash bags (the non-human version of body bags), tags for the medical examiner. Forms to fill out. Oh, and where to put the corpses. Turns out, you can’t just stack them up in city hall.

My boss was not upset that I’d never handled a real weapon. I’d never shot anything currently or previously alive. I was puzzled about what I was supposed to do if I got a call, actually needed a rifle, but it was locked up at city hall which was pretty much always closed.

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Would the offending animal make an appointment for a more convenient time? Or wait for me to call someone, get them to unlock the gun cabinet, then hang around while I drove over to get it, then drove back to shoot him? Are the rabid animals of Millville that cooperative? Was I supposed to keep the big hunting rifle in my house in case I needed it? The rabies thing had me spooked, too.

When I was finally able to get to city hall, I demanded a rabies vaccination. No way was I going to handle rabid animals without a vaccination. They pointed out rabies vaccinations are expensive and I was only the deputy. They suggested I pay for it myself.

Me: “How much will it cost?”

Clerk: “Around $450.”

Me: “That’s four and a half months pay.”

Clerk: “Well, we don’t normally pay for it.”

Me: “I’m not doing this unless I’m vaccinated.”

It turned out that the animal medical examiner could provide me with the appropriate vaccination, so Garry — who had begun to look alarmed — drove me to the doctor. While the doctor prepared the inoculation, we got a rundown of exactly how common rabies is in our neck of the woods.

“Why,” he said, “Just last week they found a deer with rabies. Chipmunks, skunk, fox, coyotes, squirrels, deer … even possums get rabies.” The only exceptions are rabbits who are naturally immune. Go figure.

The following day, I got another call. A really big snapping turtle had wandered into the road and was blocking traffic. It didn’t sound too threatening, so armed with my shoulder-high heavy leather gauntlets (no rifle), I drove to the site and met the snapping turtle from Hell.

Keep in mind that there is water everywhere in the valley. Not only the Blackstone, but all its tributaries, feeder creeks, lakes, brooks, ponds, pools, and swamps. Snapping turtles are called common for good reason. They live just about everywhere you find water. Undoubtedly, the big snapper had wandered into the road, lost his bearings. Someone needed to grab the turtle and carry him back on the river side of the road.

The someone was me.

This turtle was not in the water, not docile. His beak was sharp. His neck was extremely flexible. Not my kind of nature pal.

So there I was, by the side of the road, trying to figure out how I could grab him. He was approximately 30 pounds of pissed-off turtle. He seemed pretty agile to me. He could move. Okay, maybe he’d lose a footrace to a rabbit, but he could trundle along at a nice pace. And he had that snaky neck and was determined to bite me.

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Meanwhile, an entire construction crew — big brawny guys who were supposed to be repairing the bridge — were watching. They didn’t seem eager to help. In fact, they were the ones who called in the first place.

I eventually herded him across the road. I looked at those jaws, looked at my leather gloves, did a quick mental calculation about the strength of the gloves versus the power of the turtle’s jaws. I decided the gloves weren’t nearly strong enough.

My personal weapon: a Red Ryder BB rifle
My personal weapon: a Red Ryder BB rifle

Have you ever tried herding a turtle? Of course not. You can’t herd a turtle, but I did. I don’t know exactly how I got him across the road. I know there was a big shovel involved, but otherwise, it’s a blur. The next thing I remember doing after getting the turtle over to the river side of the road was calling the clerk and resigning.

The turtle was enough for me. I figured if I didn’t get out quick, they’d have me hunting rabid coyotes with a large gun and I’d shoot my foot off.

They tried to bill me for the rabies shot. We settled for not paying me. I think I got the better part of the deal.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.

39 thoughts on “LIFE AS A DEPUTY ANIMAL CONTROL OFFICER – Marilyn Armstrong”

          1. Wise precaution although I gather it varies from state to state. I looked it up to see what we do and it seems that Australia is considered rabies free but there have been some cases of it, the article mentioned people being bitten by bats contracting rabies. As far as I can see it’s not compulsory to get dogs vaccinated for anything here although of course kennels require it if you are boarding your dog.

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  1. A fascinating post, Marilyn, and I’m not surprised you didn’t stick with the job. I couldn’t do that either. But what a surprise that there was so much work for you in such a small community. When you first told us about the size of your village and Millville I thought you would have found yourself a nice easy number, but clearly not! A real education, and I’m going to get my husband to read this too, as he’ll find it very interesting – we’re both soppy animal lovers and enjoy watching wildlife. Thanks for sharing another of your fascinating and eventful life stories. 🙂

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    1. Massachusetts is today more than 60% woods where once there were farms … and now that they’ve cleaned up the rivers, anything that isn’t woods (or Boston) is a river. So there is a lot of wildlife. I just didn’t think there would be so much in tiny little Millville.

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  2. Snapping turtle from hell sounds about right… Several years ago, one got in our backyard. ‘Bout took my husband’s fingers off! Glad to hear you resigned. Seems like they left out a lot of details in the ‘job description.’

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    1. They left out ALL of the details and most of the information. The “boss” apparently didn’t actually DO the job. I was supposed to do it for that whopping $100 a month — while he played golf. I don’t think so.

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  3. Who knew that job existed? We have some skunks living under our neighbour’s porch. They are so cute….if only they couldn’t skunk you. I’d have a hard time shooting one of them.
    Leslie

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    1. It was definitely NOT for me. Interesting that no one mentioned the rifles or the rabies before I took the job. I wouldn’t have accepted it. I’m not sure for whom the job would be right. No money, a lot of calls day and night — and guns? Yikes.

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  4. This was FASCINATING and should be fodder for a chapter in a possibly future book. When I was doing the A-Z challenge this year, I discovered that 3100 souls in a ‘town’ is largish, because there are ‘towns’ here that boast 450 (in the 2010 census anyway) or 1300. You still beat us for population! 😉

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    1. Millville doesn’t even look that big because everyone is spread out over many acres. There’s no real “town center.” There’s no shopping at all. They don’t even have a fire department and I don’t think they have their own schools or a police officer. Our towns tend to look smaller than the number of people in them because we are spread over a pretty large area, so the towns are very small … a few hundred people and everyone else lives miles away … as we do. We have to drive into town. It’s too far to walk!

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  5. This is hilarious and you knew that before you even started writing this post! And if it helps in any way, I can say this: It could have happened to me too (obviously not in the same line of work, but anyhow….). To prove it I just note here that I worked for free for over 8 years for a language school, just because I liked the school, the ideas and the adult learners…. And I have a woman living with us since last September. We made a deal that she could stay for free, IF she would look after house and garden in my (frequent) absence and gave me treatments in hypnosis. Neither of which happened and she is still here, AND I am basically ‘her servant’ as I also do her room, her washing and (too) often need to clean the kitchen after she has done her cooking….. Not even a bunch of flowers since, or a helping hand, or offering any services…. Some people can’t be helped! I think you got away lightly, AND had a free rabies shot 😉

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      1. I am such a coward I don’t even wish to talk to her about it. HH told me several times that he doesn’t want to hear anything about it any more and that he will throw her out w/o any problems but it was ME who invited her and I don’t want to have a nasty conversation…. coward me!

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  6. Funny story. Sounds like Millville has way more rabid animals than people. At least they could have paid a little better and supplied you with the vaccination and proper field tools? I mean almost half a years salary just so you wouldn’t get sick or, worse, die… seriously?

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