Thinking back over the countless calls they’ve had over the years from Westminster residents, Animal Control Officers Shanyn Behn and Crystal Sheldon agree that the strangest has to be the one concerning the tegu lizard.
They located the South American lizard – seemingly someone’s exotic house pet – hidden beneath garbage. Unable to locate the lizard’s owners, the officers were able to find a new home for the exotic reptile.
There also was the time they received a call about some peacocks flying around in a neighborhood.
“I caught two roosters in traffic,” Behn said of another memorable call.
There’s never a dull moment for Westminster Police Department’s Animal Control unit, especially now that the agency has taken over service for the City of Stanton, effective in November 2016.
Animal Control handles much more than just picking up strays, according to unit Commander Mark Lauderback. There also are investigations – such as cases involving possible cruelty – and assistance on police search warrants for Westminster and other agencies where an animal may be present.
Just recently, members of the team assisted the Seal Beach Police Department on a regular search warrant. A German shepherd was on the premises. Plus, the officers handle licensing for pets.
And now they’re “not only dealing with our citizens in Westminster, but our citizens in Stanton,” Lauderback said.
To keep up with the increased workload, the unit has made some improvements, including a new truck (there’s now a total of three) with all the necessary equipment.
“Everything from a computer to a catch pole to trash bags to pick up a dead animal,” said Behn.
Currently consisting of the two full-time officers and a third part-time officer, the unit is now in the process of hiring another part-time officer to help keep up with the needs of the two cities.
WPD Animal Control spends 25 hours a week patrolling Stanton.
To make the licensing process work more efficiently, the unit just launched an online system for citizens of both cities to pay for their pets’ licenses.
“For the most part, Stanton residents have really seemed to appreciate and like us,” said Sheldon.
As the officers familiarize themselves with the city, they are seeing some trends – including a number of stray dogs. It’s something they are working on educating the locals about.
But as in Westminster, the officers are getting an assortment of cases in Stanton. There have been some cruelty investigations and one dangerous dog call. Sheldon is working on an investigation of a dog who bit another dog. She also recently picked up a gopher snake from a woman’s backyard in Stanton.
“He was fine,” she said. “He was just cold, trying to get out of the rain.”
In general, the two officers say their most common calls are to pick up dead animals, for someone who found an opossum or cat, missing dogs, welfare checks, cruelty investigations and calls about a dog bite. They deal with domestic and smaller wild animals.
“Anything smaller than a deer, we’ll deal with,” said Behn.
They don’t handle mountain lions, for example, or insects like bees – those would be Wildlife Services and vector control, respectively.
Both Behn and Sheldon are animal lovers.
Behn has two dogs, including 3-pound Chihuahua puppy, Teddy, who is the center of attention whenever he pays a visit to the station.
Sheldon has two cats. Prior to coming to work for the WPD’s Animal Control unit three years ago, Behn worked as an Animal Control officer in Torrance. Before Sheldon began as an Animal Control officer for the WPD 3 1/2 years ago, she worked as a zookeeper.
The officers have learned to deal with the sometimes grim situations they find animals in, — in their own way.
Behn tries to keep her on-duty and off-duty life separate.
“I compartmentalize very well,” she said.
Added Sheldon: “Yeah, you see a lot of stuff that hurts… A lot of people just don’t know any better.”
The good thing, Sheldon said, is that educating people can make a difference. Plus, there are happy stories.
“It’s always nice to be able to reunite a pet with his owner,” she said.
Part of that education and outreach includes things like neighborhood talks about coyotes and Animal Control’s current track-neuter-return (TNR) program.
Residents who may have feral cats in their neighborhood that are too wild to domesticate and adopt out can contact Animal Control regarding TNR. The cats are captured, spayed or neutered by a vet and then re-released. The program helps control the population while keeping cats wild.
“It’s better for the cats,” Sheldon said.
Residents who wish to learn more about coyotes in their neighborhood can contact the unit to set up a seminar. Information includes tips on how to best deal with coyotes and minimizing aggressive behavior.
“We do keep track of sightings,” said Sheldon, adding that the tracking information helps them better understand local coyote behavior.
Added Sheldon: “We don’t want people to get bit. We don’t want them to get hurt. But we do want the wildlife to be wild.”
The officers at Animal Control encourage residents to call with any questions at 714-548-3201, ext. 0. Their hours are daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.