Kevin has been a SAS Humane Animal Law Enforcement Officer (aka animal control officer) since 2014. He is one of 11 current officers that work to rescue and keep Seattle’s animals safe. It is a rewarding, and at times, a stressful job, but the roles that these officers play are vital for Seattle animals and our communities. We got to talk to Kevin in between rescue calls and asked him to give us a realistic glimpse into what it takes to do such critical, compassionate and important work. He revealed that some days the work can be hard, but the happy endings make it all worthwhile.

SASF: How did you become a Humane Animal Law Enforcement Officer?

KEVIN: I actually started my career working solely with wildlife. In 1993, while I was in school at Iowa State University working on a degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Biology, I completed a summer internship at PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood. After graduating in 1995 I returned to PAWS as a seasonal Assistant Wildlife Rehabilitator. After the first season I was offered a permanent position and was soon promoted to Wildlife Rehabilitator. In the years that followed I performed hands on care and treatment working with over 260 different species of sick, injured, and/or orphaned wild animals. I also spent two years job sharing with the center’s Volunteer Coordinator during which I recruited, interviewed, and trained volunteers in addition to my other duties. In 2000 I became the first person to hold the title and position of Naturalist at PAWS. The position was created primarily to manage the release of wild patients once they had successfully completed the rehabilitation process. The job allowed me to streamline the release process for thousands of wild patients and ensure that the animals were being released responsibly and in a way that gave them the best possible chance for survival. Public education was also a large part of my job and I greatly enjoyed teaching others about the wildlife around us. After 19 years at PAWS I was ready for new challenges, which led me to apply for the ACO II position at SAS. The work I do at SAS is more focused on companion animals, but I still get to use my wildlife expertise quite often.

SASF: It’s interesting that along with domestic animal welfare concerns, SAS also does work with wildlife. How many wild animals did SAS attend to in 2016?

KEVIN: In 2016 we responded to 467 reports of injured wildlife. Many of our wildlife calls ebb and flow with the seasonal migration and breeding cycles of Seattle area wildlife. For instance, we are now in the beginning of Mallard breeding season (early March through June) and soon we will be receiving calls to rescue baby ducks stuck in storm drains and window wells. Common calls that we receive year-round are reports of seagulls with broken wings, squirrels that got hit crossing a street, injured pigeons, and ill or injured raccoons. In late winter and early spring we also frequently get calls about injured eagles, most of which have been injured in territorial disputes with other eagles. The birds are serious about defending their prime nesting sites and we are often the ones that pick up the individuals that have lost these battles. The injuries are sometimes severe, but many of these birds get a second chance at life after treatment and eventual release.

SASF: I imagine any area near the Sound is prime real estate for an eagle. We do have a lot of birds of prey in this area. Have you assisted other species of birds?

KEVIN: Many. For example, we rescued a gorgeous Coopers Hawk last summer. The dispatch call originally went to Officer Bobbi Soper and she responded to a private garage in SODO. The garage had an automatic door, so the hawk must have flown in pursuing prey and when the door closed it could not find a way out. It was a two- tiered parking area and fairly wide open so it became a two-person operation. We needed a plan. Officer Soper stationed herself on the second floor with a net, while I remained on the first floor. The plan was to keep the bird moving by waving our nets until it made a mistake or came to rest near one of us. It eventually flew to a corner where it pushed off the wall and landed on the ground near me. As it was trying to decide what to do next I was able to get close enough to gently put the net over it. Once we had it in hand we were able to examine it to make sure that there were no injuries. Because the pursuit and capture had been exhausting for the bird we sent it to PAWS for a more thorough assessment by their wildlife veterinarian. The bird was released a day or two later. We live for happy endings like that.

SASF: I’m sure you have had many rescue experiences at SAS. Is there another rescue story that stands out in your mind that deserves to be told?

KEVIN: Yes. There is one story that I think of every day, and it reminds me when the times are tough, why we do this job. This was a case where I got dispatched to a construction site where they were building two separate condo buildings. One of the two partially constructed buildings had been idle for at least 2 weeks while the construction crew worked on the other. When the crew resumed work on the first building they found a dog on one of the top floor balconies. The balcony had a sliding glass door and it was closed, so there was no way for the dog have gotten there without a human putting him there. He was starving. He was the skinniest dog I have ever seen and it was the worse case of starvation I hope to ever witness. His state of emaciation was really advanced but the surprising thing was he was still able to stand and walk. Still, he would not let me carry him and yelped when I tried to pick him up. I had treats in my pocket but I did not want to feed him too much because he was so emaciated that he could have gotten re-feeding syndrome, which happens when animals use up the last of their energy digesting food and then die. So I let him sniff the treats and he followed me down the 1st staircase where I gave him a speck of a treat and then he followed me down the rest of the way. When I got to the truck I put thick blankets to pad the bottom of the kennel because he was just skin and bone. He trusted me enough at this point to let me lift him into the kennel. I drove him to West Seattle Animal Hospital for medical evaluation and then picked him up and brought him to the shelter later in the day. I conducted an investigation to try to find out who had left the dog on that balcony. Local news covered the story and there was even a reward offered to anyone with information leading to the suspect(s) who had abandoned the dog. Unfortunately, we were unable to find any suspects and the case was eventually closed. This was a case I wish I had been able to solve. In order to keep from falling into a negative mindset , I like to think that whoever left him on that balcony didn’t intend for him to be out there in November weather, starving. I like to think that they were overwhelmed and could not care for him, and that they thought he would be found by the construction crew the following day. Perhaps they did not know the construction crew had shifted their focus to another building and would not be back for 2 weeks.

His name is now Wonder. And his outcome was positive. After his brief stops at the veterinarian and the shelter, he went directly to an amazing foster home where he recovered and was ultimately adopted. Wonder now lives in a wonderful home where he gets showered with hugs and kisses, food, shelter and love everyday. He also has a fan base that rivals Scooby Doo.

I have had a lot of cases since then, but that is one that sticks with me.

SASF: What would you say to someone who wanted to become a SAS Animal Control Officer?

KEVIN: Every day is different. And some days are hard on your heart. I meet animal lovers all the time who say that they could never do this type of work. They say that they love animals so much that they could not face the cruelty and neglect that Animal Control Officers witness daily. But, the thing about this job is, yes, we see awful things and we often meet animals on the worst days of their lives, but we are the ones who get to help make sure that every day after that is better.