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PET HAPPENINGS - JULY 2001

Randy Zimmerman ~ Not Just the “Dog Catcher” Anymore
by Carol N. Wells

Just the words, “Dog Catcher” or even Animal Control, raises people’s hackles. The stereotypical visions that spring to mind from dog catchers writing tickets to stealing a dog from its own yard, is anything but comforting. Randy Zimmerman, one of Moab’s Animal Control Officers, is changing all of that. And if discretion is the better part of valor, Randy Zimmerman fits the bill and Moab is lucky to have him as the “Dog Catcher.”
Along with taking care of Moab’s wandering animal population, Randy is working on public relations through being in the public eye, talking with people and getting them to realize that he is their pet’s best friend. He is involved with the Humane Society of Moab Valley and frequently helps them on their pet adoption days so he can meet and talk with people.

Changing people’s perceptions, however, is not an easy task. When Randy approaches people, they don’t see a person, they see an authority figure after their dog, and before Randy has a chance to speak, hostility and defensiveness are already at the fore. So, Randy began by changing his uniform to a more relaxed, casual look. Though his navy blue polo shirt has his name and title embroidered on it, he wears his badge on his belt, where it’s visible, but it’s not the first thing you see.
In fact it works so well, that sometimes he isn’t immediately recognized, as Randy explains, “I walked up to a guy walking his dog off leash downtown and started to talk with him, asking him if he was new in town and aware of our leash laws and such. Just about the time he looked like he was going to tell me where I could “go,” he started to read my shirt and suddenly says, ‘You’re the guy! The dog guy!’ I nodded and offered him a free leash. He actually said thank you.”

When approaching people about the leash laws, Randy is never about writing a ticket. In fact, in all cases he will do everything he can not to write a ticket. Supported by the Chief of Police, the department has purchased approximately 100 inexpensive leashes that Randy hands to people as he talks to them about leash laws and the importance of keeping dogs on a leash. Though locals may protest about living in Moab “forever” and never having to leash their dog; the key word here is “enforcement.” The leash laws for the city and the county state that dogs must be licensed, have rabies vaccinations, and whenever the dog leaves your property, he must be on a leash. Incidentally, the same rules that apply to dogs, apply to cats as well.

So Randy’s version of “enforcement” is a friendly, helpful approach to try and put people at ease. Randy says he’s noticed an improvement since he’s started the leash campaign.

When it comes to catching dogs, Randy will do everything in his power to get the dog home before taking it to the animal shelter, or “pound.”

Randy maintains, “This is where licensing is so important. When a dog wears a license, I can track down the owner and return the dog to them. I always check for a license, first. Even if you chase a dog, chances are, he’ll run for home, anyway. That’s when I try to find the owner or someone to talk to that will be responsible for the dog. If I can’t find, or don’t know the owner; or there isn’t someone around who will be responsible for the dog, then I have no choice but to take it to the pound. The law actually states that I can retrieve the dog from its own backyard if it has been roaming or become a nuisance, but that’s not what I’m about. I’d rather talk to the owner about the problem and try to educate them a bit. It’s also one way I have of telling people about the licensing law.”

I asked Randy how he handles cats, since most cats don’t even wear collars. “Cats are tough, since a cat will run up a tree or into the first hole it can find. If they’re not wearing break-away collars, a lot of times they can strangle themselves. Most often, they end up going straight to the pound, since we have no way of knowing who to contact. People don’t call the pound, asking for their cat like they do for dogs. People seem to consider cats a more disposable animal. They just don’t care, so most of the cats end up being euthanized. The first place people should call when they lose their pets is either Animal Control, or the Animal Shelter - the pound. After three days, the law states that the animal becomes the property of the city or county and it is legal for us to adopt them out. One thing we are not, is animal disposers. And by that I mean, there are people that call us to come pick up their pets because it just isn’t ‘working out.’ If I notice the same person is calling over the same issue with a different animal, I’ll tell them to take the animal to the pound themselves. Then they can pay for the euthanasia and face the music. Hopefully it will make them think before they get another animal.”

As Randy and I talked, his “beeper” went off and he was informed about one of his next stops; someone having a “chicken problem.” So I asked Randy what kinds of calls he deals with, and he told me, “Everything from skunks to raccoons, even bear sightings and deer. Although the bears and deer are left to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Last year we had a run on skunks. This year, it’s a run on squirrels.”

What kinds of dog cases are you most often called about, other than roaming or loose dogs, I asked. “Most of the abuse cases in Moab have to do with neglect and heat issues. Either the dog isn’t getting any water or food, or it’ll be about dogs being stuck in cars, downtown. A lot of times I’ll wait for the owner of a vehicle that has a dog inside it. If you want an idea of what that’s like, try putting on a fur coat and laying down on the front seat of your car with the windows cracked, while it’s parked downtown for about half an hour. See how long you’ll last. I’ll wait for the owner to show up first, so I can talk to them about how deadly it is for a dog in that situation. What helps me here, is the infrared heat indicator that I carry. I can shine the infrared light right through the windshield and it will read the inside temperature of the vehicle. Usually on a 100°F day, the temperature on the seats reach 135°F to 150°F, depending on whether it’s parked in the shade or the sun. Once, I waited for 30-40 minutes for the owner of a vehicle to show up. I can see the dog panting like crazy, inside the car. In this situation I normally call in to the staff sergeant, which I don’t have to do, and then I get into the vehicle to let the dog out and get him into some shade. In this case, the owner still hadn’t shown up, so I left my card and took the dog to the pound for his own safety and well being. The owner was actually decent about the whole situation.”

Randy and I went to my vehicle so that I could see how the infrared heat indicator worked. I had cracked all four of my windows about 2 inches when I had parked the car, about 45 minutes before. When he read the dashboard, it registered at 200°F, the side panel of the door, which is fabric and was not in direct sun, registered at 138°F. I don’t think I need to wear a fur coat to figure this one out.

“During the March Marathon,” says Randy, “even on a cooler, 70° day, the temperature on the seats reached 115°F.”

I asked Randy if animal control has the authority to remove animals from an abuse situation and had he ever had to do that? “Yes,” said Randy, “We do have the authority. The Humane Society does not. The worst case I’ve witnessed was a call about someone not taking care of their dog, and the caller thought the owner might have abandoned the dog, which had puppies. The owner had indeed abandoned the animal, and she had gotten so hungry, that she had eaten two of the puppies. We rescued the mother and the other two pups, all of whom were later adopted out to good homes. We tried to catch the owner, but we never found him.”

Catching abusers of animals and bringing them to justice is important because if the abuser has no compunction about treating animals inhumanely, then it will be no problem for the abuser to use human victims.

But public relations and watching for the welfare of Moab’s animals isn’t the end of Randy’s work. Currently, he is also working diligently on establishing a “Dog Park” for Moab. Though he has a location in mind, he declined giving me the exact locale as he was still working on the particulars. “We need a dog park not only for the locals but for the tourists as well. During the hot summer months, as we all know, the heat makes it impossible to excercise your dog in a place like sandflats, or most other areas. The key is trying to convince the city council. If people support the idea of having a dog park, then they need to let their city council members know.”

Randy Zimmerman was part of drilling in Moab when the uranium boom was having its bust and moved to Salt Lake for awhile to work for his father’s drilling company which took him to Morton Thiokol and Hercules, and was also involved in coal mining. But he decided that drilling work wasn’t really his “thing” and moved back to Moab in time to come across a job opening as an Animal Control Officer.

Randy himself, owns two Akitas whom he saved from an abusive Kennel situation. The welfare of animals is his chief concern. He also has “Euthanasia Certification” which is not required in the state of Utah.

Randy informed me that the word Euthanasia means “painless, peaceful, good death.” When it’s required of him and there is no other hope for an injured, suffering animal, Randy is able to help them have a good death.

All in all, it is a good life, that Randy is after for Moab’s pet population. I, for one, am grateful that he is one of Moab’s Animal Control Officer’s. So when you see this guy in the animal control truck waving at you, wave back, it’s Randy Zimmerman.

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