Animal control officer sees dogs, roadkill in day’s work

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — There’s a dead opossum in a bathtub in a trailer park near the Interstate. And Animal Control Officer Jeremy Waymire is the one who’ll have to fish it out, the Omaha World-Herald ( ) reported.

It’s a first.

Wearing a uniform emblazoned with the Nebraska Humane Society’s shoulder patch cat, Waymire fires up his white Chevy van. On a laptop mounted near the stereo, he fills his queue with the dead opossum assignment and a few others, and he drives off.

On this Thursday, he’s the lone officer patrolling Omaha’s southeast quadrant. His job: to track down stray dogs, to follow up with cat-bite victims and, yeah, to pluck opossums out of bathtubs.

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The unit gets about 40,000 calls a year. If it isn’t big game like a cougar, it’s fair game for Omaha’s animal cops.

Waymire, 41, arranges his tasks in the queue. Emergencies first, a few priority calls next, then geographic convenience. The tub opossum isn’t a high priority.

“A dead animal isn’t an emergency if it’s dead,” says the soft-spoken first-year officer.

So, instead, he takes a call about two pit bulls on the loose trying to bite people near 33rd and Maple Streets. It’s not in his zone, but it’s on the way.

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He slaloms through the neighborhood, head pivoting left and right, scanning for clues. On the radio: smooth jazz.

“You’re not just looking for two pit bulls, you’re looking for scared people,” he said.

But he finds neither. Searches like these often go on for a few days before the unit stops looking.

Eventually he gives up. The dispatcher will send someone to check again later.

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On summer days, the Humane Society’s animal control officers are at their busiest. Owners leave their dogs in hot cars, pets escape from their backyards, and kids are home from school, meaning more playtime and, with that, more bites. It takes a dogged dog catcher to handle it all.

“We don’t like ‘dog catcher,’ ” Waymire says. It’s “animal control officer.”

Fair enough.

The tools at his disposal include a dog-wrangling retractable catch pole and a baton-looking thing called an asp, which Waymire seems to use only to rattle on backyard animal traps to make the animals crawl out the back and into freedom. If he gets in real heat, he calls the cops.

About 9:30 a.m. Waymire parks the van near 19th and F Streets. A family dog, a 13-year-old black Akita named Luna, has a hip infection and might not make it through the day.

She’s too big and too badly infected to move, so the family calls the Humane Society to help.

“These are usually tough calls,” Waymire says, his tone shifting to a somber one as he pulls into the driveway.

Waymire walks around to the backyard where a mother and daughter, arms folded, look down at Luna. On the ground, near lattices in the deck, Luna pants in the shade, her hip and back legs soaked in urine, with maggots and flies buzzing in the mess of matted fur.

A man exits the house and helps Waymire muzzle the soft-eyed dog. On a count of three, they try to hoist her torso onto a blanket that they intend to use to carry her to the van, to take her to the hospital. But she lets out a yelp and thrashes, and the men back off.

A second try, this time with the man holding a towel around his dog’s head, helps Luna onto the blanket, with her front legs and head sticking out. They lift at the blanket’s corners and, despite the painkillers, Luna has the moxie to walk down the hill with her two front paws, slowly leading the men to the van in her final act of valor.

Then, Waymire has to turn around and ask for $25 for the service.

Long before Waymire donned the uniform, he taught ballroom dance. A car accident left him with a herniated disc, forcing him to stop teaching. So he took a job doing data entry for Westside Community Schools for eight years.

A breakthrough in his physical therapy allowed him to pursue a more active job, which led him here. He and his now-8-year-old daughter frequented the Humane Society to look at the animals, so when he saw a job opening with a little action, he applied.

Waymire started training in September. By November he was in a van on his own.

On Halloween last year he got his first strong dose of satisfaction when he checked on a stray dog in Benson. He tracked the animal’s owner to southwest Omaha and called to set up a reunion.

The woman was stunned.

“Is this a joke?”

Two weeks earlier, her dog had gotten loose at a friend’s house in Benson. The next day her friend went to the Humane Society and identified the dog’s dead body — or so she thought.

But here it was, panting.

“That was really cool,” Waymire said. “That’s a great feeling.”

After taking Luna to the 24th Street Animal Clinic, Waymire pilots the van around town, ticking off low-priority tasks like bagging a dead cat and freeing a raccoon from a backyard trap. Just before lunchtime he heads to the bathtub opossum.

North of I-80 at 60th Street he pulls into a trailer park and calls the woman who reported her dead bathroom invader. No answer.

He walks onto a wooden deck and knocks on the front door, noting the aluminum foil covering the windows, and making sure to position himself sideways, as he always does, with a clear path to escape should something go awry. No answer.

Just as he prepares to leave, a red van drops off a woman with a bobbing ponytail, fresh from a trip to the dentist, her mouth still bloodied.

Inside the trailer, a stoic gray cat keeps watch. The woman walks past a ripped-up recliner and sidesteps two fans in a narrow hallway, then forces open the bathroom door.

Inside, a Kleenex box plugs a hole in the wall and the toilet is unflushed, with the lid removed. The tub is full of rubbish, including a green bucket of bleach water. A baseball bat sticks out from the bucket, the broad end soaking in the mixture.

“I saw a tail go behind the TV,” she says. “I thought it was a rat.”

Nope. It was an opossum. And here, in the tub, it lies motionless, drenched.

Waymire grabs the animal with an inside-out black garbage bag and power-walks out of the trailer, tying a loop knot in the bag on his way out the door. He’ll tuck an animal bio sheet inside the loop in case someone tries to claim the animal at the Humane Society later.

Then he opens the van’s back door, pops open a plastic storage tub and deposits the marsupial into the container to join the rigor mortis cat he picked off the road earlier.

“That poor animal probably suffered a slow, painful death by bludgeoning and Clorox,” Waymire said.

Time for lunch.

When Waymire returns from break, he handles two more pet-bite cases, peels a dead cat off an off-ramp and has a brief standoff with a big, bad dog that’s all bark. Then, electing to pass on a buzzer-beating skunk call, he heads back to the station.

There, he deposits the Hefty-bagged carcasses into a walk-in refrigerator that exudes a knock-down garbage stench. Behind the big fridge door, wheelbarrows are marked by day of the week. One has a husky, or maybe a German shepherd, draped over the edges.

These wheelbarrows are full of dead unregistered critters that will chill here for a day or two. Then the unclaimed animals are incinerated to make room for more.

Waymire cleans out the van, takes Luna’s soiled blankets to the laundry bin and settles back at his desk to fill out paperwork.

Then he hands the keys off to the next officer, who walks outside, fires up the engine and heads back out onto the streets.

There’s a call about a woman in Bellevue drowning baby bunnies.