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It's a jungle out there

Summertime and the living is easy. Unless your job involves animal control. Raccoons, skunks, hedgehogs - the occasional iguana - all have a way of popping up in the Fargo-Moorhead area. The more mundane calls also proliferate in the summer month...

A 35-pound turtle

Summertime and the living is easy.

Unless your job involves animal control.

Raccoons, skunks, hedgehogs - the occasional iguana - all have a way of popping up in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

The more mundane calls also proliferate in the summer months, like complaints about barking dogs and wayward cats.

The latter are something of a nemesis for one Fargo police officer.


"I've been to the hospital three times, work related, and two of have been cats. The other (case) was a car crash," Sgt. Michael Mitchell said.

"I know many officers would rather deal with a 200-pound man than a cat, because you can predict people. Animals are unpredictable," Mitchell said.

Day of the iguana

Most animal calls in Fargo are handled by a contingent of community service officers that now numbers five.

They handled 4,469 calls from July 2006 through June, the lion's share involving animal calls of one kind or another.

A sampling of recent dispatch entries included calls for "baby owl on ground," "baby duck clipped by car" and "iguana on garage."

Colette Olson handled the iguana.

"Needless to say, I couldn't climb up on the garage," Olson said, recalling how she was assisted by a 14-year-old boy who welcomed the chance to help rope the reptile and lower it to the ground.


But that was half the battle.

Caging the animal took a team effort between Olson and the teenager.

"They (iguanas) are very strong," Olson said. "The tail just thrashes. It freaked out those ladies in the yard, I tell ya."

The iguana was taken to the pound and ultimately claimed by its owner.

Oftentimes, wild animals trapped in Fargo will be euthanized to reduce the risk to public safety, Olson said.

"They can carry rabies," said Olson, adding that the summer has been the busiest she's seen in her five years as a community service officer.

Harvey Moos, a CSO with the Moorhead Police Department, said calls have been steady this summer.

Skunk and raccoon runs are common, he said.


In most cases, the animals are trapped and released outside of town, usually near the Red River, he said.

Skunks present a unique challenge, but Moos said the animal's proclivity for pungent projection can be tamed by draping a blanket over the animal's cage.

"It's like they're in their own peaceful world," he said.

In the case of raccoons, Moos said they will normally move away if people approach, but they can become belligerent when they feel threatened or cornered.

Mitchell's experiences with raccoons have been similar.

The smart thing to do, he said: "Give them some space."

Bad dogs, bad dogs

Calls involving domestic animals are common in Fargo and Moorhead, officials say.


Moorhead Police Lt. Joel Scharf said a dangerous dog ordinance approved in 2005 provided officers with a valuable weapon when dealing with problem animals.

If a police official determines a dog to be potentially dangerous or dangerous, it cannot be kept in the city unless the owner registers the animal and implants a microchip in the dog that contains information about the animal and its owner.

The owner must also carry liability insurance of at least $300,000 and pay a $200 annual registration fee if the dog is deemed potentially dangerous, or $500 if it is deemed a dangerous dog.

Scharf said of six dogs recently deemed to be dangerous or potentially dangerous, five were pit bulls and one was a German shepherd.

In one case, the owner opted to have his pit bull euthanized, Scharf said.

In four cases, the dogs were either moved out of town or no longer can be found in the city.

Scharf said most dog problems are really people problems; a dog's breed is immaterial.

Pit bulls, he said, are very loving dogs, if raised in the right atmosphere.


The problem is that when pit bulls bite, the results are often disastrous for the victim, Scharf said.

In one case in Moorhead in which charges have yet to be filed, a pit bull owner is suspected of ordering her dog to attack someone, Scharf said.

The victim, who was bitten in the face, required 16 stitches and nearly lost an eye, he said.

Some people operate under the false assumption they can control their animal under any situation, Scharf said.

"A lot of dog owners don't realize that animals, however domesticated, still have some wild tendencies.

"Although a dog may be a model animal, there have been occasions when dogs have attacked each other, and the owners, who thought they had ultimate control, realized they didn't," he said.

Wild things

When members of the wild kingdom visit town, they may be handled in a number of ways.


Deer, which are extremely plentiful, can be hunted in Fargo during a special bow hunting season in the fall.

In most cases when a wild animal is found in town, the best thing to do is nothing, officials say, because left alone, creatures will usually find their way back to wherever they came from.

If they don't, Fargo officials have two new tools for dealing with them - state-of-the-art dart guns.

Mitchell called them a great improvement over the "elephant gun" they relied on in the past, a relic once used by circuses to drug large animals.

"Now we can dart everything from a Chihuahua to a moose," he said, adding that a dart's velocity and dosage can now be adjusted to reduce risk of injury to an animal.

Marlys Kildahl, a community service officer with the Fargo Police Department for 22 years, said the dart gun will still be used sparingly and only as a last resort.

"My fear is people are going to think we'll be able to go and dart everything and save everybody," she said.

"We don't use the dart gun unless it is absolutely necessary.

"It (the drug) takes at least 45 minutes to take effect and a lot of times it kills the animal," Kildahl said.

"The animal's heart can't take it because they're really scared."

Kildahl recalled the time several years ago when a mother moose and calf strayed into town and were eventually shot.

She said in some ways, the heated debate over whether the animals should have been killed still hasn't cooled.

But Kildahl remains convinced that the right decision was made.

"We've had other moose in town and we've been able to herd them out. But that just was not going to happen," she said.

"Kids started hitting them (the moose) with snowballs. They were going to hurt somebody."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com.
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