Cottonwood Police Department’s animal control officers are frank about the No. 1 thing they would like to see the public do more often:
“Don’t take your pets to town with you,” CPD Ordnance Enforcement Officer Autumn Durnez, a seven-year veteran in her position, said. “They don’t need to go with you ... not into the store with you [but also] you just can’t leave an unattended animal in a car.”
In 2013, the city of Cottonwood made it illegal to keep an animal unattended in a vehicle regardless of the animal’s condition. This year, Senate Bill 1001 made it legal in Arizona to break into a vehicle to save an animal or child in danger.
In addition to the dangers of death or injury from asphyxiation or heat, taking an animal into commercial areas poses the risk of the animal getting out of the car, leading to automobile-related injuries, bites and lost pets.
CPD Ordinance Enforcement Officer Al Ponce, a 14-year veteran in his position, said that he and Durnez receive calls about pet owners trying to pass off their dogs as service animals “all the time.” According to him, the number of actual service animals allowed in commercial spaces is relatively small.
Refraining from taking your dog with you to shop may be the department’s biggest request overall, but it does not begin to encompass the issues CPD’s two animal control experts have to deal with.
“We get calls for everything,” Durnez said, going down the list of barking dogs and dogs-at-large — easily the two biggest issues calls for their dispatch to scene — to the more esoteric: Getting a coyote to drop the small dog its got locked in its jaws, trapping rattlesnakes and exotic pets escaped from their enclosures or entering houses to discover dozens of feral cats.
Ponce recalled retrieving a South African tortoise that had crossed Main Street near Walgreen’s. “I have no idea how he got there. I have no idea how he made it across without getting hit.”
Both officers agreed that there is one type of call more difficult than the rest.
“Nine times out of 10, our worst problem is picking up injured animals,” Durnez said, adding that finding an injured animal — especially one without an ID or microchip — forces her and Ponce into a decision about the fate of the animal. “We’re not vets, but we have enough training to know what we’re seeing.”
Fortunately for the officers, it is rare that they have to put an animal down. Most often, the animal is already out of its misery or its injuries can be treated.
CPD has a contract with Verde Valley Humane Society, meaning that dogs and cats, and occasionally other animals, are taken immediately into VVHS’s custody. VVHS handles impound fees, but sometimes the officers must issue citations when owners retrieve their pets.
Wildlife, exotic animals and livestock are transferred to other organizations and agencies around the state. Durnez, a former area shelter director, uses her contacts to find permanent or temporary homes for some of the animals.
According to Durnez, “everybody we talk to” is in need of some education regarding the role of animal care. Dealing with negative perceptions, in particular, is a constant challenge.
“If they see us, they think we’re taking the dog and we’re going to kill it,” Durnez said, adding that nothing could be further from the truth. “That’s not what any [animal control officer] does.”
“An animal always gets a chance,” Ponce said.