Student takes bite out of animal calls
By ANDREW MCGINN
In Grand Junction, there’s a new sheriff in town.
Only he’s not even a deputy.
The part-time college student the Greene County Sheriff’s Office has employed since June to serve as its animal control officer has officially put the fear of God — or at the very least, the fear of a $98.75 ticket — into the residents of Grand Junction, in particular, where unlicensed dogs once roamed at will.
City Clerk Rita Jenkins last week said that the number of licensed dogs in Junction spiked from just eight or 10 to 100 within a matter of weeks of Garrett Riedesel, 20, being on the job.
“It made a huge difference,” she said.
At one point, Jenkins even ran out of dog tags.
“The word gets out real quick in a small town,” she said.
This time last year, the sheriff’s office was “inundated,” as Sheriff Steve Haupert put it, with animal control calls.
Calls for animal control in recent years have made up anywhere from 12 to 15 percent of all calls fielded by the sheriff’s office, Haupert has said previously.
Of the 2,080 calls the sheriff’s office was dispatched to in 2014, according to Haupert, 260 involved some type of animal.
In Grand Junction, Jenkins tried to maintain law and order the best she could, like something out of an old Western.
The city council there two years ago updated its animal ordinance to include a $98.75 fine for unlicensed dogs, Jenkins said, but it went largely ignored.
It costs $5 to license a dog in Grand Junction, she said.
Enter Riedesel, a 2012 graduate of Paton-Churdan High School armed only with the authority to issue citations to neglectful pet owners.
He has access to a catch pole, too, should he need to bring a dog in, but that’s another story.
“To be honest, I don’t even know where it is,” Riedesel confessed recently.
Haupert last year asked the Greene County board of supervisors to consider hiring an animal control officer.
“I don’t think anybody goes into law enforcement to be a dog catcher,” John Muir, chairman of the board of supervisors, conceded at one point.
Riedesel, a fire science major at Iowa Central Community College, was able to secure a grant from Iowa State University Extension to pay for an eight-week summer internship with the sheriff’s office.
So began the legend of the dog catcher.
“He’s made a great impact,” Haupert said.
Riedesel was turned loose on the county, and has stayed on with the sheriff’s office to handle animal control calls when needed. He also works as a part-time dispatcher.
“I hope we can retain his services,” Jenkins said. “He’s good. I like him a lot.”
For his part, Riedesel has never had a pet of his own, nor does he want one.
But, according to Haupert, he’s able to round up stray dogs with relative ease — even without knowing where the catch pole is.
“I don’t know if you call him a dog whisperer or what,” Haupert said. “It’s not everybody’s niche.”
“Some of them jump right up in your backseat,” Riedesel said. “Some of them you’ve got to pick up and carry to your car.”
Riedesel began his tenure going door-to-door in Grand Junction to check on dog licenses, but soon spread out to other towns.
It was Riedesel, while on patrol in Churdan last month, who was flagged down by a floral delivery person who smelled propane around a residence in the 200 block of Hills Street.
Homes were evacuated and the Paton-Churdan Community School was placed on lockdown.
A few hours later, Riedesel was right back to business, issuing several citations to the owners of unlicensed dogs.
Having Riedesel available creates “an awareness that there are consequences for dogs running at large,” Haupert said.
It also underscores the need for Greene County to at least have a part-time animal control officer on the payroll — a goal of Haupert’s especially once a new countywide animal shelter is built near Jefferson’s airport.
“Animal care and welfare is ever increasing,” he said. “It’s not going to go away.”
Jenkins believes a dedicated animal control officer is the way to go.
“We don’t want the sheriff out there chasing dogs,” she said. “He has better things to do.”