Humane Society of Carroll County Staff

by Lisa Gregory, photography by Nikola Tzenov

Adventures with Animals: It’s ‘Never A Dull Moment’ For Carroll County’s Animal Control Officers

A call for animal control at the Humane Society of Carroll County has come in. It’s a report of a barn full of dogs — a puppy mill, perhaps?

Officers Katelyn Soper and Garrett Bean are dispatched to a farm outside Westminster. Upon arriving, they encountered two large, Newfoundland-type dogs that resembled fuzzy black bears. Without a single bark, the two dogs bounded down the stairs from the farmhouse’s front porch and greeted the officers happily.

Animal Control Officer Soper Animal Adventures 2024

Animal Control Officer Soper

Soper spoke gently and kindly to one of the dogs as her experienced hands petted it. “I’m looking for bones that may be protruding, meaning that they aren’t being fed as well as they should be,” she says. Not this time. The dog she interacted with is muscular and healthy, with thick, shiny fur and clear eyes.

The officers spoke with the dogs’ owner, who escorted them to the barn where the “many dogs” were reported to be kept. Three furry bundles of energy emerged, toppling over each other enthusiastically. One puppy is solid black like his parents. The other two are black and white. The barn is clean, and the pups appeared alert and healthy.

“This call turned out well,” says Soper.

This story is only one of countless calls regarding countless animals, from dogs and cats to kangaroos and alligators. Each year, the second full week of April is National Animal Control Officer Appreciation Week. It’s a well-deserved recognition, says Karen Baker, executive director of the Humane Society of Carroll County.

Animal Control Officer Adamson Animal Adventures 2024

Animal Control Officer Adamson

“Our animal control officers are the most dedicated group,” she says. “They are committed to helping animals, whether taking wildlife to a rehab center or enforcing the county and state animal laws. Their daily interaction with the public includes education, compassion, problem-solving, conflict resolution and enforcement.”

In many ways, it is a job like no other — one that might involve catching a runaway kangaroo.

“There was a gentleman at Cascade Lake who had a petting zoo,” says Mark Miller, who recently retired as an animal control officer for Carroll County after more than 32 years, the last 11 of which involved serving as animal control chief. “One of our officers got a call that a kangaroo from there had escaped and was running loose in the area. That was an interesting call,” says Miller. Animal control officers eventually caught the kangaroo with a 100-foot net.

Snake calls also abound. “We had a call where this house was infested with snakes,” says Miller of the home near a wooded area. “The crawl space was loaded. They had them in the bedrooms, kitchen and even under the couch. Someone would be sitting on the couch and here comes a big snake crawling out from under the couch. I mean like a big 5-, 6-foot snake.”

Animal Control Officer Bean Animal Adventures 2024

Animal Control Officer Bean

Miller also remembers a call where a squirrel had gotten into a wood-burning stove. “The people living there started a fire in the woodstove to get the squirrel out,” he says. “Then they opened the door, the squirrel jumped out and the house caught fire.”

Given his long career, Miller has plenty of stories like these. But he isn’t the only one. Current animal control officers like Soper and Bean, plus Animal Control Administrator Dawn Kinna-Andrew and Angela Derr, each have adventures to share.

Soper and Bean once discovered a wily, wayward rooster at the Park and Ride, at the intersection of Maryland routes 97 and 32. Soper and Bean chased the rooster for 30 minutes and maybe longer. Each time the two officers got close to the rooster, the bird remained out of their reach.

“People were watching us from 97,” says Soper with a laugh. But when the rooster found his way to the tree line and a tree branch, Soper was able to catch him. Today, he lives with her. “I call him Henry,” she says.

Bean, relatively new to the job, says that he has mostly had experiences with birds so far. “Most of them have been bumped by cars, and I’ve taken them down to Frisky’s,” a wildlife and primate sanctuary in Woodstock, which cares for injured animals. “I feel like I see them almost every other week. And they are like, ‘Oh, your hawk is doing fine’ or ‘We released him.’”

Animal Control Officer Angela Derr Animal Adventures 2024

Animal Control Officer Angela Derr

Not all animals make it, however. What animal control officers see and experience can make a haunting and lasting impression on them — all the more so when it comes to abuse and neglect. Miller says many animal control officers suffer from compassion fatigue “because of what you are seeing day in and day out and what people are capable of doing to animals.”

Others don’t directly mean harm to their animals but need education. For example, Derr received a call regarding horses. “Someone was driving past a farm and noticed how skinny they were,” she says. Derr visited the farm. “The owner just didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing” with their dental care, Derr says. “Horses require their teeth to be floated to make sure all the points are filed down in their mouths,” she says. “If not, they’re not digesting their food properly.”

Derr worked with the owner and a vet “to get these animals looking fantastic,” she says with a smile.

Animal Control Officer Kipe Animal Adventures 2024

Animal Control Officer Kipe

Knowing how to care for one’s animal is essential, even when the animal is unique and not necessarily local to the area. Carroll County has had plenty of these examples, too. Miller says he has often seen how trends have influenced the type of animals they encounter. “Iguanas were big in the ’90s,” he says, but they are challenging to catch. “If you grabbed them by the tails, the tails would fall off,” he says.

Then there are the animals that never should have been pets in the first place. Alligators, for example, are illegal to own in Maryland. “We had a call from a homeowner in Sykesville who saw an alligator walking through their backyard,” says Kinna-Andrew. “I think it was a nice day, and somebody had it in the house and said, ‘Let’s take him outside and let him get some fresh air,’ and then he wandered off.”

The people who found the relatively small alligator scooped it up and put it into a guinea pig cage. “Then I picked him up,” says Kinna-Andrew. The alligator was transferred to a wildlife sanctuary.

The second alligator call involved someone bringing home the wrong souvenir. “This person had been vacationing in North Carolina, caught an alligator and brought it back to Taneytown,” says Kinna-Andrew. The alligator, confined in a plastic tote with air holes, accompanied the man and his girlfriend on the long drive home to Maryland. Once home, however, things didn’t quite go as planned. “The girlfriend was having trouble with it, so she called the police, who called us,” says Kinna-Andrew. This alligator, too, was sent to a wildlife sanctuary.

It’s all in a day’s work, and it’s “never a dull moment,” Kinna-Andrew says.