SF Animal Control enforces the law, educates, helps wildlife

This article is adapted from an episode of our “Civic” podcast. Click on the audio player below to listen to the full story.

Step inside Animal Care and Control’s bright and clean new facility on Bryant Street and you might be greeted by a human volunteer or an adoptable dog. But behind the scenes, officers are investigating alerts about possible abuse, stray wild animals and animals in distress. Animal Care and Control is an emergency service, and officers have been on the job throughout the pandemic, even having to temporarily cut hours when employees fell ill. Although call volume has dropped dramatically with the first shelter-in-place order, as workers in many other sectors return to work and are increasingly on the move, and as the season approaches kittens, the facility may see an increase in activity. For service personnel, every day can hold surprises.

“That’s what makes the job so exciting is that you have no idea what the day has in store for you,” Lt. Eleanor Sadler said. “So you answer all these calls. And it’s, you know, a sick pigeon just looking sad on someone’s doorstep or a raccoon hanging upside down from a fence or a possum run over by a car or a squirrel in a chimney. There are just a million variations of problems pets can have that they just need a little help with.

Sadler has decades of experience as an officer responding to calls, but she also works with the public in a less tactile way. She is the voice behind Officer Edith’s hugely popular Twitter account. With the likeness of a former resident Amazon parrot as its avatar, the account posts photos and ideas that range from comedy to heartwarming to insightful.

When Sadler first took over the account, “it was me and about 100 people, and it was just plain nonsense. And then I got retweeted by a local reporter,” she said. And then all of a sudden there was a massive influx of followers, and things started to get really fun. And I started to try to understand what works, what represents the agency well or is also interesting for people.

Neither the Twitter account nor the parts of the facility that are open to the public capture all of what animal control officers do on a day-to-day basis.

“You can never really know what we’re doing until you have that kind of conversation. It’s like people have no idea we’re arresting for animal cruelty,” Sadler said. “But they also don’t see the officer picking up the 2-week-old kitten and he’s in bad shape, but they’re like, ‘We’re about to euthanize this guy, we don’t think he’ll do it,” then the officer says, “I’m going to take him home. They spend every two hours waking up to make formula, warm them up, feed them, urinate them. You know, it’s not just a job. It’s like a vocation for the people who are here.

Yesica Prado

Lt. Eleanor Sadler tours the bird room on the second floor of the San Francisco Animal Care and Control facility on Bryant Street. The facility provides temporary shelter for birds, cats, dogs, fish, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits and reptiles.

Animals can find themselves at the shelter in different ways. They can be handed over by an owner or found loose. Wildlife may need to be removed from a dangerous situation. Sometimes pets need a temporary home, such as when the owner goes to the hospital, dies or is incarcerated. Some pet owners find themselves overwhelmed by the multiplication of animals. Officers also investigate allegations of animal abuse and may seize an animal as part of a welfare investigation.

“We receive hundreds of complaints a year. The majority are either a misunderstanding or just plain wrong. And then periodically, we have one that is really serious. And we need to investigate thoroughly and put all the pieces together,” Sadler said. “Our main objective is to ensure that these people can no longer have animals.”

A suspect in such a case was arrested last year after a lengthy investigation revealed he had inflicted multiple fractures on his golden retriever pup. The man pleaded guilty animal cruelty and neglect.

In many cases, however, officers play less of a law enforcement role and more of an educational role. They teach residents why feeding wildlife is harmful and how to deal with an unexpected animal.

“The general rule is to move slower than you think, quieter than you think. And don’t panic,” Sadler said. “If it’s an animal we need to take care of, call us. And we will help you. But don’t put yourself in danger.

Yesica Prado/San Francisco Public Press

A 5-month-old stray cat named Butters, who was found on the street, meows at visitors. She was spayed five days after admission to San Francisco Animal Care and Control.

When it comes to pets, the Bryant Street Animal Care and Control Center could be where would-be pet owners find a new companion. But domestic or not, pets can also be too much to handle. Animal Control is equipped to help you in both situations.

“If you are interested in adopting an animal, go to a shelter or a rescue group. If you’re overwhelmed by the pet you have, there’s no shame in giving it up. Doing what is right is most important. And if you’re unable to care for an animal properly, there are people who will and they won’t shame you or judge you,” Sadler said. “We are a resource for people and we want people to use this resource.”

For animal-related emergencies, Animal Care and Control can be reached from 6 a.m. to midnight at 415-554-9400.

A segment of our radio show and podcast, “Civic.” Listen at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at 102.5 FM in San Francisco, or online at ksfp.fm, and subscribe to Apple, google, Spotify Where embroiderer.

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