Virgil Veen, keeper of the creatures: Animal control officer has served community for at least a decadeWORTHINGTON — A dog on the loose, a cat up a tree and a critter of some sort in a window well. Just another day on the job for Worthington’s Animal Control Officer Virgil Veen.
WORTHINGTON — A dog on the loose, a cat up a tree and a critter of some sort in a window well. Just another day on the job for Worthington’s Animal Control Officer Virgil Veen.
“It’s not exactly a 9 to 5 job,” he admitted, a crooked grin crossing his face. “It’s more of a ‘whenever’ kind of thing.”
Veen has been controlling the animal kingdom in Worthington and around the area for at least a decade, answering calls from dispatch and the general public. He has a radio in his truck to take dispatch calls, and the contact number for the cell phone he carries is printed in large numbers on the side of the vehicle he drives around town.
“Most people know it’s there or call the police department when they need me,” he explained.
The majority of the calls he receives are regarding dogs, but occasionally someone complains about a cat. Armed with only a leash and a 5-foot catch pole, Veen captures the problematic canine — no big issue when it’s a friendly misplaced mutt who has wandered from home, but a completely different story when it’s a territorial dog that has been trained to keep people away or neglected and abandoned.
So how does he capture the snarling, angry animals?
“With lots of treats and lots of patience,” Veen said with a shrug of his shoulders. “I’ve sat in a back yard for a half hour or more. Eventually they come around. Sometimes the officers with me have thought I was crazy.”
But, he admitted, there are times he is glad the 5 feet of catch pole is between him and a particular pooch.
Not that he limits his rounding-up skills to poochwrangling. Veen has been known to handle any species of animal life tosses his way. One day, as he stood in a garage discussing a raccoon problem with a man, he felt a strange prickling on the back of his leg. Sure enough, a baby raccoon was using him as a human climbing pole.
Then there was the day a woman called after seeing a nest fall out of a tree during a hard rain. A family of baby ducks, believed to be wood ducks, had been swept down a storm sewer like little pieces of floating popcorn. Veen spent the next hour fishing them out with a dip net. The little critters had fallen about six feet and were paddling around, no mama duck to be seen.
“I caught them, there must have been about eight or 10 of them, and brought them home and put them under a heat lamp,” Veen said.
He soon got word of a local man who had rescued another family of ducklings. He handed over his own small flock and the man raised them all together, fostering them until they were old enough to be released.
“He only lost two,” Veen recalled.
When calls come in about wildlife in back yards, Veen’s actions depend on time of day. If someone calls about a skunk or raccoon in a yard at night, he advises the caller to leave the animal alone unless its behavior seems unusual. If the creature has fallen into an egress or window well, he tells the homeowner to put one end of a board into the well so the animal can climb out once the humans have gone away.
“If it’s during the day, I go out there,” he stated.
There was the interesting case of a beaver that fell into a window well and proceeded to slap the window with its tail, scaring the homeowners.
“Have you ever heard a beaver slap a log with its tail?” Veen chuckled. “Imagine it doing that to a window. He wanted out of there pretty bad.”
Afraid the animal would shatter the glass with the strength of its blows, Veen had to use the catch-pole to pull the beaver out. The critter was released away from town. Later, an officer told Veen he saw a beaver crossing the highway and wondered where it was going.
“Now we know,” Veen laughed.“It was going to town.”
Over the years, Veen has come face to, er, muzzle, snout, beak or whatever with feral cats, the occasional chicken, fox, wood chuck, turkey, sheep, pig, iguana, garter snakes, pheasant, raccoon and even a gecko.
But mostly he deals in dogs.
Nuisance calls come to the police department. When someone complains about a neighbor’s barking dog, for example, an officer is sent to mediate the situation. Veen is only called when the animal needs to be removed.
When a dog is reported wandering or stray, Veen is called in right away.
If he picks up a stray dog, he checks for city tags. The city of Worthington has a dog tag ordinance, at a cost of $20 for dogs that have been spayed or neutered and $30 for those that have not. The tags are good for two years. To obtain a tag, the owner must show proof that the dog has been vaccinated for rabies.
The owner of a stray must pay a $50 pick-up fee plus a kennel fee. Veen can only hold the animal for five days.
“So, the owner has five days to pick it up,” he explained.
If the dog has no identification, Veen still holds it for five days, then sets about trying to find it a home.
“I have a 90 percent adoption rate,” he stated.
There is a difference, he pointed out, between his limited-capacity pound and an animal shelter.
After so many years of being involved in animal control, Veen has a number of contacts who help him adopt out the dogs. But some are not adoptable. He has picked up dogs that are growling, snarling and angry — those who barely tolerate human contact. He tries to work with them, but with limited kennel space and time, it isn’t always possible to turn them around.
“Who are you going to adopt them to?” he asked. “They’re the ones who are not raised right, who are dangerous.”
For a while, he was seeing a higher number of dogs normally stereotyped as mean, such as pit bulls and Rottweilers, many of which had been neglected or abandoned, but that seems to have calmed down. And sadly, he noticed a jump in the number of abandoned young dogs a few weeks ago, then realized it was about six weeks after Christmas.
“We have the same problem right after Easter,” he said. “Lots of chicken complaints. People don’t know what to do with the cute little chicks, so they put them out in the yard.”
Veen’s dog pound area only has room for eight animals. During the winter, that doesn’t seem to be a problem, but during the summer space can fill up fast. Dogs, Veen said, just like people; they tend to get spring fever and wander away from home to enjoy the nice weather.
“I pick up some really nice dogs,” he stated. “Some I know, and I bring them home. I worry sometimes that a family is on vacation and thinks their dog is being looked after, and it got loose and is sitting in the pound and not being claimed. I would hate to adopt out someone’s dog.”
To that end, Veen encourages people to buy their dog a tag and get it registered with the city.
“It’s an easy thing to do, and it helps keep your dog safe,” he said.