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Bangor’s ‘dogcatcher’ of old now corralling cats

Bruen takes a look at a kitten she caught before dropping it off at the Bangor Humane Society in Bangor in July.
Ashely L. Conti | BDN

By Judy Harrison

For The Weekly

Fifty years ago, Trisha Bruen’s job title would have been city “dog catcher,” but, today, Bangor’s animal control officer spends more time corralling cats than dogs.

On a July morning, Bruen, 45, stopped at an abandoned house in Hampden, where she also works on an on-call basis. The home is next to the General Dollar store on North Main Street.

“Employees at the store reported that there was a mom and a litter of kittens living in the house,” she said. “They had been leaving food for them but hadn’t been able to catch them.”

Bruen picked up three cats, two kittens and an adult, in traps she had set the previous day. She also found a dead lactating cat that had been hit by a car that she assumed was the mother.

Bruen set more traps that afternoon at the house in an effort to save the rest of the litter. She took them to Bangor Humane Society, which has a contract with Bangor and 31 other municipalities to house strays. If they are not claimed in eight days, they will be put up for adoption.

Bruen works 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. She spends nearly all of her day driving around Bangor checking on reports of stray cats living in abandoned buildings or uninvited under porches, dogs running loose and checking on dogs in parked cars on hot days. In the winter months, she checks on animals reportedly left outside too long without shelter. She does not deal with skunks, raccoons, squirrels or other wild animals.

When Bruen is not working, Bangor police officers respond to calls about animal problems.

“The part of my job I like the best are the ones the police officers hate,” she said recently. “They don’t want to drive around and pick up cats and trap cats and all that fun stuff. A lot of the officers, though, are really good about checking on dogs in cars this time of year and they do summons people.

“I rely on the public to report problems,” she said. “I don’t have time to go looking for trouble and looking for problems. They tend to find me.”

Bruen expected to spend the afternoon checking out reports of dogs in cars due the high humidity that day.

“Even though it’s only 70 or 75 degrees, it can be much hotter in a vehicle because there’s no air circulation,” she explained. “Also, in the humidity, it can be more difficult for them, especially older dogs, to breathe.

“Dogs cool down by panting so if the air temp if higher than 103 degrees, that’s warmer than their internal temperature and they can’t cool down anymore than that,” Bruen continued. “They could suffer heat distress or heat exhaustion.”

Bruen has a couple of options when she reaches the vehicle, but breaking a window is a last resort. She often is able to reach into a window and open a locked car door to check the temperature inside. If that does not work, she must call Union Street Citgo to try to open a door before she would break a window.

The reason she spends so much time with cats instead of dogs is that Maine and the rest of New England have led the nation in spaying and neutering programs for dogs, according to Liam Hughes, director of the state’s Animal Welfare Program.

“The people of Maine take animal welfare seriously,” he said recently. “A lot of non-governmental groups, along with shelters, veterinarians and municipalities, have promoted spay and neuter programs. The live release rate for shelters in Maine is 95 percent. Most of the rest of the animals must be euthanized because they are either too sick or aggressive to be adopted.”

Bruen did not set out to be an animal control officer or ACO. Her career was in finance, but because she grew up on a farm in Fayette, she was comfortable around animals.

“I grew up on a farm in Fayette, so, I’m pretty comfortable around animals — dogs, cats, horses, cows, pigs and the occasional chicken,” she said. “I decided to stay home with my kids when they were born but after eight or nine years I was getting a little bored. Hampden had an on-call position, so I applied for that.”

When Bangor’s long-time ACO retired nearly four years ago, she applied for the full-time job in Bangor.

“Trish[a] is constantly on the move working to help an animal in trouble, educate a pet owner on proper care options or run down someone who has reportedly mistreated an animal,” Bangor Police Chief Mark Hathaway said recently in an email. “She truly has an endless amount of energy.”

Bruen usually begins her day in the Bangor police station checking voicemails and emails. She also checks in with dispatch to see if something happened overnight that she needs to follow up on.

So far this year, Bruen has issued just one summons for animal cruelty this year to a person who had left a dog in a car that was too hot for too long.

Occasionally, she encounters hoarding situations where many animals must be removed from a home.

“I had one where the people had 43 cats and kittens,” she said. “The building pretty much had to be condemned. They found out I was coming and they grabbed select animals and gave away a bunch including a cockatoo, lizards and dogs, but I still was left with 43 cats and kittens.

“Sometimes it’s borderline — 10 cats and three dogs in a small apartment,” she continued. “I try to follow up with people to make sure they know about programs to help with spaying and neutering. I can’t remove animals unless there is evidence of neglect or abuse.”

State law requires all Maine municipalities to employ an animal control officer but the majority don’t have the resources to pay a person full-time as Bangor does, Hughes of the Animal Welfare Department said. He did not know the number of full-time ACOs in Maine but said there are far fewer working full-time than are working part-time or on an on-call basis.

Hughes’ department, a division of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry is responsible for training and certifying all ACOs in Maine. New officers must undergo about 40 hours of training.

Each officer must do eight of hours of continuing education a year to stay current on the law and animal handling techniques.

Bangor’s budget for animal control is $145,628, according to Assistant City Manager Michael Crocker. About $4,500 comes from licensing and impound fees. Bruen’s current salary and benefits packages is about $59,000, slightly less than a police officer’s starting salary.

Bruen said her favorite part of the job is knowing that any stray she takes to the shelter most likely will find a home because the Bangor Humane Society is a no-kill shelter.

“Any dog or cat picked up will be rehomed unless it has severe medical problems or is too aggressive to be trusted in a home. It makes my job a lot easier knowing that any animal I bring has a change.”

One of the most difficult parts of Bruen’s job is dealing with injured animals that she must transport to a veterinarian and informing people that their pet has been found dead on the side of a road. Once in awhile, there is a happy ending, she said.

“I got a call from a woman driving with her grandson on the Finson Road,” she said. “The woman calls to say she saw a dead dog on the side of the road but she couldn’t stop because she had her grandson with her and she didn’t want him to see that.

“So I drive out out there and it’s a stuffed animal lying on the side of the road,” Bruen said. “It’s a stuffed black lab just like my dog. So I drove around with it in my truck for days, because I was so relieved at that point because I thought that someone’s dog got nailed. It was great, I put a collar and leash on it and everything.”

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