Bangor’s dogcatcher never bored

This story was published on April 22, 2004 on Page B1 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

When you’ve been in the animal-control business as long as Pat Pinkham has, you learn to expect the unexpected when you set out for work each day.

“Not much surprises me anymore,” said Pinkham, who has been Bangor’s sole animal-control officer for the last 21 years. “You don’t get bored because you never know what the next call will be.”

Pinkham figures she responds to about 3,000 calls a year, which keeps her constantly on the road in her familiar white truck. Besides the standard complaints about stray dogs and cats – she dealt with four dog bites this week alone – Pinkham also handles calls from people seeking relief from a citywide menagerie of burrowing, spraying, swooping, garbage-thieving critters.

Over the years she’s rescued a deer that was hung up on a fence and chased down pigs that were rooting around a neighbor’s lawn and making a mess of the place. She’s plucked squirrels from fireplaces and helped to corral a slew of wandering moose and more than a few traffic-obstructing dairy cows.

She retrieved a cat that got its head stuck in a peanut butter jar while inside a Dumpster, and saved one skunk that had fallen into a swimming pool and another that was trapped under the hood of a woman’s car.

Since being sprayed by skunks is a routine occupational hazard in her business, Pinkham always makes sure she has plenty of her special field-tested, descenting solution on hand when spring arrives.

“Massengil douche, believe it or not,” she said with a laugh. “Best stuff I’ve ever used for getting rid of skunk smell.”

While running an animal-rehabilitation operation years ago at her camp in Stetson, Pinkham found herself the caretaker of a baby harbor seal that had been rescued from a fishing net and delivered to the city’s shelter. Pinkham kept the newborn seal in a child’s swimming pool until it could be flown from Bangor to the New England Aquarium in Boston.

“I don’t get a lot of calls about birds,” she said, “but I once rehabbed a white cockatoo that had a mouth on it like a pirate.”

Pinkham says she’s never met an animal she didn’t like – except for iguanas, that is. She’s had to wrangle a few of them in her time, after getting calls from Bangor residents who’ve spotted the curious creatures sunning in their yards, and the reptilian encounters have left her cold.

“They’re homely things, and they bite, too,” she said.

Her encounters with snakes in the city have been blessedly few, but memorable. Just last summer, she got a call from a trash collector who stumbled across an 8-foot-long boa constrictor at one of his stops.

“Apparently, a gentleman from the city had the snake flown in,” she recalled. “But when he picked it up at the airport it wasn’t moving, and didn’t seem to be breathing. He thought it was dead so he put it in a bin and set it out with the trash. Well, the snake warmed up and came to life by the time the trash collector showed up, so he put it in a pillowcase and called me. I mean that snake was huge. It wound up going to a snake rehabber. That’s what I mean about this job – you just never know.”

Pinkham hasn’t worked much with wild animals since 1998, when the state informed her she would need a trapper’s license to cart the furry troublemakers out of town. That part of the business is now handled by damage-control agents overseen by the Maine Warden Service, which is fine with Pinkham. She has all the work she can handle just keeping the city’s domestic herd in check.

At last check, she said, there were 2,100 licensed dogs in Bangor, probably another 1,500 or so unaccounted for, and more stray cats roaming the streets than she could even begin to count.

In Pinkham’s truck are a few indispensable tools of her trade: a cat net, a nifty little device for breaking car windows to rescue the overheated pets left inside, a long pole with a neck snare at the end, a box of doggie treats, a tennis ball and a Frisbee.

“You throw the ball or the Frisbee and the stray dog runs after it and brings it back to you,” she said. “Works like a charm.”

She also keeps a white teddy bear in the truck, which comes in handy when she is called to transport a family pet from the scene of a car accident to the Bangor Humane Society.

“The teddy bear is for the kids,” she said. “I trade it for their dogs, and tell the kids we can trade back again when they come to pick up their pets. It helps to comfort the children.”

After two decades of overseeing the city’s animal population, Pinkham said she cannot imagine a more rewarding occupation.

“I love my job because it gives me a chance to do some good for the animals,” she said. “To tell you the truth, I enjoy animals much more than I do people. Animals have a very acute understanding of our needs, and there are many times when I wish we had a better understanding of theirs.”