EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 1, 2012

Rarely a dull day for Plaistow animal officer

Animal control officer rarely has dull day

By Dustin Luca

---- — Brian Farrell hears it all — loose rabbits, the report of a boa constrictor on the run, even one call about some "baby dinosaurs."

And that's just fine with Farrell, who grew from the little boy who rescued wildlife to the on-call animal control officer for Plaistow and Danville.

Farrell, 27, also works part-time as an on-call assistant in Hampstead.

He said he entered the field because he "always had a passion for animals, always wanted to help animals."

"As far as I can remember, I was rescuing snakes and frogs, and rescuing little chipmunks from my cats," Farrell said. "I wanted a job that involved animals, protecting animals and helping people. I don't think I can sit in a cubicle and feel like I was making a difference."

Most of the calls he gets are about stray dogs. Occasionally, he gets a call that stays with him forever.

Take, for example, the woman who thought she had found some "baby dinosaurs."

"What she discovered was baby possums that got rejected by their mother," Farrell said.

Farrell, who said he's a "snake guy," was excited when he received a call about a boa constrictor on the loose in Plaistow.

But when he arrived, he saw was a crowd of people around an Eastern milk snake, a reptile commonly found in the area.

"A lot of people aren't in tune with the types of animals that are around," he said.

Farrell started working in Plaistow and Danville in May. Before that, he was an assistant animal control officer in Hampstead.

When responding to a call, he is paid hourly — $15 in Plaistow and Danville, and $12 in Hampstead. He also works for his father on the side.

His hours as an animal control officer vary by the week, he said.

"Some weeks will be six hours. I've had weeks where it's over 30 hours, and there's no rhyme or reason," Farrell said.

He works out of the newly built animal control facility on Wilder Road in Plaistow. The kennel features indoor pens for cats, dogs, birds and smaller animals.

The kennel also has outdoor spaces so the animals have more freedom and can get some fresh air.

Farrell is certified in serving animals, including trapping, responding to dog fights, and providing cardiopulmonary resuscitation to dogs and cats.

Although Farrell wears a Plaistow Police Department emblem on his shirt and a gun on his hip, he isn't a full-fledged police officer. He can't bring charges against suspects, including people accused of abusing animals — at least not yet.

Farrell is only a few months away from completing the field training necessary to become a police officer. Once he is certified as a police officer, Farrell said he will take on more duties.

His supervisor, Plaistow police Lt. William Baldwin, said he can't wait for that day to come.

Farrell would be able to enforce laws. He could respond to situations involving animals better than any other officer, according to Baldwin.

"I couldn't stress how fortunate we are to have someone in his capacity, with his knowledge and experience," he said. "He's going to grow in the position, and I think people are going to find out that his capabilities, along with his professionalism and knowledge and skill, that we'll be able to provide a lot more services."

Advice from an ACO License your dog: When dogs are licensed, their information is entered into a database. But if an unlicensed dog ends up in Farrell's hands, it can be hard for him to identify. Resolve issues with neighbors: Try talking to a neighbor about their barking dog before calling police, Farrell said. Bringing authorities into the picture without warning can strain neighborhood relationships. Don't litter: A single cigarette has enough toxins to pollute 10 gallons of water, threatening wildlife such as frogs and turtles. Loose animal? Call for help: Animal control officers can catch a runaway pet faster, thanks to training and expertise. "People shouldn't be afraid to call," Farrell said. "If your dog gets loose, don't think you're in trouble. Call right away."