Alex Saez loves his job. It’s simple really — he enjoys animals and he likes helping people.
That’s how Saez sees it as a new Plumas County animal control officer. He’s not the bad guy bent on catching dogs that escape their yards, but he’s the good guy who reunites those animals with their families. Or in some cases finding an animal — whether it’s a dog, cat, spider or lizard — a new home.
It’s a Saturday morning and Saez multitasks as he proceeds through his desk chores. The cat kennels have been cleaned, he explains as he arranges paperwork. A kennel tech will be along soon to clean the doggy areas. He will also feed and water them.
On this November Saturday, Saez is particularly enthusiastic. Five cats and three dogs found new homes at an adoption fair in Chester just the day before.
The cats chosen came in a variety of ages and sizes. And there was a lab, a husky and a Yorkie representing some of the dogs that find their way to the Plumas County Animal Shelter and on to good homes.
The adoptions freed up some space, but, Saez explained, “It seems like we just start getting empty and it fills up.”
And the biggest problem is that “people don’t spay and neuter,” he said. To help ensure that animals are fixed and won’t enlarge the pet population, there’s a $50 fee to adopt an animal. When the new owner can prove that the animal has been fixed, they get $40 returned. If a cat is already fixed, the adoption fee is just $10 “out the door,” he said.
There are also regular events held around the county where area veterinaries help provide vaccinations at a reduced price and licensing is available. Saez thinks it’s well worth participating in these events.
As Saez discussed the job and what it entails, the setting changed. Larry, the yellow and white cat who was snoozing in his bed on the counter, remained unruffled, and so did Saez, but a man who came to collect his dog was anything but calm.
It seems the man was visiting someone in Quincy and brought along at least one of his three dogs. When one failed “to load up” he left.
“She ain’t worth no $190 bucks I can tell you that,” the man said as he put his money and paperwork down. He then proceeded to pace up and down the room, sometimes sitting down only to get up again. And as he paced he talked about his problems with the dog.
At one point, Saez left his paperwork, quietly went into the back and then returned to business.
As the man continued to get increasing agitated over the situation, Saez suggested that the man could release his dog and the shelter would find her a new home. He said that was a $25 fee.
The man seemed to think that was what he wanted to do, but he got quite emotional, first bracing himself against the counter as he shook and tried to take deep breaths. Then he went and sat down only to continue to rant while he sobbed about giving away his dog.
As he rambled, he told himself she wasn’t worth it and he swore quite a bit.
“I think that the people who picked her up might want her,” Saez offered as a way of attempting to offer comfort.
Finally, the man collected himself enough to pay his money, fill out the release form and collect his check. “I got taxes to pay,” he said as if he needed to provide an excuse.
With the man seated again, Saez recommended that he get a hold of himself before he tried to drive.
After he left, Saez explained a few things. First, when he left the room he had radioed the sheriff’s dispatch to have a deputy arrive. Saez just wasn’t sure what to expect from this person and he wanted to be cautious.
A deputy arrived out front just a little later. Saez went out to talk to him and learned he had indeed met up with the man.
Secondly, Saez explained about the individual who brought in the dog. It was raining hard from one of those first rains of the season and the big dog was cold and shaking. “It took her about two hours to get warm,” Saez said, clearly feeling badly about the dog’s drenched condition.
When she warmed up and seemed to adjust a little, the lab mix seemed to be a wonderful animal.
Saez said he checked her over thoroughly to make sure she wasn’t injured. She did have a scratch on her belly, but he was inclined to think that was from running through the weeds.
“This is similar to a jail,” Saez said of the shelter. There are booking sheets for when an animal enters the facility, a form that’s filled out and goes on the outside of each cage or kennel, and there are release forms when an animal is reclaimed or adopted.
And then there’s the daily cleaning that happens, laundry to be done, dishes to be washed, feeding times and exercise time. The real difference is that the animals can’t help with the chores. Wielding a broom or a mop is out of the question and the dishes will just have to remain in the sink if it’s up to the cats who are housed nearby.
Giving a tour of the shelter, Saez pointed out the nursery where cats await adoption, the maternity ward for expectant cats and mama cats with their kittens. Once the kittens are old enough they go to larger cages in the lobby where they’re an immediate attention-getter for anyone visiting the shelter.
The feral cats have their area and sick cats are quarantined until they get better.
Counting on his fingers, Saez said that as of that day there were 13 domestic cats and eight or nine feral cats in the shelter. And there were 12 dogs.
The dogs are usually housed one per kennel. There’s a general uproar as Saez opens the door leading into the kennels. Barking, baying and howling are intensified as the dogs — quite a few pit bulls, two cow dogs, and some others compete for attention.
As these big dogs bark and wiggle, Saez wiggles his fingers between the fencing links to let one dog lick his fingers, give another a little scratch and do his bit to give many of the animals a moment of attention and recognition.
In back, we see the big black and brown dog that was released that morning. Saez believes that soon this dog will be with a good family with children, and if not, another good home will come along.
Just past this dog’s large pen is another door marked in big bold letters “bite cases.” We don’t go in there.
Saez said that one of the dogs took his owner’s finger off. Bad stuff.
Returning to the front of the facility, Saez indicated a large glass aquarium with a big skink inside.
A skink is a kind of lizard. “It eats cat food,” Saez said “and we’ve got plenty of that around here.”
Sure enough in a small metal bowl, like those used for feeding cats, was a partially eaten mound of moist cat food.
If there’s such a thing as a contented look on a skink’s face, then this one surely had one as it looked out from under its bit of log.
Saez has rescued a number of animals, but the skink and a tarantula were being kept in a cold garage. He said the skink was just about done for.
The tarantula quickly got a home at school with the fourth-grade class at Quincy Elementary School. When the skink is fully recovered it will get a good home, too.
In another caper, Saez said that it took two of them to capture a peacock that was causing problems at Portola High School.
He found it a home with someone who had just the place for a peacock. The new owner was particularly interested in getting the noisy bird, because they’re known to be aggressive snake killers.
Thinking of another incident, he said he was called out at 5 a.m. with a report of a tiny pony on the loose in East Quincy. Sure enough there was a small white pony running around. He immediately radioed dispatch to say that he’d nabbed a white unicorn. Saez’ wife has a love of unicorns and it just seemed like the thing to say.
It wasn’t too long afterward that he saw a woman out in a small cart being pulled down the street by that same little horse. He thought it was great.
Saez didn’t just end up as an animal control officer. He and his wife, fourth-grade teacher Stacy, moved to Plumas County 15 years ago. He was a grocery store clerk for a while, and then he was a security guard in the Plumas County Courthouse for a while.
Then he started volunteering at the shelter. He liked it. When there was an opportunity for extra help he applied and got it.
Then he took an 832 Class on laws and arrests at Yuba College. “I still have more classes,” he said, and he will take them as he can.
And then an animal control officer position opened. Saez, who already knew the facility, the county and what the job required, applied and got it.
He was sworn in just a few weeks ago.
“I just like it here, it’s cool,” he said. He probably likes it better than any job he’s ever had.
While his partner Melissa Bishop works Monday through Friday, Saez works four 10-hour days, including Saturdays. That’s a busy day when a lot of calls come in. It’s also the day for him to follow up on his bite case paper work. On this Saturday he said he had one to open and another to close.
While rabies is always a concern, there hasn’t been a rabies case with cats or dogs since 2000.
While Saez likes getting animals back to their homes as quickly as possible, he also believes it’s important to be available to help out law enforcement. Quite often they’re called in to handle a situation and instead of driving the animal all the way back to Quincy, Saez arranges to either go to the site or meet an officer half way “so they can get back to their duties fast,” he said.
It wasn’t long ago that Saez was called to a lift assist. Those aren’t uncommon for fire department and medical personnel for people. But a lift assist for an animal was a little different.
Saez said that he and another man — skilled at lifting humans — were called out to help an elderly woman with her large, old dog. The dog weighed well over 100 pounds, he said, and it couldn’t walk anymore. There was no way the woman could get the animal to her car and then to the veterinarian.
Using a blanket to assist with lifting the animal, it was no easy task, Saez said.
But Saez said he thought his responsibility didn’t end there. The woman was clearly upset and knew she would have to have her dog euthanized. Saez said he stayed with her until he knew she was a little better. He didn’t think anyone should have to go through something like that alone.
Back at the front desk, where Larry the cat chose to move only to mosey off to a back room and then return, and then demand some treats, Saez continued to talk with enthusiasm about his work.
Just then the telephone rang and judging by Saez’ line of questions, someone had lost a cat. He asked the caller a number of questions including the cat’s coloring. He also got a name and phone number in case the animal showed up there.
The call reminds Saez of a not so pleasant part of his duties. He never tells anyone over the phone the sad news that his or her animal has been hit. “I want to be there for them.”
It’s then that he reaches for the phone and calls the contact for the woman who found the dog we met earlier. Is she still interested, he asks? She indicates she will be in Monday. “Now this dog has a new opportunity with a new family with a bunch of little kids,” he said. “It’s a new life.”