Law enforcement for our furry friends |

Law enforcement for our furry friends

Animal control officer Aimee Chappelle and her dog Indiana. Courtesy photo.
Courtesy |

Animal control officer Aimee Chappelle is much more than a dog catcher, but the Garfield County sheriff may not have created her position 12 years ago if not for so many dogs running loose.

“The west end of the county was screaming for animal control,” Chappelle recalled.

Chappelle had been with the department since 1994, working in the jail. An experienced outfitter, she jumped at the opportunity to put her love of animals to work.

“I didn’t want to be a cop,” she said. “Animals are easier.”

A few years later, Keith Clemons joined the team to help provide seven-day coverage.

The pair oversee issues with domestic animals throughout unincorporated Garfield County as well as Parachute, Silt and New Castle, and occasionally assist in Glenwood, Rifle and Carbondale.

“It’s an area twice the size of Rhode Island and it keeps us busy,” Chappelle said. “When the phone rings you never know what you’re going to get.”

Sometimes they’re asked to assist a SWAT team with a group of dogs guarding a house, or pick up a cat whose owner has passed away. They investigate when a dog is killing chickens or someone’s stealing cattle. In a wildfire or other emergency, they help find places to keep pets and livestock even as others coordinate the evacuation. When a pet survives a car accident and runs off, they track the animal down and return it, though it usually takes the pet a couple weeks to come out of hiding.

“They’re not going to stand there and starve to death,” Chappelle said. “If they’re loose and they’re on their own, they’re pretty resourceful.”

Of the thousands of calls animal control gets every year, however, lost and found animals are the most common. They range from cats and dogs to reptiles of every description. The smaller animals end up at CARE, the Divide Creek Animal Hospital or occasionally the Rifle Animal Shelter, while the larger ones go to the County Fairgrounds or Mountain Valley Horse Rescue.

To report a lost or found animal, call dispatch at 970-625-8095.

“Don’t try to catch them,” Chappelle said. “Just leave them alone and give us a call.”

The sheriff’s office also relies on tips in cases of abuse and neglect.

“The public reports a lot of stuff that we wouldn’t know about,” Chappelle said.

She saw a lot of skinny horses in the height of the recession.

“They get to be an pretty expensive pet,” Chappelle said. “There were a lot of instances where people couldn’t even afford their own food. They couldn’t part with that horse but they couldn’t feed it, either.”

Chappelle shows up with hay and has a conversation with the owner. Sometimes, she puts the owner in touch with someone who can help. Other times, it’s something clearly criminal and charges are filed — usually a misdemeanor, but occasionally a felony in aggravated cases.

“It drives you,” Chappelle said of her exposure to animal cruelty. “You’re going to fix it. You’re going to make it right. You’re going to do what’s best for the animal.”

In addition to reactive enforcement, animal control puts a lot of effort and money into education and community resources.

The officers provide classes to kids on how to avoid being bit by a dog and encourage parents to instill respect young.

“Teach your kids to respect them. Don’t be pulling ears and tails,” Chappelle said.

There’s also money in the budget for spay and neuter programs.

“At the minimum, we try to get spays, neuters and vaccination against rabies,” Chappelle said. “Twelve years ago, if you got bit by a dog, it was at large, not spayed or neutered, and not vaccinated. That’s not the case anymore. It’s ongoing. It’ll never be solved, but it’s definitely better.”

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