Skunks, coyotes, dogs — these guys control them all

If it screeches, barks, howls, bites or hisses, there's a high probability John Thompson will hear about it.

He is one of the Laguna Beach Police Department's two full-time animal services officers, and the job involves everything from corralling a loose dog to extracting a skunk from a dryer vent.

Thompson joined Laguna Beach in October 2000 and has had his share of memorable moments.

In August 2012, Thompson, with help from the Fire Department, rappelled 30 feet down a cliff near Shaw's Cove to rescue a pit bull that had run loose through downtown earlier that day.

About that skunk. It apparently found its way under a house and tried to escape, but ended up in the vent. Thompson successfully extracted the animal without getting sprayed.

Animals are less active during winter, so the call volume decreases, he said. With the down time, Thompson, who works from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., can wrap up paperwork, but he must always be ready to head out at a moment's notice.

Thompson and co-worker Dave Pietarila cover Laguna Beach and Laguna Woods. They attend to wild and domestic animals and work with the Laguna Beach Animal Shelter to house lost dogs, cats and birds. The county covers animal services in Emerald Bay.

The two also assist Pacific Marine Mammal Center staff in rescuing sick or injured sea lions. The animal shelter and mammal center are neighbors on Laguna Canyon Road.

In addition, if an animal needs treatment, Thompson or Pietarila may need to transport it to a nearby veterinarian.

Laguna, with its proximity to open space areas, attacts various wildlife, including coyotes.

Thompson said reports of coyote sightings have been less frequent than last summer, when three Yorkshire terriers were taken from residents' yards.

"Often they are more afraid of you than you are of them," he said.

But a recurring problem is people feeding wildlife, which is prohibited by city and state law, Thompson said.

A coyote's behavior changes if it has access to human food, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

It becomes less cautious and fearful and may cause property damage or threaten human safety.

Thompson carries a lot of equipment in his truck, including a small fishing net he bought at a sporting goods store to capture cats, small dogs and cormorants, and a pole with a sturdy noose on the end to grab vicious animals. He also has a pair of gloves for forearm protection when handling a raptor, such as a hawk with sharp claws.

If a domestic animal such as a dog or cat bites a person, and penetrates the skin, the registered owner is required to quarantine the animal at home for 10 days, Thompson said. The time allows an officer to verify that the animal is up to date with rabies vaccinations.

The owner may not walk the animal in public, Thompson said.

What happens if Thompson encounters an injured wild animal, such as a bobcat?

"If we're able to catch it, we'll work with local veterinarians and wildlife specialists to treat animals and release back into the wild," he said. "Most wildlife is afraid of humans. But with all the building and development, animals are more used to having humans around."

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