Krista Weldon had her quarry in her sights: a white-tailed deer resting unaware on the ground. The animal had only turned and noticed her when she squeezed the trigger. As the deer started to bolt, her team slammed the bedroom door shut.
Weldon and her crew weren’t out in the woods, but a townhouse. And this wasn’t a hunting trip — it was a rescue call.
The Auburn Animal Control division manager was in a home off Gatewood Drive in December 2020, helping a resident safely remove a deer that had careened into a window at his townhouse and become stuck in the property.
“It had busted in. (The homeowner) comes home to find … the mess from where the window is busted and everything is arrayed in the house,” Weldon said.
The resident then checked his bedroom before spotting the deer, slamming the door and running outside to call Animal Control. Weldon and her fellow officers responded to the call, determining the best way to remove the deer from the house was to tranquilize it.
A tranquilizer dart can take up to 15 minutes to work on a white-tailed deer – a long time to wait when someone’s house is on the line. With a clean shot from Weldon, eventually the animal was removed from the townhouse and released back into its habitat without any more damage to the home.
The call on Gatewood Drive was one of many memorable calls that the City of Auburn’s Animal Control Division has handled in recent history. The division has just three employees: Weldon and officers Michele Aultman and Frankie Walther.
In their time, they’ve seen it all, including eagles, owls, coyotes, foxes, racoons, snakes, monitor lizards, more dogs than you can count and more cats than you can trap.
But some calls stand out – requiring creative thinking, unusual equipment and, often, a lot of hard work.
One of these calls came this past September, when Aultman found herself strolling down a grassy patch off Academy Drive, followed by a string of longhorn cattle. A tree had fallen on a fence at a cattle farm in northeast Auburn, and the cattle had walked from the property to the side of a residential traffic circle.
Cattle and other large livestock can be complicated for Animal Control because the division doesn’t keep trailers and other equipment needed on rare occasions to transport the animals, which can weigh more than a ton.
So, responding to the call, Aultman turned up with the best tool for the job — a five-gallon bucket.
“They were all browsing on fresh grass because it’s a new subdivision, and that stuff’s so sweet when it’s new grass. They were pretty content and happy where they were, but nothing is as good as what I might have in a bucket,” Aultman said, laughing.
Weldon cut in, “Rocks in a bucket works wonders.”
“I had a bucket but I didn’t have any sweet feed, which is what cows will prefer over sweet grass,” Aultman continued. “You have to be careful with the size rocks you choose because they can tell the difference if it’s a big rock.
“It has to sound like it might be feed, you know what I mean? If they discover that it’s not, you’re cooked.”
Though all of the Animal Control staff can respond to calls involving livestock, Aultman has the most experience dealing with large animals. With her know-how, she quickly had the cattle walking single file back toward their farm.
Unfortunately, livestock calls aren’t always as pleasant as a grassy stroll.
In August 2014, Animal Control responded to a report of a loose pig in a rural area of the city. Initial attempts to catch the animal using the division’s net gun, which uses a blank cartridge to fire a weighted net, were unsuccessful.
The Japanese pot-bellied pig, which the crew estimated weighed about 150 pounds, ran into a wooded area of the property, and Weldon and Aultman pursued it, trudging through the area carrying the net gun in the heat of an Alabama August.
“We were just about to give up because we had walked probably a mile through there, when we came upon this green field and lo and behold, there it was,” Weldon said. “I eased up and boom, fired the net gun. Me and Michele took off running and piled on top of it. At that point, it was squealing and wild trying to get loose.”
With a long run to the van, Weldon set off while Aultman stayed on top of the pig. While Japanese pot-bellied pigs start life as small, pet-sized animals, they can top out at 200 pounds.
As the pig dug against the net and the ground, spinning in circles trying to get free, Aultman had to fight against not only the animal, but the heat and her own exhaustion after hours into the rescue attempt.
Time slowed to a crawl as Aultman struggled against the animal, waiting on Weldon to navigate the Animal Control van through the farm trail. She had to keep herself from being bitten or gored and keep the animal from getting lose and hurting itself or others.
She said she’ll always remember her relief when she saw the van arrive.
“When you work so hard as a team to capture an animal that’s at large – to protect the animal … but also to protect citizens or other animals – when you work so hard to finally capture it, the last thing you want is, ‘Oh, he got away from me,’” Aultman said. “Because you may not get another chance.”
The pig was secured and transferred to CARE Humane Society, after which it was successfully reunited with its owner.
These are just a few of the instances where Auburn Animal Control officers have gone above and beyond helping residents and animals in the City.
In the past year, they’ve responded to 1,371 service requests. Most are routine: welfare checks, neglect issues, picking up lost pets or stray animals, helping residents with wildlife issues and other service calls. The work they do each day helps ensure the health and safety of both Auburn residents and their companion animals.
Animal Control can be reached at 334-501-3090 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You can report missing pets through the Auburn FixIt app.