Nome Makes Do Without Animal Control Officer; City Looks for Replacement

One Nome dog enjoys a mix of ham, chicken, broth and vegetables that PAWS provided for Thanksgiving. Photo courtesy of PAWS of Nome.

The city of Nome has been without an Animal Control Officer (ACO) for almost two months. Those duties have since fallen to a single Community Safety Officer, Bryan Piercy, at the Nome Police Department.

According to Mike Heintzelman, NPD lieutenant, calls regarding loose dogs can range from once a month, to as frequently as several times a week. He says the tacked-on responsibility puts a strain on the department.

“The dogs have to be cared for several times a day, and Bryan comes in the morning, which is separate from his shift, and then he can stop a couple times while his shift is going on and care for the dogs. But he’s also been coming in on his days off, sometimes, to care for the dogs. So it is putting quite a strain on him.”

Piercey has brought his new duties home with him, too: he ended up adopting one of the dogs himself.

Currently, when loose dogs are picked up in Nome, they are kept in a large fenced-in enclosure outside the NPD building.

This isn’t the first time Nome has been without an ACO, and it’s not the longest. Nome was without an Animal Control Officer for five years before the city’s last ACO, Dawn Ubelaker, started in 2017. She left Nome this past June.

Sandra Rowe is the owner and manager of the Nome Animal House. She says before the city had an ACO, community members would direct questions on loose, abandoned, or neglected dogs to her business — which specializes in animal boarding and grooming, not animal control. When Ubelaker started as ACO, Rowe says these calls stopped. But now:

“We’ve seen a huge increase of calls here at the Animal House, just people wondering what to do when they see a loose dog, [or] ‘this dog was barking at my kids’… and so, we’re seeing a lot of calls like that again now that there isn’t an Animal Control Officer.”

In addition to working to re-home animals, ACOs help ensure pets are treated humanely. They also help to keep the streets clean — a city ordinance is in place for people to pick up after their dogs, but without an ACO, there isn’t anyone to enforce that. Rowe calls the ACO position one that is “very important” and “greatly needed in the city.”

“I think many places you go where there isn’t an Animal Control Officer, you can definitely see it. You start to get loose dogs running around, it scares people, it makes people nervous… right now, it’s not too terrible. We have some loose dogs, we have dogs that are being neglected… but it will just get worse if we do not get an ACO.”

At the City Council meeting on July 8, Interim City Manager John Handeland stated that the city is currently looking to contract another ACO.

“If anybody in the community is an animal lover and would like to see them better taken care of in the process of reuniting with owners, we’re looking for someone that has a good heart.”

That was a month ago. The job opening has yet to be formally posted to the public. By the airing of this story, KNOM did not receive information from Handeland regarding if and when the position will be posted.

Emily Hofstaedter contributed reporting to this story.

Image at top: A Nome dog enjoys a mix of ham, chicken, broth and vegetables that PAWS provided for Thanksgiving in 2014. Photo courtesy of PAWS of Nome.