10 Questions You've Always Wanted to Ask an Animal Shelter Sargeant (Part I)

May 14, 2018


Sgt. Josh Rolf

As a dog parent, a lot of questions come to mind before, during, and after getting your fur-baby, even more so when adopting from a shelter. We sat down with Sargeant Josh Rolfe, from the Denver Animal Shelter in Colorado, and asked some questions we've all PAWndered about what it's like working at a shelter. Sargeant Rolfe offered so much valuable information, we had to split his interview into two parts! Take a look at what he had to say and if you like what you're reading, stay tuned for part two next month! 

PART I

Buckley Pet: Usually you are one of the first responders who jump into action to rescue animals in peril. What is the most common situation you rescue an animal from?

Sargeant Rolfe: The most common calls we handle are loose animals that may be in traffic and have the danger of being struck by a vehicle. We always try to capture the animal in as safe a manner as possible so that the animal and the people in the area do not get injured. 

BP: What are some of the more difficult aspects of the job?

SR: I think working in such a public arena is sometimes difficult. People are quick to judge before they have all the facts of a case or investigation. For example, someone might see a dog they feel is neglected in their neighbor's yard and call it in. Animal Protection Officers investigate and find out that, although the dog is kept outside, it has access to a garage that is kept heated and has plenty of food and water and blankets inside. I cannot walk the neighbor over to this yard and show them the dog is being cared for. I can explain that our investigation showed that the dog is well cared for and explain what we found, but sometimes the citizen reporting has been watching things next door for so long that they have convinced themselves their neighbors are bad pet parents. This leads them to feel we did not do our jobs. The story then goes to social media, and we receive dozens of phone calls about how terrible the situation is, from people who may never have even seen the animal in person.

BP: What was the most harrowing rescue experience you've had?

SR: Over the years we have had some very challenging rescues and some heartbreaking ones as well. There are two stories that stick with me.

The first is from when I was in training during my first six months as an officer. A mother duck with seven ducklings was crossing a very busy high traffic area. The mother duck was across the road before she realized half of her ducklings were stranded in the middle of the street. She was attempting to cross back to get them but traffic was too heavy. My training officer pulled across the two lanes of traffic between the mother and her ducklings with his lights on to block the traffic and we got out and herded the 4-5 ducklings from the street to safety.

The second story is from a few years back during the winter we had a loose pit bull at City Park. I arrived on scene with another officer and we found the dog. It was immediately apparent that this dog was very scared, having run through several major intersections to get into the park. The dog would not come to us and continued to run every time he saw us. He was running back and forth across the frozen lake in the center of the park. As we backed off to let him come off the ice, we saw him fall through on the far side of the lake. We raced over to that bank and called into our dispatch for Denver Fire to come out and assist us. When the other officer and I got out on the bank we saw the dog was about 15 feet offshore. This is an infuriating distance because it is far enough that all you can do is stand helpless and watch but close enough that you can see everything happening. Unable to sit and watch the dog struggle while we waited for Denver Fire to arrive, we threw our lassos out and attempted to rope the dog and pull him into shore. My nerves got the better of me, and when I threw my rope I forgot that I had to actually hold onto the back end of it and the entire rope went sailing into the lake. With my primary tool gone and helplessly watching the dog fight for his life, I waded out into the frozen water and broke up the ice between the dog and the shore. The dog swam over to us and we were able to leash it. Directly after this, Denver Fire arrived on scene with blankets and one of the firefighters in full wetsuit and scuba gear. He was kind enough to dive and retrieve my lasso for me. The dog recovered in good health at the Denver Animal Shelter.

BP: IF I see an animal that's not mine in peril, whether it was hit by a car or it's been attacked, what should I do? Who should I call?

SR: Any time that you see an injured animal you should not approach it. This could be an animal that you know well, but when animals are in pain and under stress they do not react in ways that they would normally. My advice is to always call for emergency services to come assist you. If you are in Denver, you can call Denver 311 or the Denver non-emergency police line [Look up your local non-emergency police line here] and if it's an emergency you can call 911. We will be on the scene quickly and able to get the animal the help that it needs. We would much rather respond and help an injured animal than respond and help both the injured animal and the citizen who got bitten trying to help. The best thing bystanders can do is keep the scene clear of other people and animals and, if it's in traffic, pull a vehicle in front with hazard lights on to keep the flow of traffic moving around the scene. Please do not get out of your vehicles in traffic to try and help an animal. I know these situations are very tense and everyone wants to do what they can to help an animal, but please look out for your own safety first. 

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We are so thankful for Sargeant Josh Rolfe's time and answers. We love deepening our knowledge of what shelter life is really like and how we, as untrained bystanders, can further help animals during difficult times. FURtunately, we've got more to share next month. Stay tuned, #sniffthefacts, and we'll see you back next time!