By Becky Brindle
We are nearing the end of summer. And summer is usually a busy time of year for the South Hills Cooperative Animal Control and USC’s Clair’s Kennel, when there is an increase in lost pet reports. “Returning a pet to its owner is probably my favorite part of the job,” said Tony Capozzoli, a longtime animal control officer. The Bethel Park resident has been with South Hills Cooperative Animal Control for 29 years.
Returning pets to their proper owners and finding homes for unclaimed animals are top priorities for the animal control officers. The organization holds wandering animals inside Clair’s Kennel while the animal control officers work to find the pets’ owners. The South Hills Cooperative Animal Control has found recent success in using Facebook to reunite owners with their pets.
Clair’s Kennel was built by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the Township of Upper St. Clair in the late 1970s. It shares a parking lot with USC’s municipal building at 1820 McLaughlin Run Road. Inside the building are nine cages. “Fortunately, they’ve never been to full capacity, and we don’t want to jinx that track record,” said Tony.
Animal control officers ask that owners assure their pets are licensed through both Allegheny County and the Township of Upper St. Clair, as required. Pennsylvania law mandates owners obtain dog licenses by January 1 of each year. Violations can result in fines of up to $300 a day. The Allegheny County application is available at the Upper St. Clair reception desk or on the Allegheny County website.
The Upper St. Clair pet license should be obtained annually by January 15 of each year. The USC application is available at the Upper St. Clair reception desk or on the Township’s website (www.twpusc.org) at the bottom of the Animal Control webpage. There is no fee for an Upper St. Clair Township license, but proof of rabies vaccination is required.
Be sure to call police dispatch if your pet runs away. Animal control officers use police logs to help find pet owners. Secure your pet with a tag that includes the owner’s name and phone number or get your pet microchipped. “Check with your vet to assure your name and information is properly placed on the chip,” said Tony. “There have been a number of local cases when the chip has incorrectly directed the officer to the vet or to the manufacturer of the chip instead of the pet’s owner.”
Tony is one of five animal control officers who cover 12 communities in the local area, including Upper St. Clair, Baldwin, Bethel Park, Carnegie, Castle Shannon, Dormont, Green Tree, Heidelberg, Mt. Lebanon, Rosslyn Farms, Scott, and Whitehall. The organization has grown tremendously since originally forming in the late ’70s, starting with just four communities: Upper St. Clair, Dormont, Mt. Lebanon, and Scott.
The officers begin their day at Clair’s Kennel. There is also an office inside the Mt. Lebanon public safety building. The organization is in direct contact with the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD), the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. South Hills Cooperative Animal Control works directly with the ACHD when a possible rabid animal is found. “If you see a wild animal in your yard or around your neighborhood and feel uncomfortable about it, call us and we will come out and take a look,” said Tony.
Animal control officers will also come out to a resident’s home when an animal has entered the house. Bats, birds, and squirrels are the most common animals that Tony has helped remove from houses. The animals generally enter through fireplaces, vents, open doors, and open garage doors. At times, Tony has also removed raccoons and deer. “There was a buck that went through an open glass sliding door of a house on USC’s Morrow Road about 20 years ago,” recalls Tony. With amusement, he said it was the most memorable experience in his animal control career. He also said he has helped remove deer from backyard swimming pools.
South Hills Cooperative Animal Control can provide residents with traps for nuisance wildlife, including raccoons, groundhogs, opossums, and, for some, squirrels. The traps are designed not to hurt an animal that might become trapped. Traps may require some daily maintenance during the trapping period, including changing the bait and cleaning out debris.
Ethical and humane policies are in place for the removal of nuisance animals. Residents who have bird feeders must remove them and their residue before setting up a trap. Traps are not allowed to be set in the winter or when the air temperature drops below 40 degrees. During warmer weather, traps should not be set in direct sunlight. Additionally, traps should not be set out during inclement weather, including times of heavy rain. Traps must only be set when there is someone available to monitor it.
Of all animals, groundhogs are the most difficult to trap. They must be tempted to enter the trap by the use of fresh bait. Bait that includes fresh vegetables or lettuce with chopped apples works well. Applesauce cups have also been successful in baiting groundhogs. Traps should be set in the early morning and closed each evening around suppertime. Do not set a trap out at nighttime for groundhogs; they are not nocturnal animals.
Traps for raccoons and opossums should be set at night and checked early in the morning. Animal control should be notified by approximately 9 a.m. about an animal that has been trapped overnight. Baiting suggestions for nocturnal animals include chicken, lunchmeat scraps, or canned tuna.
The South Hills Cooperative Animal Control does not take care of skunks. If a skunk is trapped, officers will provide contact information for private contractors to remove the animal. Private contractors charge residents for this service.
According to Tony, coyote sightings have been reported in our area for more than 15 years. Coyotes are usually skittish around humans and avoid people whenever possible. If you do encounter a coyote, do not turn your back on the coyote or attempt to run away. You should make loud noises and make yourself appear as big as possible. If that fails, throw rocks and other objects at the animal. To protect small children, always keep yourself between the coyote and the children.
Fawn sightings are most common in May and June of each year. Fawns are born in unusual, and sometimes inconvenient, places. Animal control officers do not move the fawns unless they must be taken to a safer location. To avoid predators, like coyotes and foxes, fawns are naturally born without a scent. They lie still during the day until their mother returns to feed them at night. A new fawn may stay in its location for a few days until it builds up enough strength to keep up with the moving mother. Until the point when the fawn begins to follow the mother, keep your distance from any fawn that you encounter.
Residents are asked to walk their yards before mowing and check them before letting their dogs out to relieve themselves. A mother doe will attack a dog if she believes it is a threat. If a fawn is found covered in flies, this is a sign that there is a problem with its health. An animal control officer should be notified immediately.
Tony said that the animal control officers he knows believe the most rewarding parts of their job is helping both animals and people. If you’re not sure you should call about an animal sighting or not, Tony urges you to be safe and pick up the phone.
Also, “it’s important to have an address number on your house,” Tony emphasized. Animal control officers and other emergency workers need to easily locate your house if you place a call or there is an emergency of any sort at your residence.
After more than 40 years in service, the South Hills Cooperative Animal Control and Clair’s Kennel continue to guide and help the Upper St. Clair community and its residents.
Animal control officers are on duty seven days a week, 7 a.m.–9 p.m., Monday–Friday, and 8 a.m.–4 p.m., Saturday–Sunday. Emergency service is provided 24 hours a day. The emergency phone number is 412-833-7500.