Naples hires new animal control officer
By Dawn De Busk
NAPLES — Jessica Jackson had an aunt that passed on her love of animals.
“My aunt always surrounded herself with animals. So, I basically grew up with lots of animals. That was a major reason I got into animal control,” she said. From the time she was young, Jackson adored animals: cats and dogs, and those that aren’t domesticated.
As an adult, Jackson earned a degree in Criminal Justice with an eye on training canines for the law enforcement field.
“When I started doing it, I wasn’t as interested in training them as helping them,” she said.
Her career took a turn when Jackson found an injured wild animal and sought the help of someone trained in that area.
“When I brought it to the rehabilitation center, I told her that I was interested in what she did. She told me to come back, and I did,” she said.
“Now, we are both directors of Safe and Sound Wildlife Rehabilitation, with centers located in Casco and Gray,” she said.
That job has encompassed the past seven years of Jackson’s life; and, she continues to work for that non-profit center.
Her life just got a little busier.
Jackson was recently named as the new animal control officer (ACO) for the Town of Naples. Former on-call employee, Bobby Silcott, took a position with the Animal Refuge Center in Westbrook.
As the new ACO in Naples, Jackson is uncertain what is on the horizon, and often it depends on the next animal-related call to the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office dispatch unit.
“I want to get acclimated first,” she said. She plans to have a few conversations with Silcott to gather information.
“I am definitely going to talk to different departments, and see where I can best be used,” she said.
She will be coordinating a rabies clinic that will be held in January — most likely at Aubuchon Hardware store, she said. Jackson also assists the animal control departments in Casco, Raymond, and Sebago.
“In Casco, I was brought on as backup. But, right away I started working more than anyone expected,” she said.
In addition to the frequent phone calls about missing animals, things got hectic very quickly.
“During my first two months in the job, I was called to see a dead dog and I helped with an animal hoarding case,” she said.
“That was definitely a shock for a newcomer. I basically saw a murdered dog and a cat hoarding case — something most people would never hope to see in their whole career,” Jackson said.
Because there were more felines than could be handled by local animal shelters, the Town of Casco set up a temporary emergency shelter at the old Memorial School, where Jackson and Casco ACO Sue Fielder nursed some of the cats back to health.
In the other situation, the dog’s owner came home and found his dog had died with suspicious looking wounds that did not fit a run-in with another animal.
“That was when I realized there could be a use for my criminal justice training,” she said.
“I am not saying that I am a godsend. I don’t know everything, but I know where to look,” she said.
In addition to her Criminal Justice degree, Jackson is certified to participate in Tactical Large Animal Emergency Rescue (TLAER). She has disaster response training under her belt. She is a member of the Cumberland County Animal Response Team (CCART), which is run by the Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA).
Jackson has been the Assistant ACO in Casco for about 18 months. She said the number of calls increase during the summer months — when more people and their pets come to the area.
She weighed the pros and cons of being in the business of animal control.
“I think the most difficult part of my job is finding out last minute that something horrible is happening to the animal,” she said.
“People think we have the ability to change what is happening right then and there. We don’t. We have to go through the right channels,” she said.
“That is why I stress that people report it. We don’t know what is happening until we are told. We would rather have a report unfounded than not know until it is too late,” she said.
“If you suspect something, act on it. We don’t have radars. Other people are our radars,” she said.
“When it comes to wildlife, intervention between people and animal should be kept to a limit. Leave the animal be, and call a professional,” she said.
The most rewarding part of her job is “when we can see something positive has changed for the animal, whether it goes back to the owner or out of a dangerous situation. When we can see that what we have done has helped the animal, that’s good,” she said.
At home, Jackson has very lovey cats that stay in the house.
“I have some kittens I nursed back to health after their mom got hit by a car and I have a cat that was lost at Seacoast Fun Park,” she said.
“All my cats stay inside. I don’t like them interacting with, or killing, the wildlife,” she said.
A half-dozen Siberian huskies live in kennels outdoors, because they were never acclimated to a house before the animal shelter closed its doors.
Jackson said all her pets are rescues, including a Labrador that has lived with her for the past 10 years.
“We named him Chance because it was his last chance, he kept getting returned until I brought him home,” she said.