After nearly 40 years as friend to Pitkin County’s critters, ReRe retires
ReRe Baker is a Pitkin County institution.
She’s the only animal safety and control deputy county residents have ever known after creating the job in 1994. And for 11 years before that, she worked at the joint Aspen-Pitkin County Animal Control Department.
That’s nearly 40 years she’s spent ably aiding the area’s moose, bears, horses, dogs and myriad other critters — not to mention the residents and visitors who crossed paths with or owned them — while chasing down countless lost pets and sympathetically performing the always unpleasant job of notifying grieving owners when a pet was no longer coming home.
But no more.
Last week, Baker hung up her green Pitkin County Sheriff’s uniform, turned in the keys to her massive “Animal Safety” Chevy pickup and retired.
“Oh my gosh, I loved (the job),” she said Thursday during a sunny, late morning interview at Stein Park. “There was nothing about it I did not like — even the bad and the ugly. No two days were the same.”
However, her husband retired a year ago, and Baker said she wanted to take the time to explore her backyard, not worry about responding to animal calls on the radio and enjoy life.
“I’m 66,” she said. “(My husband) goes, ‘ReRe, if you want to retire, retire. Believe me, we’re fine.’ I still love my job, but I want to do other stuff.”
Baker was born in Memphis and moved to Houston when she was 9 years old. She got the nickname “ReRe” from her mother and sisters — it’s the last syllable of her real first name, Marie — and she’s been known by the repeated syllable since elementary school.
“I’ve had it my whole life,” she said.
After graduating from high school in Houston, Baker moved to Steamboat Springs. Her sister lived in Aspen, though, so ReRe came to the Roaring Fork Valley a few years later, in 1979, where she’s been ever since.
Like many before her, Baker took a job in a ski shop when she first arrived, and later was working at an Aspen gas station when she noticed an opening at the joint city-county animal control department. She’d volunteered at the children’s zoo in Houston as a teen and grew up around horses, so she loved animals and said she jumped at the chance to apply for the job.
However, when she met with the woman in charge of the department, she learned someone else had already been hired. But two-and-a-half weeks later, the woman walked into the gas station and told Baker the man she’d hired hadn’t worked out and asked whether she still wanted the job.
“I was just ecstatic,” Baker said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
That was in 1983, and the rest is now “a bit of a blur,” she said.
One of the more memorable events occurred recently, in 2017, when a horse pulling a sleigh near the end of Ute Avenue got spooked, ran through a fence and slipped on ice. The horse became cast — or unable to get up — and it took the efforts of 15 or 16 firefighters, police officers, a veterinarian and Baker to get the mare back on her feet.
The horse was somehow uninjured, though it wasn’t yet finished delivering surprises, Baker said.
“We got her up, and we saved her,” she said. “Come to find out she was pregnant and she foaled in the spring.”
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said Baker served both the city of Aspen and the Pitkin County communities well over the decades, and not just as an animal safety deputy. Baker was an integral part of the Upper Roaring Fork Valley’s Incident Management Team, where she worked to deliver meals to emergency workers and headed efforts to develop plans to evacuate large and small animals from, for example, wildfire danger.
“I think she went above and beyond for a lot of people here,” DiSalvo said. “She did a lot of things she didn’t have to do. She’s an incredibly loyal employee who’s worked for three sheriffs, and I’m sad to see her go, but I’m appreciative that she gets to live her own life on her own time.”
Pitkin County Deputy Anthony Todaro, who was a 3-year-old Aspenite when Baker moved to town, said she’s not only an old friend of his family, but a valued coworker he thinks of as a mentor and resource.
“When you work three decades in an agency, you make the connections,” he said. “She knew the history of the (Sheriff’s Office). It was a cool experience to learn from her.”
But it wasn’t just Baker’s institutional memory that made her valuable to county residents, he said.
“ReRe worked with animals, but it was the human connections she made that were the important part,” Todaro said. “It was about the people she interacted with.”
Baker, who lives in Blue Lake, said she and her husband don’t have any grandiose retirement plans, other than to buy a decent camping trailer and take out their fishing boat more often. She said she’d like to hang out in many of the places in Pitkin County her job took her through — like Twin Meadows in the Fryingpan Valley or the Weller Campground up Independence Pass — and not have to do anything while there.
In the meantime, she said she was planning a trip to Crested Butte for lunch in the near future, and might like to pay a visit to Lake Powell.
“Just getting up and having my coffee on the deck and not having to worry about going to work — it’s been really nice,” Baker said. “I’m happy. I have no regrets.”
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While the number of bears in Aspen has been manageable so far this summer, a lack of natural food sources could change that as fall approaches.