Garfield County animal lover gets dream job
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GARFIELD COUNTY ” Keith Clemons never thought he’d find a caiman in a Parachute motel and then crawl under a trailer searching for a 6-foot boa constrictor later the same day.
Working on cars for more than 30 years, the 57-year-old Garfield County animal control deputy never could have imagined doing those things. But he has performed those tasks and more since accepting the job with the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office in March. Every day is different.
“I’ve always wanted to be a veterinarian, and I never got the opportunity to actually go to vet school or anything like that. But I was always helping a friend of mine who used to be a vet in New Castle,” he said. “I always liked working with animals, and I just heard that this job was coming open and I applied for it. … I absolutely love it. I feel like I wake up never not wanting to go to work.”
He loves the chance to put an abandoned animal into a shelter and on the path to a better home. He’s touched by reuniting people with their lost pets.
The job has its downsides, though. Sometimes he has to euthanize an animal because of health problems, knowing it’s doomed from the time he picks it up.
“It’s tough to see neglect,” he said, recalling the story of Dora, a neglected 3-year-old female mastiff and mother of five puppies.
Dora was euthanized in the summer, and Daniel Eliseo Zepeda Perez, of Rifle, was fined $10,000 on an animal cruelty charge. Dora was found weighing about half her normal body weight and suffering numerous health problems. She was kept on a short cable surrounded by broken ceramic tiles and loose screws, county animal control said. Dora made such an impact on her caregivers that they decided to keep her ashes after she was cremated.
“That dog was the sweetest dog you ever wanted to see in your life,” Clemons said.
There was also a disturbing call about a month ago in the Parachute area. A woman told animal control she saw a dark-colored pickup truck pull over and throw a trash bag out the window. The witness later went to see what was inside the trash bag and found a starving kitten, Clemons said.
“It was nothing but a skeleton with skin stretched over it,” he said.
The kitten survived and is doing well, he said. No one was ever cited with animal cruelty because the only lead animal control got was a vague description of the pickup’s color, and there are plenty of dark-colored trucks in Parachute.
But Clemons said the disturbing calls involving animal abuse and euthanasia represent probably only 2 percent of the total calls he handles. The animal control officer grew up mostly in Colorado but lived in Arkansas for six years until he was 10. He’s always loved animals.
“We had a big field out behind our house,” he said. “I’d bring in anything from baby rabbits to mice to snakes ” anything. I’d raise them.”
The childhood hobby became a problem only once.
“My mother knocked a fruit jar out of my hand when I had a snake in it with my hand over the top so it wouldn’t get out, and it was cottonmouth snake,” he said. “She explained to me that it shouldn’t happen again.”
The poisonous snake slithered away without biting anyone.
Clemons is one of two Garfield County animal control deputies. Before getting the animal control job, he said, he would take in abandoned dogs and try to find them homes on his own. He now owns two Brittany spaniels, a little miniature dachshund, a chocolate Lab, one cat that was abandoned, eight horses and a mule.
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Mountain Rescue Aspen is expanding its education efforts to try to keep people safe in the backcountry during winters and summers. It will host a workshop on Dec. 8 titled, “How to Plan a Backcountry Tour.”