By Joseph Robertia
Brett Reid, chief animal control officer at the Kenai Animal Shelter, has for years made no bones about his feelings regarding his line of work.
“I hoped to work myself out of a job,” he said.
Meaning that he hoped to make such a difference in educating people about the importance of spaying and neutering pets, as well as responsible pet ownership, that he would one day come in to a shelter without dozens of dogs, cats, puppies and kittens.
“Well, it’ll be partially true next week,” he said on Friday.
The dogs and cats are still there, but Reid no longer is, choosing to retire after 31 years of work at the shelter. While it’s not his perfect-world scenario, Reid said he is happy to know things have improved for the unwanted dogs and cats that have ended up at the shelter over the years, particularly compared to when he started as a temporary employee in 1982.
“Things are much better now than when I started,” Reid said. “When I started, hardly any of the dogs made it. Now we work with other shelters around the state, no-kill shelters, we have the Internet, so we find homes for a lot more.”
Born in Texas but living in Anchorage for a number of years, Reid was a young and out-of-work gold miner who fell in love with the Kenai area while passing through. He tried to get on with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, but said the city of Kenai offered a little more to employees.
Shelter work in the 1980s was tough, Reid said, because veterinary care wasn’t as evolved as it is now. Parvo virus, which still is lethal in unvaccinated dogs, was just beginning to be understood when Reid started. He said it was the policy to vaccinate shelter dogs with feline distemper vaccines, because that was the closest thing they had to a vaccine that would help dogs fend off the virus.
“And, still, there were several times we had outbreaks and had to close the whole shelter down for brief periods until we could bleach everything and get through it,” he said.
The 1980s were also years when, according to Reid, pit bulls came into fashion, and uncontrolled breeding and fighting of the dogs became a problem for the shelter staff. Other fad breeds have come and gone over the years, as well as spring peaks in the number of huskies at the shelter related to sled dog breeding, and what has been called the “post-summer dump” in fall when some folks head back to the Lower 48 or other parts of Alaska and leave pets behind.
The excess of animals has led to one of the toughest parts of the job for Reid — euthanizing animals that have not found homes and stayed the maximum amount of time allowed at the shelter.
“I quit counting euthanasias at 200,000, and that was years ago,” he said.
Settling dog disputes among community members also was not enjoyable.
“High-volume, direct-public contact can wear you out. The city has always been really supportive of what we do here, but I won’t miss getting between two people arguing over a dog barking or pooping. It’s like social work at times,” he said.
Rather than focusing on the negative, though, Reid said he prefers to think about all the dogs and cats he’s helped over the years.
“I’d say I’ve found homes for 300 to 500 a year for 30 years. That’s the part I’ll miss the most, hooking up nice dogs with nice families. That was the fun part,” he said.
The former chief animal control officer, who Reid replaced roughly a decade ago, retired to Florida when he left shelter work behind, but Reid said he’ll be sticking around the area now that he’s retired.
“I don’t have any plans to move. I just need some time to decompress,” he said. “I’m looking forward to sleeping in for a few weeks, going fishing for silvers and doing all the other things I want to do, instead of have to do.”