For the love of animals

John Kubal/Register: After 32 years of service, Brookings Animal Control Officer Duane Walburg will retire on April 12. During those years, in addition to dogs and cats, he dealt with thousands of South Dakota critters that included skunks, opossums, raccoons, woodchucks, snakes and bats. He was bitten only once: by a bat – that was not rabid.

Animal control officer stepping down after 32 years

BROOKINGS – When Duane Walburg retires later this month after more than 32 years on the job, he will do so as the last City of Brookings animal control officer. 

His successor – the Community Service Officer for the city of Brookings – “is responsible for the planning, directing, coordinating, supervising and participation in the timely and efficient delivery of parking enforcement, animal control, and minor civil and traffic control services to the citizens of Brookings.”

Walburg, 63, has served the city non-stop since January 1987, when he came onboard part-time. Two years later he became a full-time employee. During all that time he has liked what he does.

“I love the job,” he said. “I like working with animals. I’m a farm boy. I like being outside.” 

Walburg’s boss is the chief of police. When he first started, Bob McGrath, who ran the landfill, was his boss, and he was considered a health department employee.

A look at the statistics for 2018 gives a feel for the variety of animals that he has to deal with in some way: included were 400 cats and dogs; add to that about 1,900 skunks, opossums, raccoons, woodchucks, bats, snakes and other assorted South Dakota critters. 

But the number of those that became residents of the city’s animal shelter has decreased greatly over the years.

All about the animals

A typical day for Walburg begins with a brief stop at the police department. 

“I grab my stuff if there’s anything and my day is my day. I answer my phone calls, check my radio and take care of the animals in the shelter. Been doing it for 32 years.”

These days there aren’t many of them. On this Wednesday afternoon, the sole occupants were three feral cats, who huddled together in a corner of their enclosure.

“My first call today was about a woodchuck in a window well at Lake Campbell,” he said. “I just advised what to do. I gave some tips on how to try to get it out,” he said. 

Smiling and tapping his head, he added, “There’s a lot up here. I’ve been doing this job so long, I know all the tricks of the trade.” 

Much of his day-to-day work is giving advice on how to handle problems. A lot of calls can be handled over the phone. So he talks to people a lot and gives a lot of simple, practical advice.

“You name it,” Walburg said. “I can deal with anything: from dogs to cats to raccoons to skunks to snakes.” 

He calculates that roughly 600 animals a year have passed through the animal shelter. Do the math: that’s more than 19,000. However, as noted above, those numbers continue to decrease.

Walburg’s geographical area of responsibility is the Brookings city limits. But outside those hours, he assists the Brookings County Sheriff’s Office and will do more of that when he retires. On a regularly recurring basis, he also provides services to Bruce (once a week), Colman (two times a month) and Wentworth (three times a month).

Working with humane society

One of the down sides of the job is the need to euthanize some animals. 

“My euthanization rate used to be about 40 percent, which is the national average,” Walburg said. In 2018, he euthanized about 70 of about 400 impounded animals.

Walburg credits some of that downward trend to a good working relationship with Maia Moore, executive director of the Brookings Regional Humane Society. About 10 years ago he stopped direct adopting out of animals. Now all animal adoptions go through the BRHS. 

“Now all our animals come in here, we hold five days,” he explained. “The humane society, we tell them what we’ve got. If they’re a little questionable, they’ll come and screen them, and they either take them or they don’t take them.

“Feral animals and mean, biting animals don’t go to the humane society, because it’s a liability. You can’t tame a feral cat. You just can’t.”

Walburg himself owns rescued pets. He lives on 25 acres north of Volga that he calls “paradise.” He shares his home with a dog and a cat, both from the BRHS, and a horse he inherited.

The dog is a yellow lab that he got after another yellow lab, also a BRHS dog, died the past spring. “She (Moore) got him from a drug bust in Lake County.”

Don’t poke the bear

One of Walburg’s more interesting and challenging animal-control episodes occurred more than 25 years ago when a Brookings woman was attacked by a black bear that was being kept as a pet by her next-door neighbor.

“I was home that Sunday (off duty) when that call came in, watching NASCAR races, actually,” he said. He and his part-time assistant responded and came into Brookings.

“We took the bear and got it to the (Sexauer Park) band shelter. We threw it cookies, anything to distract it, and we basically just encircled it until (the owner) got back from Sioux Falls and got it and walked it away.

“He took it back to his place and it ended up in a zoo in Watertown.” 

Another event he remembers well was “the great python scare.” “People were panicking so bad,” he said. In retrospect the scare didn’t amount to much. The escaping critter didn’t slither very far. It was found near the compressor of its owner’s deep freeze seeking the emitted warmth. Walburg admits that he doesn’t much like snakes.

In all his contacts dealing with a wide range of critters of all sizes and temperaments, he has been bitten only once: by a bat – that wasn’t rabid.

Walburg notes that Brookings area residents are generally responsible pet owners. He does suggest that might be because regulations and ordinances governing animal behavior carry stiffer fines than they did when he first started working for the city. 

Now “Violation of City Ordinances can result in a maximum fine of $200 per violation.”

As to complaints waged against irresponsible pet owners, like those whose dogs disturb neighbors, such as by loud barking, Warburg prefers settling disputes by person-to-person discussion. Writing a ticket is a last resort.

“I strongly believe in talking to them,” he said. “Just talk to them and let’s work things out. Communication. … I get in the middle of so much bickering. I try to smooth things over.”     

Walburg is a Brookings native, born in the old Brookings hospital. His family lived south of Brookings and later moved over by Volga, where he graduated from Sioux Valley High School in 1974.

After high school, he did “multiple jobs.” His first job “was building pole barns with my dad when I was 12 years old.” 

What he called his “first paying job was working on the Interstate (29) laying sod at the off ramps.”

Later jobs “for a number of years” included Triple Motors car dealership and Hub City. When he started working animal control part-time, he was still working full-time at Hub City.

“I have not had a single, one 40-hours-a-week job in 40 years,” Walburg said, with smile.

Contact John Kubal at [email protected]


Video News
More In Homepage