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Harrisburg citizens complain about animal control officer

By Travis DeNeal
updated: 4/10/2018 9:48 AM

HARRISBURG -- The job of Harrisburg animal control officer Mike Sullivan may be in jeopardy, after a capacity crowd at last week's city council meeting complained about him.

Residents told the council that Sullivan is too quick to use a tranquilizer gun. Others complained about numbers of dead animals on the streets and other residents said there are too many animals running loose.

Sullivan has been contracted by Harrisburg to do animal control for about 15 years.

Commissioners voted to give Sullivan 30 days to improve his performance -- saying if they are not satisfied at the end of 30 days, they may vote to terminate his contract.

Sullivan was not at the meeting. On Monday, however, he acknowledged that his line of work lends itself to criticism, and the job is different from what people see on TV or in movies.

"It doesn't matter what job you're in, somebody's not going to like you because you did your job," he said.

"I do what I have to do," he added. "Sometimes I don't like doing it.

"But if you've got a dog that's trying to bite somebody, you got to get that dog under control as quickly and safely as you can."

He said he got into animal control because he wants animals to receive proper care.

"Animals can't talk. They get put on a leash, not taken care of, no food, no water, no shelter. Somebody has to be their voice," Sullivan said. "I figure I'm their voice."

One family at the meeting said Sullivan "darted" their pet boxer after a mail carrier reported the dog was acting aggressively, after it escaped its yard.

The family said the dog was hit in the chest by the Sullivan's tranquilizer dart and bled profusely, running several blocks before stopping near the Harrisburg NAPA store. The dog was not killed.

Another Harrisburg resident, Carla Foster, said when the female boxer ran past their yard, their German shepherd got excited and escaped his yard, following the boxer.

Foster said in the short time between her dog getting loose and finding him with the boxer at the NAPA store, Sullivan was preparing to dart the German shepherd, too.

Harrisburg police officer Curt Hustedde was asked to offer some perspective. Early in his career, when he was a police officer for Carrier Mills, he became that community's default animal control officer.

Hustedde has also adopted several rescue dogs. He said using a tranquilizer on an aggressive animal often means the animal won't be killed.

"In this instance, in my opinion, Mr. Sullivan saved this dog's life," Hustedde said. "A regular police officer usually doesn't have a way of stopping an aggressive animal that is not lethal."

Some attending the meeting also complained that Sullivan had treated them rudely during an animal call.

When the public comments started to become personal attacks on Sullivan, Mayor John McPeek ended taking comments on the matter -- though not before some in the crowd were shouting and two people, who were cursing loudly, were removed from the meeting.