Jennifer Abalan: A voice for the voiceless

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Animal Control Officer Jennifer Abalan

The job: long hours, dangerous clients, calls for help 24-7. Horses and cows, skunks and coyotes and the occasional escaped boa constrictor are in the mix. So, too, are disgruntled humans, including one who drew a pistol on the Animal Control Officer, telling her to vacate his property when she came to his door simply to return his roaming dog.  

Abalan with her stylish face mask, Doggie Paw Print in Red

Meet Jennifer Abalan, Granby’s municipal animal control officer (ACO). She serves not only Granby but also Hartland and Barkhamsted. In Granby, Abalan works in conjunction with the police department in what is referred to as a part-time position, on call from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. (re-think the meaning of part-time). Hartland and Barkhamsted have her on call 24-7. She is a Granby native and has two grown daughters, one a respiratory therapist at Hartford Hospital and the other a Torrington police officer.

Given Abalan’s working hours, one wonders what time is left for Life—for shopping, meal preparation, doctors’ appointments? Dare we include watching TV or going to the beach? But she obviously has this marathon of a job worked out, having served 16 years in Granby and 28 in Hartland with firm intention to continue into the indefinite future. And she does manage to head north periodically, thanks to back-up from Granby police officers and a young woman in Hartland. For Abalan, “Maine is my healing place, a place where I can recharge.”

Abalan got her start working with animals 28 years ago when a friend who was the dog warden in Hartland needed a little help. At that time no specific training or guidelines were in effect. It wasn’t until July 2012 that the state of Connecticut passed legislation requiring prospective ACOs to complete 80 hours of initial training in order to be certified. People like Abalan, already working in the field, were grandfathered in. All ACOs must now complete six hours of continuing education annually. 

Abalan describes herself as “a voice for the voiceless.” While she embodies high-energy, she is easy to be with, and wears her authority lightly. A smallish Hartland police badge hangs from her neck unobtrusively. She dresses casually in a conscious effort to be an approachable figure. “My vehicle is intimidating enough,” she says. In this time of COVID-19, she alternates among three specially-designed masks. 

Animal Control Officer defined

ACOs enforce state laws governing animal control, protection and cruelty. They issue citations and warnings to people for mistreatment of animals and may remove animals from a negligent owner’s custody. The task of returning roaming dogs, and to a lesser degree, cats, to their homes is, in Abalan’s case, a frequent occurrence. One of the most stressful aspects of the job concerns cases of cruelty that have reached the judicial level; Abalan has had to testify, literally speaking for the voiceless, in court several times.

Transporting injured wildlife to rehabilitation centers can be a large part of the job in rural areas. Abalan favors the rehab center at the Audubon Society’s branch in Sharon. “They are always willing to take all animals, not just birds.”

When a creature requires medical treatment due to injury or disease, or is in the end stages of life, Abalan goes to Dr. Peter C. Korten, Hartland’s and Granby’s town veterinarian. Korten, a graduate of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, is a sought-after veterinarian who has practiced in Simsbury for 38 years. 

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is available when potentially dangerous wildlife cases require specialized physical and medical support. In 2014, when a 450-pound moose fell through a rotten well cover in Hartland, Abalan contacted DEEP which sent Environmental Conservation police officers and a wildlife biologist to the scene. In addition, Abalan summoned a trooper and asked that a local public works crew with a front loader and straps be dispatched. The moose was tranquilized. Straps were placed around its body and it was lifted from the well.

Abalan kept watch over the next few hours, expecting the moose to rise and go on its way. But its breathing became labored and it barely moved. The rescuers had observed that the animal’s body was infested with engorged ticks. It has been noted by Dennis Schain, DEEP agency spokesman, that tick infestation of moose is a problem beginning to be seen in Connecticut. In northern New England, where there are larger moose populations, it is a common affliction. The condition causes anemia, infections, hair loss and other health issues. 

Night had come and there were coyotes in the area. “I got a little emotional,” Abalan said. “I like nature to take its course, but I couldn’t go to sleep knowing he’s lying there on the ground and the coyotes might come.” She and the trooper contacted DEEP again and it was decided the kindest thing to do would be to put the moose out of its misery. 

The beneficiaries  

Abalan aids dogs, cows, horses, cats, goats and pigs (roughly in that order) when it comes to domesticated animals. Wild animals encountered include bear, deer, skunks, opossums, raccoons, coyotes, fox, snapping turtles and moose.

And there was that outlier, the alleged boa constrictor at The Gables housing complex (next to McLean Game Refuge) in Granby. Abalan was dispatched to The Gables on June 12, 2015 after residents reported seeing a thick-bodied snake of alarming length wrapped across and around tree branches about 15 feet off the ground. Abalan said, “There was not a definite ID on what it was because we couldn’t find it when we went back with the proper tools to catch it.” 

The snake that got away.

Abalan admits that she was relieved to find the serpent gone between the time she first saw it and when she returned with the necessary snake-handling equipment borrowed from a friend who is a reptile-handler. “All I knew was that it was the biggest snake I have ever seen. And it was never seen again, which for me was creepy because my kennel is right across the street.”

Wandering canines

Technically speaking, once a dog leaves its property, it is considered “roaming.” The fine for this transgression is $92. Abalan carries out her job with a diplomatic touch: she gives a verbal warning the first time such an incident occurs, and a written warning the second time. The fine is issued on the third occasion. On the average Abalan is called several times a week regarding errant dogs.

She makes every effort to avoid issuing fines, preferring to work cooperatively with owners. She tells of one gentleman whose Australian Shepherd mix is so frightened of storms and loud noises such as fireworks that it has chewed the locks from windows and jumped through most of the screens in the house. She will not ticket this man upon returning his dog because she knows he has tried—and continues to try—everything he can, including medication, to solve the problem.

Perhaps Abalan’s most frightening experience occurred when she was returning a loose dog to its home in Hartland. The owner opened the door to her knock, pointing a pistol at her as she stood on his doorstep with his dog on a leash at her side. He told her to leave the dog and get off his property. It was a swift departure, her own leash left still attached to the dog in her hasty retreat.

Mystery of the horse in the purple blanket

In January 2013 a loose horse wearing a bright purple blanket was reported to Granby Police by a walker on MeadowBrook Road in Granby. The mare, estimated to be about nine years old, was given temporary shelter by an area farmer while a search for the owner ensued. Abalan said one person tried to claim the horse but could not give an accurate description. The owner never came forward and, although there were many offers to adopt, Abalan’s daughter gave the mare a home.

Horse found wandering in her distinctive purple blanket.

Town of Granby’s Animal Shelter

Abalan watches over the occupants of the animal shelter at 166 Salmon Brook Street, which opened in 2002 and is designed to serve the needs of dogs and cats who have strayed from home or been neglected or abandoned. Notable exceptions are the one goat and the four chickens Abalan once offered hospitality to when they had nowhere else to go.

The building has seven indoor runs and two rooms for other animals. The town has recently installed a security system and improved both the interior and exterior. At the time of this writing the shelter was empty and Abalan likes it that way. “I don’t let dogs stay long. I get them home or get them adopted.”

Family support

Abalan’s mom, Betty Hart, who is 86 and lives on Buttles Road, “helps out in a pinch.” She and her husband rehabilitated wildlife for many years at Roaring Brook Nature Center, a nature preserve founded in 1948 by Canton resident Una Storrs Riddle.

Betty Hart, Abalan’s mother, with motherless fawn.

Abalan was married in 2017, to Brian Kershaw after losing her first husband to lung cancer. “Brian is a very wise man with a lot of wildlife knowledge. He has been amazing in helping me with my wildlife calls, even rushing home from his job just to give a hand in particularly difficult situations,” she said. And Jordyn, Abalan’s granddaughter, can be counted on to be an enthusiastic volunteer.

Jordyn, Abalan’s granddaughter, helps return a roaming dog.

You can help 

When you see Jennifer out on the roads—in Granby or Hartland or Barkhamsted—send warm thoughts and a wave her way. You’ll have to do it fast. She may be taking a stray pup back home or be on her way to rehab with an opossum—whatever she has in her vehicle you know she’s speaking up for its best life.

Animal Control Officer Jennifer Abalan with assistant, 11-month-old Kota.Photos courtesy of Jennifer Abalan and Faith Tyldsley.

Join your voice to Jennifer Abalan’s— here is how to contact her.

Telephone: 860-844-5335

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