Jennifer Burns has dealt with many animals over the course of her 17-year career as an animal control officer for the Newton Police Department, including one that astounded wildlife experts.


Burns came into the position when she filled in for an ACO who was on maternity leave.


"She decided not to come back, so I just rolled over into doing it," Burns said.


Much of her workday is spent returning phone calls, responding to dispatch pages and answering questions.


"I normally have three or four calls overnight," Burns said. "Over the weekends, it's normal to have eight to 10 — lots of folks to call back and issues to resolve."


Those issues can include calls about animals who are injured or running loose. There are also welfare checks and reports of dogs left in hot cars. Occasionally, individuals will tell her they were bitten by an animal.


"There are a lot of facets to the work," Burns said. "I love being able to get out and help animals and help people. It's a lot of education and conversations. That is the majority of my job."


She is also asked to remove wildlife from homes.


"I don't have anywhere to take it and relocate it. I take it out of the house and let it go," Burns said. "However it got in the house, they've got to fix that problem so it doesn't get back in."


Animal control guidelines say an animal has to be driven 25 miles away and released on a property with the owner's permission in order to deter it from returning to a place.


"I don't know anyone 25 miles from here who wants more raccoons, skunks or possums. I haven't met them yet," Burns said.


If a wild animal is inside a home, she can take it outside, but it is up to homeowners to prevent it from re-entering.


Keeping pets at home can be challenging if owners do not have the proper containment areas and have not trained them to respond to commands.


"A lot of it is just dog behaviors and helping people understand what the dog is doing and why they're doing it and how they can correct those behaviors to make it a happier environment for everyone," Burns said. "It helps keep dogs in homes, when the owners aren't frustrated with behaviors that they don't know what to do with."


Enforcing city ordinances — and keeping them current — is also a big part of her job.


"We had some outdated stuff in the ordinances. It was just a little antiquated, so we've been updating that," Burns said.


Newton residents now have an easier time of getting a permit for chickens. Burns also worked to put guidelines in place to allow people to keep bees in city limits.


"I learned a lot about bees," Burns said. "We want them to fly up and away from their habitat to keep them from becoming a nuisance for neighbors."


One of the most unusual animals Burns has dealt with — a young turkey vulture — was called in after flying around a Newton High School football practice.


"He'd been hanging around town for a few days," Burns said. "...he had swooped down and taken a cone off of the football field and had been dive-bombing the football players."


The turkey vulture next moved to a residential area, causing neighborhood dogs to bark at it. A few days after the football practice incident, a woman told Burns the bird had followed her down her driveway and then pecked her in the leg.


"She said, 'it felt like an ice pick going in my leg, and it hurts! I don't know what to do — I'm in my garage now and I can't go back outside,'" Burns said. "I went over there to look, and sure enough there was a turkey vulture. I went up to the house and he came right at me, just bobbing its head."


Noting the bird's behavior was unusual, Burns made an exception to the usual policy of not handling wildlife.


"Something was clearly going on with this guy," Burns said.


She lured the bird into a cage using hot dogs.


"I didn't want to startle him. He was such a gentle little fellow and it was clear he just wanted attention and some food," Burns said.


When the turkey vulture was inside the cage, she called a bird expert she knew.


"I told him 'I have a turkey vulture,' and he said, 'no, you don't. No one catches turkey vultures,'" Burns said.


She ended up taking the bird to the Hutchinson Zoo, where they agreed with her assessment that the turkey vulture had probably been hand-raised by someone since it was very young.


Burns has also been a board member of the Kansas Animal Control Association board for the past six years and currently is the organization's historian.


"I serve as our regional president and team lead for our disaster animal response team," Burns said. "In the event of a disaster of any kind — man-made or natural — we have a group of volunteers that is trained to come in and help house animals."


As an animal control officer, Burns works to keep the animals you don't want out of your homes and the animals you do want in.


"I'm here to help (people) and their animals. Our goal is to keep the animals at home, safe, where they're supposed to be," Burns said. "We don't want them to be out in the street being hit by cars or causing cars to have an accident while avoiding hitting an animal."