For the first time in seven years, Dennis Kroeplin and the wild animals who roam around Chatsworth Lake are at peace.
Kroeplin, 44, a wildlife control officer with the city Department of Animal Regulation, has waged a one-man war for several years against dogs and predatory humans that have threatened the safety and existence of several deer, birds, snakes, rabbits and other wildlife on the 1,000-acre area surrounding the waterless lake.
The war is now winding down, and Kroeplin can relax as he surveys the wildlife sanctuary he helped create. Last week, he smiled as he watched three new fawns grazing and roaming around the reservoir.
But the scene had not always been so calm.
Kroeplin can still remember seeing a dozen deer carcasses spread over a 100-yard area in 1978, deer that had been killed by pet dogs. The dogs had come through holes in the rain-damaged fence around the reservoir, and would torment the deer.
He now refers to it as "the massacre."
"It was very muddy around the reservoir, and the dogs would keep just chasing the deer all around until they were exhausted," Kroeplin said. "The deer were at a disadvantage because their sharp hoofs would sink deep in the mud, deeper than the dogs' paws.
"So they would just chase them until the deer couldn't run anymore," Kroeplin continued. "Then the dogs would kill them, and just leave them there. They had only chased the deer because it was something to chase, and, when the deer were dead, it was no longer a game."
In a matter of months, the dogs, all pets, had killed off all but one of the 40-head herd that had roamed around the reservoir.
Kroeplin also trapped 25 dogs with specially equipped cages, and, although he would plead to the owners of the dogs when they claimed them to not let them out, they continued to let the dogs run.
Kroeplin finally persuaded the Department of Water and Power, which owns the land, to repair the fence around the reservoir and to notify him whenever they saw a dog in the area. He also instructed the Los Angeles Police Department to patrol the area for dogs, and for people who would trespass after cutting the fence.
The reservoir was damaged during the February, 1971, Sylmar earthquake and has been empty ever since.
Setting out to replenish the herd, Kroeplin caught a doe, which was running loose in Canoga Park, took it to the reservoir and set it free. "I didn't know she was pregnant at the time, and, before long, there were three deer," he said.
He continued to take more wild animals into the area, including a great blue heron, wild turkeys, vultures, rabbits, California king snakes, rattlesnakes, raccoons and "about everything you can imagine," he said.
However, the problem with the dogs has not gone away. Twice a day, Kroeplin will patrol the area and check his traps. He has caught 60 dogs in the past year and more than 120 in the last six years.
"Things seem to be settling down because I haven't caught a dog in two weeks," Kroeplin said with a smile. "I see these empty traps, but I keep checking."
But, since "the massacre," not one deer has been killed by a dog. One buck, five does and three fawns are now living peacefully.
Kroeplin feels a parental kinship to the animals, even though they do not recognize him or appear to be aware of how much effort he is putting forth to protect them.
"I don't want to turn them into pets, so they don't come to me when they see me," Kroeplin said. "I want them to stay wild. They don't have any emotion towards me, but I sure have a lot of emotion towards them."