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Critter Control


Animal control officer Dennis Kroeplin starts his morning in a small cubical in the West Valley Animal Shelter, checking messages from callers who do not wish to share their lives with animals not of their choosing.

The messages are about opossums, raccoons, deer, skunks and even bears. Some of the more frantic calls come from people who have trapped one of these animals inside a room or homemade trap and are wondering what to do.

Kroeplin's job, which he has been doing for 27 years, includes rounding up these critters and bringing them to the shelter or back to the wild.

Over the years, Kroeplin, 53, has seen the rate of calls his department receives multiply as housing developments pushed outward into formerly wild terrain.

Back in 1969, he said, his department would catch and then airlift to the Santa Monica Mountains about 16 wild animals per week. Now, the number airlifted weekly is closer to 70, and he also regularly transports animals to the mountains by van.

Sometimes the work is hazardous. During last year's Malibu fire, he made his way through thick smoke and fire to rescue a dozen geese trapped by flames. He once broke his foot while chasing a pair of peacocks.

And three years ago, while pondering how to handle a bear who had climbed a pine tree, Kroeplin was startled by the powerful animal's sudden jump to the ground just a short distance from where he stood.

Luckily, the bear headed in the opposite direction.

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