For four months, bylaw enforcement officer Sandra Cardinal has been working with Ile-a-la Crosse community members on the issue of animal control. Recently, Northern Pride spoke with Sandra about the difficulties of the job, dealing with animals and the adjustment from city to village life.

Q: How long have you been the bylaw enforcement officer in Ile-a-la Crosse?
A: I was hired at the end of October and began working Nov. 2. The program is new and it’s one of a kind. When the village hired me, it was for six months so the contract ends in April. Next month, they’ll probably review it and see where we’re at with the statistics. I’m currently tasked with animal control within the community. For the first two months, I was doing a lot of teaching. I was on the radio and I started a Facebook page to post pictures of the dogs I picked up. That way, if anyone is missing a pet and they see it on the page, they can give me a call.

Q: Have you given out fines?
A: It’s been mostly warnings – most have been verbal, but I have given out some written notices. When I first came here last year, there were so many dogs. Since I’ve started, it’s changed for everybody. I’ve come into the community to lay down the law and tell people they need to tie their dog up or it needs to be registered. It was hard in the beginning to get people to understand. It gets frustrating at times, but it’s for the safety of everyone. There are some big dogs running around and people are afraid to walk outside. If there’s a pack of them running around, you don’t know who some of them belong to or if they’re going to attack. To date, I haven’t had any complaints about dogs biting anyone.

Q: What was it like launching the program?
A: When I was hired, they gave me a pen and paper and said go for it. I started my own file system, I created stat sheets and forms for people who want to surrender their animals, and I started an adoption program. I have a couple dogs in the kennel right now. When I do pick up a dog, the owners have 48 hours to come get the animal. If they don’t pick it up, I’ll wash the dog up and whoever wants to adopt it is free to. That’s why I started the adoption because it’s better than putting them down. So far, I’ve adopted out five dogs.

Q: Is responsible pet ownership an issue?
A: Sometimes I’ll pick up a dog and it will have a collar, so I’ll phone them and give them a warning. If they’re people I’ve talked to over and over again, I will take the dog and put it in the kennel. They have a choice. If the dog is registered, that’s good but they still need to pay the $30 impound fee for taking in the animal and for dog food. I want to work with the people in the community. So, when I went out to calls and was told by people they didn’t have leashes or collars, I ordered some. I’ve got 20 and 30-foot running leashes and small, large and extra large collars. They can be purchased at the village office. Selling these items makes it easier for people who don’t go out of town.

Q: What did you do before accepting the position?
A: I was taking some time off because I recently moved from Alberta. During the summer, I was doing security with the fire cache. I have 20 years experience in security and I worked all over. I have a university degree in addictions. Prior to that, I was living in Saskatoon and working in the mines as security.

Q: Did you think you’d get the job?
A: When it came up, I thought I would apply and see what happens. I thought they wouldn’t hire me because it seemed like a man’s job. I waited and never got the call, so I moved back to Saskatoon. It was Tuesday when I moved back and on Friday I got the call. They said they needed me Monday, so I moved back. I was surprised. I don’t know how many people applied. I was honoured because this is the kind of job I always wanted. I didn’t know when I first took this job what it would entail, but it’s been good. I know my duties in a small place are probably different than in a big city. Right now, I’m just working on animal control, but I will be working on other things in the future.

Q: When did you first arrive in Ile-a-la Crosse?
A: I came here when I was 16 years old. I had family here I never met and I have never known my dad. I came to Ile-a-la Crosse and I stayed here. My daughter, Amy Desjarlais, lives here and works for the Gabriel Dumont Institute. I also have two sons, Taza and Daryl, who both live in Saskatoon. I moved back to Ile-a-la Crosse last spring, so I’m a city girl. I left when I was 23, so I pretty much lived in Saskatoon.

Q: What’s it been like adjusting to the new way of life?
A: I’m still adjusting. I love my job and what I do. I care for the animals so much. Some days are harder than others. Also, everything shuts down at a certain time and I can’t run out to 7-Eleven or watch a movie. It’s a much slower pace here. In Saskatoon, I was always on the go. If I’m working, it takes time to get to work and time to get back. I have a number of friends I can go spend the afternoon with here, but in Saskatoon you have the luxury of having everything. Now, if I want to shop, I have to drive five or six hours to do that. I make a trip every couple of weeks to do that.

Q: Where were you born?
A: I was born at Hay River in the Northwest Territories. I lived there until I was 14 before moving to Calgary. Then, when I was 16, I came to Ile-a-la Crosse. I loved living in Hay River and it makes me miss the North. It’s 10 hours away from Edmonton, so you can’t get up and take a trip anytime you want. My memories of growing up there are awesome. As a kid, we were building igloos and playing outside in the snow. Not like kids today, they don’t get to do the things I did when I was younger. Hay River isn’t that big, but as a kid I didn’t mind.

Q: What’s the worst part of your new job?
A: I’ll get calls where someone has run over someone’s dog and I have to go pick it up. Those are the calls I don’t like because it’s hard on me. That can be prevented if people would have tied up their dogs. This job is trial and error. In November, another bylaw officer from Candle Lake trained me for a couple days. He showed me how to go about things and set up the kennel. I’ve also done hours of research to find vets who will come spay and neuter the animals.

Q: Do you only work in Ile-a-la Crosse?
A: Yes. There has been some interest from Beauval and I’m more than willing. They need to go through the village office here to get the OK. I hope other communities in the North can come onboard or start their own programs. It can be a good program – you just need to be consistent.

Q: Why is there such a shortage of bylaw enforcement officers?
A: When I go to a place, I always get challenged. People ask about my education, so I share. This job is not for everyone. You need to be an animal lover to begin with. It’s frustrating a lot of time because, when I deal with certain people, I just don’t know what I’m going to have to deal with. I grew up here and everyone knows me as a friend or family, but when I’m in uniform, it changes everything because I’m a professional.