Florida’s alligators, snakes and manatees are a frequent focus of viral videos and state lore. While they grab the headlines, other critters receive less notoriety.
Animal-control and law-enforcement officers have a front seat to the unexpected. They encounter livestock, birds and big cats — wild and tame — that cause a distraction, or disruption, to Treasure Coast neighborhoods.
How strange are some of the calls these officials get? Just consider the most recent: a donkey reported roaming west of Vero Beach on Nov. 17.
The Agriculture and Marine Unit of the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office caught the loose donkey walking down 66th Avenue near 77th Street after it escaped from its owner through an open gate, deputies said.
The donkey, named Romeo, eventually was reunited with his owner.
Sgt. Luke Keppel, who oversees the Agriculture and Marine Unit, said he’s been involved with about a dozen donkey calls in the 10-15 years he’s been part of the unit.
“They got their nickname for a reason,” he said of the animal. “They usually act that way while we’re dealing with them.”
Despite getting nosed by bulls and cows, butted by goats and nearly kicked by a horse while on the job, Keppel said the worst injury he’s sustained is a scrape.
“There’s been a few times where I’ve been chased around trees and up trees trying to get away from whatever is trying to get me,” Keppel said with a chuckle. “It’s just part of the job.”
Maria Valencia, an animal-safety coordinator with St. Lucie County’s Animal Safety, Services & Protection Division, also recently encountered loose livestock: 15 miniature goats.
Valencia and her colleagues responded to the call in early November after the animals apparently got loose by digging under pasture fencing and crawling through, she said.
“It took three animal-safety officers to get them all corralled back where they were supposed to go,” she said.
Just days later, on Nov. 9, Valencia thought she was off the clock for the day while driving home from work. But that quickly changed after she saw a tall, fluffy bird strolling along Shinn Road in St. Lucie County.
“He’s on the side of the road just walking northbound. I’m like, ‘OK, not good,’” she said. “He was actually crossing the road when I turned around. And thankfully, he didn’t put up much of a fight.”
Valencia called for backup and was able to capture the emu using a snappy snare, which is similar to a leash, and then put a net over the bird to avoid getting kicked while securing its legs with rope, she said.
The owner couldn't be found, so the bird was taken to a nearby property where a resident raises emus near a wildlife rehabilitation center.
“Eventually, after he calmed down, I was able to pet his head and his chest and everything, and he was fine. The emu person thought it was possibly a young male,” she said.
While Keppel and Valencia can tell stories about recent contacts mammals and birds, Kim Guile said she’s received about five calls this month in Martin County about African spurred tortoises, also called sulcata tortoises.
A recent rescue happened the second week of November off Northeast Alice Street in Rio, where she had to lure the tortoise to her truck with an apple, Guile said. Then she had to lift the four-legged reptile onto the truck.
She guesses it weighed about 100 pounds.
“They’ve always been a popular pet at some of the exotic pet stores. They’re just very hard to maintain and very hard to keep contained in an area because they will literally push out of any fence, any gate,” Guile said. “They’re excellent diggers.”
“You do not need a permit for sulcata tortoises, and I think that’s one of the reasons why we’ve been having so many that are getting out,” she added.
Guile has been an animal-control officer with the Martin County Sheriff’s Office for 16 years, she said. She’s saved ducklings from a roof, a long-haired Chihuahua from under a shed and a pelican tangled in a fishing line.
“You never know what call is going to be next.”
Lina Ruiz is TCPalm's watchdog reporter for Martin County. You can reach her at email@example.com, on Twitter @Lina_Ruiz48 or at 321-501-3845.
This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: A donkey, emu and tortoise: Animal-control officers share stories