County Seat Newspaper
of Clare County

Long-Serving Animal Control Director Bids Adieu

Rudi Hicks Tale Moving On to Next Chapter



Cleaver Staff Writer

HARRISON – Pretty much every pet owner in Clare County knows who Clare County Animal Control Director Rudi Hicks is. That’s how it is when you’ve spent 12 years in service to the well-being of the “least among us,” those creatures who depend on humans for their care and very survival. For Hicks, who has spent the past 10 years as director, part of that care has been ensuring licensing and vaccination rules are adhered to, and in the case of the Clare County Animal Shelter, it means hosting One Stop Shop license/vaccination events twice annually and holding spay/neuter clinics – in addition to taking in surrendered or rescued animals of all sorts. Sometimes, it even means euthanizing an animal with no healthful future. Hicks will tell you that is the very worst part of the job.

“Our numbers went from a 40% to a 90% live release rate through the state,” she said. “That’s huge. I have a good crew; we have a lot of good people. And we all have the same goal, and that’s to save animals.”

She is proud of taking what was once a few cages in a garage – waystations where strays were held until they could be euthanized – and turning it into an award-winning, highly sanitary and professional facility with a pole barn, outdoor pavilion dog runs, large standup kennels and dog exercise area, plus a cat room with large, roomy cages. Even so, Hicks also will be among the first to attest that more than a decade of caring about and for thousands of animals takes a toll on a person’s heart.

“I’m tired, I just need to step down,” she said, in a farewell interview with the Cleaver. “I don’t have any more rabbits to pull out of my hat; I can’t find any more rabbits.”

While churning loads of animals in and out the door is the regular order of things, Hicks’ tenure has been anything but dull repetition – it’s been one different day after another.

Hicks shared some recollections of the multitude of unusual, special, and all too often heart-wrenching chapters in her career at Clare County Animal Control. From a called-in wild boar in a garage, to a called-in giant turkey on Jill Janet, to a called-in cobra trapped in a garage [seems to be a theme here]. Of course, the wild boar turned out to be a wandering pot-bellied pig, the giant turkey an escaped emu, and the cobra a neither aggressive nor poisonous hognose snake. Hicks got a kick out of that particular snake call, as when she arrived the callers said it was dead, explaining they had touched it with a stick and it died. They were embarrassed when Hicks picked it up and it began writhing, after she had explained that the hognose snake plays dead as a defense mechanism.

In another snake incident on the south side of Harrison, a snake had been found in the roadway and a resident had trapped it inside a storage tote. When Hicks arrived and peeked inside, she was surprised to find the snake was actually a boa constrictor: impressive, although obviously out of place in Michigan and suffering the ill effects of exposure.

There also was a rare alligator incident, where two men reported spotting a large gator in Budd Lake – or so they thought.

“It was a pool alligator, looking alive as it bobbed in the water,” she said, laughing. “They were so embarrassed that they had called us.” Hicks confirmed there might have been a Budweiser or two involved.

Hicks provided some photos of moments she regards as special – for a variety of reasons: a grateful horse that, after being rescued, continued to follow her around; Hicks and ACO Bob Dodson standing with mud soaked pants after spending hours waist deep in mud while rescuing an old horse stuck in the middle of a swamp; a surprise alligator in a Lincoln Township home; a favorite charming cat photo; Hicks and a ball-crazy dog named Riley with Cesar Millan in Midland [Millan’s advice: “This dog needs a job.”]; and the weekslong rescue effort and final rescue of the Great Dane Zaira [later changed to Zaria] from the 13-acre sinking marsh island on Cranberry Lake.

“We all cried on that one, too, when we rescued her,” she said. “I had two leashes on that dog; Bob’s carrying her and we’re stepping from hummock to hummock.” When urged to let go of the leashes because she was pulling Bob, Hicks responded, “No, I’m not letting go of this dog. She’s not getting away from us again!”

Hicks also recounted a time during the week she first hired Dodson and they were called to save a deer that was stuck in a well pit.

“I’m thinking I have to teach Bob how to do this – I don’t know how to do this – so I started saying we’ll have to get a ladder and a rope,” Hicks said. “I turned and said, where’s Bob?  And he had jumped into the well pit, and the deer comes flying out, and I said, ‘Or we could just do that.’ He said, ‘OK, what’s our next call?’ and I thought, all right, I’m probably not going to teach him a whole lot.”

Some of Hicks’ favorite moments are ones captured by happenstance. Those include the territorial beaver that paced back and forth, challenging the beaver he saw reflected in a bank door – preventing customers from leaving the bank. That, she said was an especially challenging extraction.

Another delightful surprise that Hicks’ camera froze in time was a young owl as it jumped from a log toward her. The seemingly in-flight shot created a rare capture of a wildlife personality moment.

Interestingly, even though the first thought about Animal Control might include dogs and cats, the fact is that livestock are also on the list. Hicks recalled The Night of 110 Cows On the Expressway.

“We worked 72 hours in a row,” she said. “We had no choice. We’d get home and Dispatch would call and say there’s 10 more at marker 156. The last eight or nine, we’d got them all and I’d gone home to bed, and I got a call. I just drove right to the guy’s house and said, ‘Get in my truck, get all of your kids, I’m not doing this by myself’ – and he did. We got all but two; we never found two cows.”

She also spoke of a time when the Clare City Police had chased a dog all day, finally admitted defeat, and called Animal Control.

“They said, ‘We can’t catch this dog,’ and it was Brian Gregory when he was still there,” Hicks said. “We were kind of behind a nursing home with it, and I don’t know what made me say it, but I said ‘Stay, you STAY! [and the dog complied]. And I said ‘SIT’ and it sat. I walked up and put a leash on it, turned around to Brian Gregory and said, ‘That’s how it’s done.’ Bob was with us, and we laughed all the way home.”

Sometimes all you have to do is ask.

“In this job, the truth is, you can look like an absolute idiot or a hero,” Hicks said. “And it all depends on what the animal has in mind.”

On the day of the interview, Hicks took a few minutes to visit with some newly-surrendered kittens: two litters, both of which did not meet the minimum age requirement for drop-off. Yet, there they were, and the shelter was taking care of them until they were old enough for adoption.

So, with the wizard of grant writing, shelter management, and all-around epitome of human compassion leaving her post, that well-served position will need filling. Fortunately, longtime Animal Control Officer Bob Dodson will remain and become Director of Animal Control Bob Dodson. Also, ACO Tara Westphal will be joined by Paul Bradley who is currently completing his ACO certification.

“Bob’s so good, he’ll do fine,” Hicks said. “He’s a really good officer, he truly is.”

And, of course, trusty office staff and dedicated volunteers will continue to carry their share of the load, as well. They, too, will miss Hicks, but no doubt have the mindset of wanting to carry on the current vision for protecting the county’s feathered and four-legged residents.

A solid record of employee satisfaction, facility improvements and expansion, striking increases in animal placement, and successful spay/neuter efforts: that’s a legacy any animal control director can take pride in. And though it’s a sentimental departure, Hicks is undoubtedly satisfied that she has given her very best.

Now, it’s her turn – and she has certainly earned it! Asked what she has in mind next, Hicks said she already has several horse trips planned. In a year or two, Hicks said she may find some work to occupy her time.

“But it won’t be this,” she said. “This’ll rip your heart out if you let it; I need to step away from this.”

So, for now, her time will be filled with caring for her own three horses, three dogs, three cats, and an old, senile parrot which Hicks described as a foul-mouthed yellow-naped Amazon about to turn 34 years old.

“It has been a labor of love,” she said. “I have loved every minute of this, but I’m tired. I need to move on and let him [Dodson] finish it.”

Thus closes a chapter in an overflowing volume of tales from the Clare County Animal Shelter.

Goodbye, Rudi – with thanks from a grateful community. Great job!

© Clare County Cleaver


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