In his 23 years on the job, Newport Beach Police Department Animal Control Officer Mike Teague, 54, has dealt with just about every mammalian, avian and reptilian species that exists in this city.
A naturally caring individual, this happily married father of three believes that “animals are just one aspect of the job” and that the key to his service really is “dealing with people.”
Almost on a daily basis, police dispatchers will direct Teague, or the department’s three other Animal Control Officers, to deal with such critters as possums, raccoons, skunks, bats, dogs, cats, sea lions, young seal elephants, and birds of all varieties (both domestic and wild) as well as insects and reptiles, both benign and possibly dangerous.
Each new call for service is a potential for surprise, for citizens often misreport what they see.
In one instance, a panicked female caller described a bat in her bathroom. Always on the defense with bats due to possible rabies, Teague stalked what turned out to be a giant moth, which he quickly packaged as a birthday gift for his then five-year-old son who loved bugs.
On another call, an elderly musician needed help locating and capturing a chirping bird that was as elusive as the classic radio hero, “The Shadow.” It was as if that bird had some kind of cosmic assignment to nonstop-torture the homeowner. Teague came to the rescue, and quickly solved the problem by replacing the about-to-expire 9-volt battery in the smoke alarm.
There’s no disguising fright in one’s voice, no matter the language on the other end of the phone. Dispatchers finally
deciphered enough of a Hispanic housekeeper’s frantic message that a giant snake lay coiled and ready to strike vulnerable flesh the moment one sat down on the toilet seat. Teague grabbed his “snake tongs” to extricate the fearsome reptile – which turned out to be a rubber serpent submerged by a boy who simply wanted to scare the maid.
Real snakes, however, can be a problem, albeit mostly in the minds of residents adjacent to brushy areas in the hills, or the environs surrounding the Back Bay.
Newport Beach is home to rattlesnakes, so people should be aware of where they step or where they place their hands in overgrown areas, Teague cautions.
“If you find yourself having stepped close to a rattlesnake, don’t panic, move slowly away and call 9-1-1.”
Teague likes snakes, and has had them as pets throughout the years. He’ll pick up the snake with snake tongs, drop it in a bag, and relocate the reptile to a wilder area. Most of his snake calls are for gopher snakes, a rather long and grey constrictor that helps control rodent populations. Other snakes residing in our hills include garter snakes, coachwhips, rosy boas, corn snakes and several types of king snakes. All reptiles in the region are considered delicacies and are listed on king snake menus.
As it turns out, many of the “please-hurry-and-get-the-snake” calls are for lizards. Lizards, and snakes, are our friends, Teague said. Other calls plead for Animal Control Officers to capture insects of various kinds, including tarantulas, a most friendly arachnid. One resides at Teague’s home.
His strangest snake call came from the peninsula, where a neighbor next to a fraternity house reported a 10-foot boa constrictor sunning itself on the patio. Of course, Teague knew this was the typical exaggeration. However, this time it was more of an erroneous estimation. The boa measured more than 12 feet, and weighed in excess of 60 pounds. Obviously, the frat boys must’ve left the top off the snake house. There were no reports of missing coeds.
Despite the fearsome reputation of rattlers, Teague feels that sick sea lions are by far the most dangerous animal that he and his colleagues must confront. When approached, these marine mammals strike out, bite hard and are most unwilling to be captured. To do so, Teague tosses a large beach towel over the sea lion’s head, and then grabs it from behind so that he can transport it to the Marine Mammal Care Center in Laguna Canyon.
Because of a sea lion, Teague has installed safety hasps on his truck’s back gate. Some years back, while driving through Corona del Mar, the animal pulled a Houdini by opening the back hatch and leaping out at about 40 mph hour, landing unhurt before waddling to lie down in front of a hair salon. For a short time at the salon, it smelled more like fish than hair spray
When registered, every rescued seal or sea lion is given a name. In this writer’s honor (or more probably, because all other monikers had been assigned), the caretakers named a rescued 29-pound animal after me, Simon. I hoped Simon would be returned to the ocean in short order; however, as Teague drove us away, I began to feel a bit like shark bait.
Teague and his colleagues are in reality lifesavers, even though on occasion they must put down an animal, or report to an owner that Fluffie had been found deceased. Residents are mostly receptive and appreciative of the job they do, but there are times when, because ACOs wear a uniform, people let them know what they think of “law enforcement.”
What also comes with the job is the great camaraderie, friendship and respect with and for the other ACOs and cops, Teague emphasized.
“One of our goals at the PD is to create raving fans with each contact we make,” said Police Chief Jay Johnson. “It was originally implied to mean human contact, but our ACOs are creating raving fans of the animals in this City, as well. I am very proud of the work they do!”
There’s no doubt that Newport Beach is a dog-friendly community. All one has to do is walk Balboa Islands or the CdM overlook to see that pooches of all varieties are an integral part of our families.
But Teague cautions against approaching and/or petting any dog, no matter how friendly and adorable it may be. You just don’t know how they’re going to react to you, or why, he counseled.
Of the many humorous happenstances that have occurred in Teague’s years, he counts the arrest of a man sitting in El Torito Grill as his favorite. This guy had two tiger cubs chained to the back seat of his Beemer convertible; he was trying to sell them for $10,000 each. However, NBPD finally arrested him—not for selling dangerous and endangered animals without a license, but for an outstanding warrant concerning a monkey bite. Apparently this guy had left town with an aggressive simian before the animal’s quarantine period had expired.
Ultimately, the cubs took up residence at Actress Tippi Hedren’s Shambhala Preserve in Acton, where one of the two lived to a “stripe” old age.
Teague believes he has the best job in town. It’s a barking, squawking, meowing cry from his first job out of college – that of mortician.
“That really was just too quiet.”