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31 years of catching dogs, herding cats ... and escorting moose

Officer Will Speaker, an animal warden, retires from the Grand Forks Police Department this week after 31 years of rescuing and wrangling what amounts to an ark-load.

Will Speaker
Grand Forks Police Officer Will Speaker retires this week after 31 years. Herald photo by John Stennes.

Officer Will Speaker, an animal warden, retires from the Grand Forks Police Department this week after 31 years of rescuing and wrangling what amounts to an ark-load.

"I've had dogs, cats, horses, cattle. I had an 11-foot boa constrictor" -- hold it there.

A boa constrictor?

"Lady walked out of her house and looked down and right next to her front door was a big snake curled up around the bush," Speaker said. "She just about had a hemorrhage."

It happened about 15 years ago on Cherry Street.

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The snake belonged to a man who kept it in his garage. It took some doing, but Speaker managed to usher the snake into a cage and dropped it off at the Humane Society.

"It was after hours when I did that, so I called the Humane Society and left a voice mail for them: 'By the way, when you go in tomorrow morning and you go to open that door, there's something in there you should know about.'"

Arlette Moen, director of the Humane Society, said that sort of consideration -- letting the staff know about the "rather large fella" -- was typical of Speaker.

"That's the kind of thing he would do to make sure we were aware what was going on with the animals," she said. "We'll definitely miss him."

Cold welcome

Speaker, 61, started as an animal warden in July 1978. He later became a community service officer and was assigned additional duties, including enforcing parking laws, taking theft reports and serving as a bailiff.

Originally from Williamsport, Md., Speaker came to the Grand Forks area in 1970 by way of the Air Force. Before arriving, he served 1½ years in Okinawa, Japan, followed by 1½ years in Vietnam. He recalls landing in North Dakota, "You talk about a shock to the system. I had left Vietnam that morning, and it was 98 degrees over there, and I flew into Grand Forks, North Dakota, in February, and it was about 30 below out."

Speaker spent 3½ more years in the Air Force before leaving with the rank of staff sergeant. He managed a couple of restaurants in the area before taking the Police Department gig.

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As an animal warden, Speaker responded to calls of pets running loose, barking dogs and occasional reports of animal cruelty.

"We're pretty lucky here in Grand Forks that the majority of the people are really good about taking care of their animals," he said. "It's actually rare to go out and find an animal that's in rough straits."

Urban wildlife

Speaker showed dogs for many years and owns a greyhound and three cats. His wife, Karen, said his understanding of animals and his "quiet mannerism" around them helped him do his job.

"Inside knowledge made a big difference," she said.

During Speaker's career, the only serious bite he suffered came from a cocker spaniel.

"Other than that, yeah, I've had fights with pit bulls and just about everything else," he said. "Cats are the ones that they end up getting a claw into you now and then."

Aside from pets, Speaker dealt with wild critters such as muskrats, rabbits, deer, raccoons, squirrels, hawks, owls, ducklings and skunks.

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About three weeks ago, a skunk caught in a trap at a Grand Forks home sprayed Speaker. After that, he decided he wasn't taking any more skunk calls. "Enough was enough," he said.

Speaker said his skunk encounters over the years led him to a formula that cuts the stink better than tomato juice: a mix of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and Dawn dishwashing liquid.

Moose escort

Roughly 10 years ago, Speaker remembered, a young bull moose decided to bed down by Altru Hospital.

"When you're dealing with a moose like 800 pounds or so, you've got to be careful," he said.

Speaker said he and Officer LaVonne Nelson worked together to escort the moose to more pastoral surroundings.

"Her and I literally walked behind this moose from Altru out past the railroad station and herded it out of town," he said, adding that streets were blocked off on the roughly three-mile route.

His advice as an experienced moose-herder: "If you take them slow and easy, they usually move ahead of you."

Speaker's last day of work was Thursday. His retirement ceremony is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. today at the Police Department.

Reach Ingersoll at (701) 780-1269; (800) 477-6572, ext. 269; or send e-mail to aingersoll@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: GRAND FORKS COUNTY
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