PLAINVILLE — With nets and catch poles in hand, Animal Control Officer Donna Weinhofer captured a special kind of mammal as children clamored to be caught and led around the library’s auditorium.
She showed the traps used to catch feral kittens, the pole used to lift raccoons out of dumpsters and her favorite pair of gloves, riddled with bite marks. “All of this equipment I’ve used on different animals,” she told the children overwhelmed by the gadgets.
She wasn’t just there to wrangle kids, however. She sought to teach families about the animals they live alongside and how to coexist without issues.
Possums, for example, aren’t the prettiest animals, but the ticks they devour are much worse and are more likely to spread disease. “They are ugly animals, but they are very good for the environment,” she said. “Having possums in your neighborhood is not a bad thing, in fact it can be a good thing.”
“All the different animals make up our ecosystem, and it’s very important that we keep them,” she said. Learning about how to coexist is important for “their future and the future of the Earth.”
“I kind of want to buy a possum now,” said Unionville resident Erica Logan, who recently moved to Connecticut and wanted to learn about the local fauna. “We definitely got a lot of knowledge today.”
Many of the lessons Weinhofer shared boil down to enjoying nature from a distance, and never trying to touch it yourself. Even if it looks like something is wrong, like a baby deer left alone, there’s often a good reason. In this case, mother deer typically leave their fawns alone for hours while searching for food. Since the fawns lack a scent and stay very still, predators aren’t likely to come across them and the mother will eventually return with a meal for them both.
If something does seem out of place, she urged that the public call a professional like herself rather than take it into their own hands.
While this is the work traditionally done by animal control officers, Weinhofer said she also does a lot of work for domestic pets as well. If a family cannot afford vaccinations or treatment, she can refer them to centers which provide low cost or free treatment, for example.
“I think it’s always good to teach our kids as much as possible about the town they live in,” said Christina Warner. Having had bears, which Weinhofer stressed won’t eat you, and a family of raccoons around their home, she said it’s especially important to teach children to stay away from wildlife.
“Not everyone gets to see behind the scenes all of the tools that they use,” said children room staff member Jessica Nelson. “She does a really good job (of) keeping the animals safe and humanely captured.”