Clarkstown animal control officer retires after 41 years on the job
She was bitten by a rabid raccoon, got tangled up with a boa constrictor in a motel room, and helped a generation of Rocklanders get used to sharing their neighborhood with bears, coyotes and foxes.
Along the way, Pat McCoy-Coleman encountered dozens of reptiles, raptors, wild and domestic canids, feral cats, wild turkeys, animal aggressors and hoarders.
Now, the Stony Point resident will have more time to spend with her own creatures — a pair of golden retrievers named Kate and Ted E. Bear.
McCoy-Coleman recently retired as a Clarkstown animal control officer, a job she started in 1981 when the position was simply called dog sitter.
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McCoy-Coleman accepted the position with no formal education, but with extensive hands-on experience breeding, training and showing golden retrievers with her father, Bill McCoy. Birthing and raising puppies, dealing with illnesses and behavioral issues during those years taught her “things you can’t get out of a book,” she said.
His first “instructor” was Samson, a dachshund who had been abused by his previous owner.
“That dog was a nightmare,” she recently said. “Everything I learned about animal control, that poor dog had these bad habits when we got him.
“Samson fought with all the other dogs in the neighborhood,” she recalled. “When people came to me because their dog had been attacked by another dog, I was like, ‘Hey, I went through that when I was a kid.’ ”
call of the wild
McCoy-Coleman has seen her work evolve from hunting stray dogs to negotiating the sometimes difficult coexistence between suburbanites and animals that have been driven from their natural habitats by development.
Whenever there is new construction in one part of town, it uproots foxes, coyotes, and other creatures, forcing them to seek refuge in the woods which are rapidly disappearing in other parts of town.
Coyote sightings elicit an unusually high level of fear among citizens.
“When they hear it’s a coyote, it’s like the big bad wolf,” she said. “But an adult coyote weighs half the weight of a full-sized German Shepherd.”
Bears have also been driven from their natural environment by mega-projects like Legoland, forcing them to take refuge in suburban backyards.
“It’s sad that people aren’t more comfortable with animals,” she said. “We have taken over their homes and they have to go somewhere.”
Come back, Jo Jo
One day in the 1990s, McCoy-Coleman answered a call for a snake in a room at Nyack Motor Lodge. Expecting a small snake, she brought a small jar to capture it, then was greeted by an officer who said, “You’re going to need a bigger boat,” she recounted. “He lifts the bed and there comes Jo Jo”, a female boa builder who was longer than the width of the bed. McCoy-Coleman later learned that Jo Jo had been purchased from a local pet store.
“This thing was stubborn and getting tight where we had trouble getting it into the dog crate,” she said. “But we did, and I took her back to the pet store.”
The person who brought Jo Jo to the motel was later implicated in a series of burglaries.
darkness and light
McCoy-Coleman calls animal hoarding cases “the dark side” of her job “because you go to a home where the animals aren’t cared for properly. It’s hard to understand, how did this person let this happen?”
On the other hand, the officer has seen how animals can bring out the best in people, especially children. “Visiting the children with my pets,” which she has been doing for years at local schools and scout gatherings, is the part of the job she will miss the most. “Getting into BOCES was the biggest part of what I had to do.”
She had children in mind when she was attacked by a creature in April 2015.
McCoy-Coleman made headlines when she was bitten by a rabid raccoon – in broad daylight outside Clarkstown police headquarters.
“He bit me through my pants, but he never ripped,” she said. “Their teeth are very sharp.”
The 5ft 5in McCoy-Coleman managed to jump out of her truck, grab her catch pole and surround the infected animal before it could rush to a nursery school across the street .
“I was calm because I had a job to do,” she said. “I needed to catch this animal before it hurt someone else, and I wasn’t hurt enough that I couldn’t do what I needed to do. Your adrenaline pumps. I was on a mission, because I was more pissed off than hurt. “You did that in my own house?” she laughs. “You know the ribs I had to take here at the police department?”
Fortunately, McCoy-Coleman had received pre-exposure blows in 1991 when rabies spread among the wild population. But she still needed five injections from the series of six injections.
George Hoehmann, a longtime Clarkstown resident and city supervisor, called McCoy-Coleman “one of the most caring people I’ve ever met in government,” recalling when she looked after of a cat problem in his neighborhood. She once rescued a blind eagle that had become trapped near Lake DeForest, he recalls.
“She loves all animals, and that’s no exaggeration,” Hoehmann said. “When she’s trying to help save animals, get them saved, that’s when she’s at her best.”
Brett Fliesser, of Valley Cottage Animal Hospital, is tentatively hired as an animal control officer on March 8, Hoehmann said. Fliesser will have to pass the civil service test to become permanent.
The golden years
McCoy-Coleman has owned and shown Golden Retrievers since she fell in love with the breed in her youth. His very first, in 1972, was called Rusty.
In 1979 she won Best of Breed at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show with Sir Duncan of Woodbury at Madison Square Garden.
“Golden retrievers are my life,” the Bronx native said.
In retirement, McCoy Coleman plans to continue her involvement with the Rockland County Kennel Club, where she serves as vice president. She will also have time to volunteer for causes like the annual turtle crossings in West Nyack.
“I still have to get up, because the dogs’ alarm clock hasn’t changed,” she said.
Robert Brum is a freelance journalist who writes about the Hudson Valley. Read his work at robertbrum.com