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PI Sheriff’s Office becomes haven for lost animals

News Photo by Julie Riddle Corrections Officer Kaili Ponik displays a kennel in the garage of the Presque Isle County Sheriff’s Office on Friday. The kennel is a temporary shelter for stray animals on their way to being reunited with their owners.

ROGERS CITY — In a shadowy corner of a police garage, a folded blue blanket in a nondescript crate offers a second chance for lost animals in Presque Isle County.

Corrections officers, deputies, and inmates at the Presque Isle County Sheriff’s Office have adopted the role of temporary owners to dozens of stray and abandoned dogs and cats in recent years. Instead of a swift ride to a shelter, animals are given food, shelter, and a little love as officers try to reunite them with their owners.

Getting the animals off the street and trying to get them home is just the right thing to do, said Kaili Ponik, corrections officer and chief animal-tender.

With no animal control officer on staff, officers have taken it on themselves to look out for the welfare of dogs and cats found roaming in the county or turned over to the Sheriff’s Office.

The office is contracted with the Cheboygan County Humane Society, where animals are taken when an owner can’t be found.

First, though, most animals get to hang out with the officers as the community pitches in to help its furry residents make it home, according to Ponik.

A scroll through the department’s Facebook page shows a year’s worth of happy dog faces, most of them bearing cheerful notations reporting that the animal has found its way home.

Mugshots of strays or abandoned animals are uploaded to social media and usually immediately seen by local residents, Ponik said. Shares and likes spread the posts quickly, often accompanied by comments suggesting who the owner might be.

Many times, the owner is found right away.

“Oh, it’s awesome,” said Ponik of owners’ reactions when they come to pick up their missing critter. “It’s so cute.”

If they aren’t claimed, animals may be kept in the garage kennel for a week, maybe even two, before being turned over to the shelter.

It’s not too much trouble to look after their furry residents, and the staff keeps plenty of food on hand, Ponik said. Jail inmates often act as caretakers, walking the dogs and changing food and water and even, occasionally, giving a bath.

Of the twenty or so animals reported as strays in 2020, about half were reunited with their owners, Ponik said.

Dogs are the most common animals to be taken in, but cats are sometimes lodged in the jail’s garage, too. A litter of kittens found on a woodpile in 2020 spent some time beguiling the officers, at least one of whom couldn’t resist taking one mewing bundle of fur home.

Most of the department’s employees have pets, and they understand the worry felt by owners when a furry loved one goes missing, Ponik said.

All the same, she said, the officers can’t help being a little excited when a stray is brought in.

“That little, selfish part of us is like, aw, a new dog,” Ponik said. “Well, except when they have fleas.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.

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