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Sherry DeGenova – A Kind and Gentle Hand

Sherry DeGenova, ACO



What kind of education or training is required to be an animal control officer?

It all depends on the town and state. Most require some type of animal related experience. I’ve been in the animal field since I was 14 years old. So I have just celebrated 30 years in the field of animals. I personally have worked in vet hospitals, pet stores, boarding facilities and animal shelters. I landed my first animal control officer job in Stamford, CT which required just animal experience in general and when I got my job in Hartford, they required at least 6 months in the animal control field.


Why did you decide to do this kind of work?

I feel I was born with the desire to work with animals. I cant ever remember wanting to do anything else. I was drawn to help animals. It has always been my passion. I remember finding my first cat when I was around 7 years old living under my back porch and convinced my parents to let me keep her. I had her until she passed of old age at the age of 17.

During my time of growing up, I had found my share of lost pets and rescued my share of injured wildlife. I remember my first wildlife rescue like it was yesterday. It was a black crow that I found with a broken wing at the end of my street. I called local vets for help and built a cage in my backyard and wrapped the wing so it could heal for a couple weeks. I would feed him and eventually took off his bandage. He couldn’t fly at first but everyday I would let him out of the cage and toss him slightly in the air.  Each day he got stronger.  One day I tossed him up and off he went. For as long as I could remember, “Blacky” came back and sat on our backyard fence and would crow. I’d come out and he would take bread from my hand.  One day, he just moved on.  I think that was the one moment in my life that I knew this was my calling. I went to college briefly to be a vet tech but realized that’s not where I belonged. I wanted to rescue them. It’s where I felt I could make a difference. From there I started to climb my ladder to where I am today.


Sherry playing with her dogs

Are people often surprised to see a woman doing this kind of work?

People are not surprised to see women as ACOs (Animal Control Officers). There are a lot of women who do this job just as there are many men. I think it comes down to what kind of person you are and what kind of compassion you have for animals. (I also have to say there are men and women who are in this field that shouldn’t be.)


The economy has been very rough for a lot of people these last few years. What differences do you see on the streets as you do your work?

Since I work in an inner city its always been a difficult scene on the streets. I deal with a lot of different ethnic backgrounds and people have different ideas on how an animal should be kept and treated.  Not just in Hartford but in many other cities, people don’t have a problem just leaving their animals behind when they move or tossing them on the streets when they don’t want them anymore. I think the biggest problem I see more now is people who truly want to keep their pets but struggle to feed them properly. It’s either the family eats or the pet. The pet gets what is left over. People are forced to chose their families over their pets. With seeing that being a bigger issue, I started a food drive for the residents in my city. I get donations of food and when people need a little help, they reach out to me and I help them by providing proper food, treats and toys for the dogs. I also collect collars and leashes and hand them out as well. I see so many people walking down the streets with their dogs on everything from shoe strings to extension cords.

I always have something in my van to help someone. People appreciate it and they realize that “animal control officers” are not the mean animal killing people that they think we are.

I next biggest issue is providing basic medical care for the animals. I try to direct people to low cost facilities and hand out applications to get free medical vouchers.


In the 70’s Dobermans were considered to be really bad, evil dogs. They received a lot of negative press in the media. Today, it’s pit bulls who are lambasted everywhere. What has been your experience with the pit bulls that you find out on the street?

Sadly this is an over-bred breed and a very misunderstood breed. A lot of the wrong people have

Sherry's kids

this breed of dog and use it for all the wrong reasons. I spend a lot of time just trying to educate people about the breed and I spend a lot more time trying to protect the breed and enforcing laws that help to protect them.

There are no “bad dogs” just “bad owners” and it’s the dog that usually pays the ultimate price.

I have had my share of aggressive pit bulls but it doesn’t come close to the amount of awesome pit bulls I have been in contact with.

It breaks my heart to only see the bad stories being told about this breed when there are so many incredible, heartwarming stories to be told.


For certain you’ve had to deal with aggressive animals on the street. How do you do it?

My ability to handle the aggressive dogs definitely comes from my many years in the field. I have a great ability to read dogs eyes and body language. This plays an important part in my safety. When I’m the street, I NEVER let my guard down and I’m always on alert. I never go on a call without some type of protection. Luckily we have a lot of tools that help protect us. Its all about being smart and safe – NOT being a “Super ACO”.