She’s been bitten by a rabid raccoon, tangled with a boa constrictor in a motel room, and helped a generation of Rocklanders adjust to sharing their neighborhoods with bears, coyotes and foxes.
Along the way, Pat McCoy-Coleman has encountered scores of reptiles, raptors, wild and domestic canines, feral cats, wild turkeys, animal abusers and hoarders.
Now the Stony Point resident will have more time to spend with her own critters — a pair of golden retrievers named Kate and Ted E. Bear.
McCoy-Coleman recently retired as Clarkstown’s animal control officer, a job she started in 1981 when the position was simply called dog warden.
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McCoy-Coleman took the job with no formal instruction but plenty of hands-on experience from breeding, training and showing golden retrievers with her dad, Bill McCoy. Delivering and raising puppies, dealing with sickness and behavior issues during those years taught her “things you can’t get out of a book,” she said.
Her first “instructor” was Samson, a dachshund that had been mistreated by his previous owner.
“That dog was a nightmare,” she said recently. “Everything I’ve been taught in animal control, this poor dog had those bad habits when we got him.
“Samson got in fights with every other dog in the neighborhood,” she recalled. “When I would have people come to me because their dog was attacked by another dog, I’m like, ‘Hey, I lived it as a kid.’ ”
call of the wild
McCoy-Coleman has seen her job evolve from chasing stray dogs, to negotiating the sometimes uneasy coexistence between suburbanites and animals that have been pushed out of their natural habitats by development.
Whenever there’s new construction in one part of town, it uproots foxes, coyotes, and other creatures, forcing them to seek shelter in the rapidly disappearing woodlands in other parts of town.
Coyote sightings elicit an unusually high level of fear among the citizenry.
“When they hear it’s a coyote, it’s like the big, bad wolf,” she said. “But a full-grown coyote is half the weight of a full-size German shepherd.”
Bears have similarly been chased from their natural surroundings by mega-projects like Legoland, forcing them into suburban backyards.
“It’s sad that people aren’t more comfortable with the animals,” she said. “We took over their homes, and they have to go somewhere.”
Get back, JoJo
One day in the 1990s, McCoy-Coleman responded to a call for a snake in a room at the Nyack Motor Lodge. Expecting a smallish serpent, she brought a little jar to capture it, then was met by an officer who said, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” she recounted. “He lifts the bed up and there’s Jo Jo,” a female boa constructor that was longer than the width of the bed. McCoy-Coleman later learned Jo Jo had been bought at a local pet shop.
“This thing was stubborn and making herself tense where we were having a hard time getting her into the dog crate,” she said. “But we did, and I delivered her back to the pet store.”
The person who brought Jo Jo to the motel was later implicated in a string of burglaries.
The dark and the light
McCoy-Coleman calls cases of animal hoarding “the dark side” of her job “because you’re going into a house where animals are not being cared for properly. It’s hard to wrap your head around, how did this person let this happen?”
On the flip side, the officer has seen how animals can bring out the best in people, especially children. “Visiting the kids with my pets,” which she has done for years at local schools and scout gatherings, is the part of the job she’ll miss most. “Going into BOCES was the greatest part of what I got to do.”
She had kids on her mind when she was attacked by critter in April, 2015.
McCoy-Coleman made headlines when she was bitten by a rabid raccoon—in broad daylight in front of the Clarkstown Police Headquarters.
“He bit me through my pants, but they never ripped,” she said. “Their teeth are very sharp.”
The 5-foot-5 McCoy-Coleman managed to jump out of her truck, grab her capture pole and corral the infected animal before it could scurry toward a pre-school across the street.
“I was calm because I had a job to do,” she said. “I needed to get that animal before it hurt anybody else, and I wasn’t hurt bad 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 this in my own house?’ “she said with a laugh. “You know the ribbing I had to take here in the Police Department?”
Fortunately, McCoy-Coleman had received pre-exposure shots in 1991 when rabies spread among the wild population. But she still needed five injections of the six-shot series.
Longtime Clarkstown resident and town Supervisor George Hoehmann called McCoy-Coleman “one of the most caring people I’ve ever met in government,” remembering when she took care of a cat problem in his neighborhood. She once rescued a blind eagle that had become trapped near Lake DeForest, he recalled.
“She loves every animal, and that’s not overblown,” Hoehmann said. “When she’s trying to help save animals, getting them rescued, that’s when she’s at her level best.”
Brett Fliesser, of Valley Cottage Animal Hospital, is being provisionally hired as 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 showed golden retrievers since she fell in love with the breed as a youngster. Her very first, in 1972, was named 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, they are my life,” said the Bronx native.
In retirement, McCoy Coleman plans to continue her involvement with the Rockland County Kennel Club, where she serves as vice president. She’ll 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