Army vet now on animal patrol
“My biggest concern is the well-being of the domestic animals in town,” said Kristopher Zulkeski, Ridgefield’s animal control officer.
Zulkeski took over for longtime animal control Officer David Coles in July, and worked part-time for the department for a few months before that.
He brings considerable experience. Zulkeski worked part-time as animal control officer for nearby Weston for four years, and was also in the private “nuisance wildlife control” industry — eventually having his own company, Connecticut Wildlife, from 2012 to 2017.
“Trapping, removing, relocating, preventative maintenance,” he said. “In short, you have a raccoon in your attic, I was the guy to take the racoon out and seal up that vulnerability that the raccoon was able to find to get in the attic.”
When police Chief John Roche appeared before the selectmen recently on budget matters, he touted the new animal control officer’s background.
“We’re very, very fortunate to have someone as qualified [as him],” he said.
Zulkeski has kept up his license for nuisance wildlife control, so he can help residents deal with situations.
“If they have a bat in the bedroom, I can go and get the bat out,” Zulkeski said. “And recommend a wildlife company that can address the preventative conditions as to how the animal gets in your house.”
Zulkeski grew up in Norwalk, went to public schools there, then enlisted in the Army.
“I was in ‘11 Charlie’ — I was mortarman, infantry,” he said.
He served more than six years.
“I did a tour in Afghanistan, 2009-10,” he said.
In his office is a photo of Zulkeski with three dogs — mutts who hung around the base in Afghanistan. Two died there, he said, but one was rewarded for befriending troops with a lifestyle change — from scavenging in an Asian war zone to a dog’s life as an American pet.
After military service, Zulkeski went into nuisance wildlife work.
“I started working for a private wildlife company until I got the confidence to start my own company,” he said.
He likes his new job.
“I’m real excited about working for the town of Ridgefield,” he said. “The staff here is great. My chain of command is excellent. There’s always someone there: If you have any questions on something, they’re there to help — even if they’re not in chain of command, just co-workers. It’s a great town to work for.”
First Selectman Rudy Marconi has been getting good reports.
“Nice guy. He’s doing a great job,” Marconi said. “People seem to be very pleased with his performance.”
Zulkeski and his family moved to Ridgefield last year.
“Being on call, it makes it easier when you’re in town,” he said.
He switched from an answering service to having off-hours calls to the animal control number — 203-431-2711 — forwarded to his cell phone.
“It transfers to my cell, then we can cover 24-7,” Zulkeski said. “So even the smaller calls, coming in after hours, we’re able to respond.”
He enjoys the job’s variety of challenges.
“No call is going to be the same. That the best part of about this job: There’s a lot of thinking on your feet. You get something new every day,” he said. “A dangerous dog, to an abandoned dog, to a call for a mistreated animal, to anything from the rabies threat — there was a dog in a fight with a rabies vector species, or someone broke up a fight between two dogs.”
He hopes to help people coexist with large predator species that are increasingly common.
“Educating the residents on co-residing with the larger predator wildlife,” he said.
“The coyote, bobcat, black bear sightings — I think that’s what usually spooks people. …
“The state DEEP puts out brochures and flyers all the time on preventative maintenance and what you should have on hand as far as hazing materials and deterrents,” he said. “It’s really just giving people that sense of comfort, instead of instilling fear in them.
“If someone calls about any coyotes, I always go out,” he said. “I like tracking the population in Ridgefield. I like seeing how many are here. Are they in the same pack? Are any of them tagged?”
If difficult situations arise with predators, his job is to call in experts at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).
“You get into coyotes, black bear, bobcats, you’re more of a liaison for the DEEP,” he said. “You’re more of a reference point until the state sends someone to take over.”
Getting to know people
At the recent selectmen’s meeting, Selectwoman Barbara Manners said Zulkeski is often at the dog park.
It’s part of his approach to the job.
“People who go to the dog park are regulars. To be able to know them makes my job easier — they’re well versed in who owns what dog,” he said.
“My relationship with the residents of the town is an important aspect of the success of the office.”
Zulkeski wants people to get to know him, not be intimidated by the uniform.
“The last thing I want,” he said, “is to only talk to people when they’ve done something wrong.”