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A ‘Warrior’ for animals: MV resident nears 40 years with PA Animal Control

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Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Animal control officer William Warrior poses with a dog statue near the Los Altos Police Department

To sum up his nearly four-decade career as an animal control officer, William Warrior turned to poet W.B. Yeats.

Citing Yeats’ “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death,” Warrior said that a “lonely impulse of delight” drove him to “this tumult in the streets” – playing on the actual poem, which reads “this tumult in the clouds.” 

Warrior, who works for Palo Alto Animal Control – which also handles animal control calls in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills – has freed a deer with a Halloween pumpkin stuck to its head, tossed a baby possum onto its mother’s back when it fell off and helped return a herd of 80 goats to their proper home.

The Mountain View resident said he realized animals are sentient, capable of feeling and thinking the way humans do, after a decade in the job. Without that understanding, he doesn’t think anyone could last long in his line of work – in December, Warrior will celebrate 40 years in his job.

“(Some anthropologists) talk about human beings being the only ones capable of sentiment and abstract thought,” Warrior said. “I think it’s just (that) we haven't read how to understand that maybe in the scientific community. It’s there – the sentiment and abstract thought is there.”

Raised in Palo Alto and driven by an interest in the area’s native wildlife, Warrior started volunteering at Palo Alto Animal Services when he was 15. He continued to work part-time jobs at the facility until landing his current job as an animal control officer in December 1979. The ensuing career makes him the longest-serving city employee in Palo Alto, but he said he still can’t visualize retiring.

“It doesn’t look all that attractive to me, I have to say,” he said. “I love having time off work … but I don’t think I’d like it as much if it was all the time. I don't think I’d have that Friday feeling at the end of a good work week where you’ve done something each day or at least one thing each week that felt good.”

In recent years, Warrior has used a GoPro camera to record a variety of animal calls and posts the recordings on Vimeo to give people a more visual connection to his work. His videos include calls with orphaned coyote pups, a cat with its head stuck in a soup can and a herd of goats that got loose in Los Altos Hills earlier this year.

“At the time, you’re focused on getting it all done and you look back on it later and think about how fun it was,” he said of the goat wrangling. “And you’ll sometimes think back on calls, too, where it was just a really stressed one.”
Sometimes he forgets about calls, only to have them spring to mind a dozen years later. The memories are by and large positive, but Warrior added that there’s certainly traumatic incidents as well, like frightened stray dogs who are hit by cars in the street and others that “probably wouldn’t even be (printable).”

Connection with the land

Suzy Kang-Heisele, who volunteered for Palo Alto Animal Services from 2012 to 2016 before moving out of the area, said Warrior’s work ethic speaks volumes; even on his off days, she said, he would sometimes come to help her. She said he is sincere in how he handles animals and communicates with people, adding that “no one asked me to idolize him, but it sort of happened.”

“He actually truly does love what he does for a living, not only for a living, but it sort of became part of him,” Kang-Heisele said.

The last lines of Yeats’ poem read, “The years to come seemed waste of breath/A waste of breath the years behind/In balance with this life, this death.” Warrior said those lines resonate with his hesitation about retiring – that the years after retiring might be a waste of breath.

But he said being in “decent enough shape” to employ his 40-year knowledge base in fieldwork keeps him motivated to “see how far (he) can go with what (he knows).” Even after four decades, he said he’s still learning every day.

“It’s still fresh, even with its routines,” Warrior said. “The individual animals all have their own little personalities that stand out if you really take the time to look at them or listen. The people, too, the connection with the people in town here … the community certainly gives a lot back to me – and I appreciate that – and this is a way of returning that.”

At the end of every work day, Warrior looks at a photo on his computer screen. It’s nearly sunset, and his truck is parked in the Palo Alto foothills, with the fog rolling in and San Francisco in the distance. A German shepherd sits in back of the truck, just rescued from the wilderness near Page Mill Road, where the abandoned dog had survived for two weeks.

“Whenever I leave at the end of the day, I look at it and just – this is why I’m still here,” he said. “Those are the moments, just the connection with the land.”

To view Warrior’s videos, visit vimeo.com/graihwing.
For more information on Palo Alto Animal Control, call 329-2413 or visit cityofpaloalto.org/gov/depts/pol/ac.

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