Arnold becomes newest animal control officer

Vittoria Arnold was recently named as the city’s newest animal control officer. She is a native of Mesquite, Texas, and a graduate of Texas Christian University (Photo by Logan Kirkland, SDN)
Staff Writer

Vittoria Arnold’s route to Starkville is a little unorthodox, but so have been her experiences on her way to her current occupation.

Originally from Mesquite, Texas, a small suburb outside of Dallas, Arnold studied psychology at Texas Christian University. She will now serve as Starkville’s newest animal control officer.

During her last semester at TCU, Arnold’s class went to the Fort Worth Zoo, where they watched a bird conditioning demonstration. During the demonstration, the birds were trained to retrieve tokens and bring them back to the trainer.

“I was like, that’s the psych area I love,” Arnold said. “That part of my psychology degree got me interested in pursuing an animal job.”

Arnold came to Mississippi, where she interned at the Jackson Zoo. She was able to learn to care for exotic animals, with one memorable instance coming from a pygmy hippo on Christmas Eve.

She went to her supervisor telling them she thought her hippo was pregnant, which is uncommon for a pygmy hippo very rare birth was amazing,” Arnold said.

Arnold also cherished her chance to work with the chimpanzees at the zoo. She said together, chimpanzees are sweet, but it was also slightly challenging.

“It’s like trying to get middle school girls to get along,” Arnold said. “It just doesn’t ever work.”

Arnold said she made her way to Starkville once she saw the opening for the job because of how the area made her feel, plus she emphasized the foodwas better.

“I like the community a lot better,” Arnold said. “It’s more homey.”

Arnold’s duties as an animal control officer are to trap nuisance animals and rescue other animals such as dogs or cats who have limited resources or are kept in poor conditions.

“Then I’ll step in and either talk to the person and see if they can fix the problem and last case scenario, I’ll have to seize the animal,” Arnold said.

For the most part, Arnold will help trap and catch animals coming in close proximity to resident’s homes or animals who have even found their way into the garage.

Coyotes, snakes, dogs, cats and skunks are just some of the creatures Arnold expects to encounter on a daily basis. Arnold said one cause of animals coming on to properties is people leaving food out for other animals, which attracts wild animals.

Also sticking out in her mind, other than receiving a video of someone trying to feed a coyote, are the snake calls she has received.

“It’s still fascinating how afraid they are of animals,” Arnold said laughing. “Everything is a water moccasin in Mississippi if you haven’t learned.”

Arnold’s experience at the Jackson Zoo has prepared her for this job more than people would think. She said the zoo would often leave food out for animals in the area and would see a number of the same animals she is having to trap here in Starkville.

The other factor she has experience with is identifying diseases the nuisance animals carried, which could have easily been passed to the animals living in the zoo like distemper and rabies.

“My supervisors there did a really good job on educating me on how to set traps properly and what to really put in there to get just the nuisance animals that we want,” Arnold said. “Pretty much everything I’m doing now we did at the zoo.”

Arnold advised people in Starkville to respect the animals they encounter and to especially respect the space of the animals. She said if there is no reason to touch the animal or get close to it, then to stay a safe distance unless residents are comfortable with trapping.

“Maybe we can relocate things versus taking a rake and a shovel to everything you see,” Arnold said. “If you can’t handle it, then gladly call us.”

One of the most rewarding parts of her job thus far is being able to bring an owner their lost dog and seeing how members in the community care for animals even if the animal isn’t theirs, which creates the intimate atmosphere she loves. Arnold said she owes the positive responses in the community to the current animal control officers who have established strong connections with the residents of Starkville.

“It’s a beautiful thing that the community feels they have a personal relationship with us,” Arnold said. “We are here for them."