This is one in an occasional series of profiles on the people behind the scenes who make Milwaukee work.
As he walks down into the dark basement of a North Side Milwaukee home, Animal Control Officer John Condon is calm. He bangs a leash against the wall hoping the dogs would make noise to indicate where they were.
Condon had been told to expect two pit bulls—one in a cage and another that could be loose. With a sense of danger in the air, Condon keeps his movements steady and takes deep breaths. He walks through the first room and finds nothing.
“There are a lot of rooms down here,” Condon yells to the police officers waiting upstairs. Cautiously he continues to the second room toward the back of the basement. There he finds the two animals, one locked in a cage and the other tied to an unfinished wall frame.
To his surprise, the two pit bulls are friendly—panting out of excitement with tails wagging a mile a minute. They have been living in a near-empty room filled with dog feces, a cage for the older dog, and food and water bowls filled with dirty water and cheap dog food.
Condon is an animal control officer (ACO) at the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC), an agency that “rescues and assures safe, temporary shelter, veterinary, and humane care for nearly 13,000 stray, unwanted, abandoned, mistreated, and injured animals each year,” according to its website.
Condon has worked for the MADACC longer than any other animal control officer, joining the agency when it opened on July 26, 1999. He answered the center’s very first call and brought in its first dog. He also is the MADACC’s lead training instructor for animal control officers.
Before that, he worked at the Wisconsin Humane Society (WHS) where he became passionate about rescuing animals. When WHS discontinued its animal rescue operation, Condon quit his job and moved to the MADACC.
Over the years Condon has assisted police officers with their day-to-day work involving drug busts, dog fighting or other types of arrests. In the case of the pit bulls’ rescue, he was called to assist officers after the dogs’ owners were arrested in their home for drug possession.
Condon and the police officers found evidence of dog fighting, including a treadmill and weight jacket—two pieces of equipment often used to train dogs for fighting, he said.
After Condon secured the basement where the pit bulls were found, he loaded them into cages in his MADACC truck. Also in the truck was the stray cat he had picked up earlier that morning at the police station.
Condon typically keeps the animals in the truck until his lunch break or the shift is over, unless they need immediate medical attention.
Once at the MADACC, animals are weighed, treated by an on-site veterinarian, and photographed before being placed in a clean kennel.
Condon is on a team with three other full-time ACOs and two part-time ACOs.
There is high turnover in the part-time positions, he said, because of the high-stress, high-danger situations of the job.
One such situation, which Condon said was his most unforgettable call, involved an injured dog tied up in an alley. After he arrived, he discovered the dog had been lit on fire and was still alive. He said he has seen scenes such as this more than once.
Condon said another dramatic rescue involved a house that sheltered 158 cats. The older man living there was too embarrassed to report his problem and had to move into a trailer home because the house was uninhabitable. ACOs got involved after a worried mail carrier, noticing an overflowing mailbox, called the city for a well-being check. It took two ACOs, a crew of city workers, and two weeks to clear out the residence.
“Sometimes you get a call and you needed to be there yesterday,” said Condon.
Condon said he has work-related nightmares from time to time. But he keeps coming back to rescue animals from people who do not deserve them. It fuels his passion.
“It’s not for picking up that well-taken-care-of golden retriever that got away some place. I know he has got a home. It’s the other part; [animals] are being dumped in trash cans, left in abandoned buildings,” he said. “If I don’t do it, who’s going to?”
Robin Stoiber, a fellow ACO, is one of the many officers Condon has trained. He recalled his first day of training, saying he could see Condon’s compassion for the animals immediately. “He connects with the animals he rescues and is patient with them, [which] is a very important part of this job,” Stoiber said in an email.
The MADACC is an intergovernmental organization, run by a board of directors and operations committee. The 19 municipalities in Milwaukee County pay the agency to pick up stray animals and deal with other domestic animal needs.
Jessica Huber, the volunteer coordinator at MADACC, said the “purpose [of MADACC] is to protect the people and animals of Milwaukee County.” In addition, “MADACC is the central location to look for a lost animal,” wrote Huber in an email.
John McDowell, Condon’s supervisor, has been at the MADACC as long as Condon.
“He is just very, very good at what he does,” McDowell said. “He is steady and remarkably calm in very tense, if not dangerous, situations. He is an excellent animal handler and about the best dog handler I have ever known; second only perhaps to the person who trained me.”
Condon has been bitten only three times as an ACO and the incidents all happened very early in his career. The animals showed no signs of aggression and no indications that they were going to bite him, he said.
With more practice and training, Condon learned how to avoid these situations and be better prepared. Every year he continues learning, undergoing numerous hours of training on job issues and animal safety.
Condon spends very little time in the center because he is normally patrolling and picking up animals around the city. The few hours he spends in the office are for lunch breaks.
On the day he rescues the two pit bulls, Condon pulls into the MADACC with the dogs secured in cages in the back of the van. After they go through the intake process, they are placed in side-by-side cages with fresh food and water, and a dog bed.
Now Condon can relax and have lunch.