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DOGCATCHER ROUNDS UP A BIT OF ADVENTURE

Being the dogcatcher in Salmon means more than capturing cantankerous canines.

The job calls for rounding up stray bulls, car-chasing geese, garbage-loving bears, prickly porcupines and gallivanting goats, as well as making sure residents only water their lawns on the designated days.Petite Tracey Gittleson, who for the past three years has been doggedly pursuing footloose canines and their owners, takes it all in stride, though.

"I wouldn't want to do this in a big city," says the Salmon native. "Here, you know all the people. When I walk up to the door, I'm walking up to a neighbor."

Taking a smile to the door, Gittleson sometimes rousts people out of bed as early as 6 a.m. if she spots their dog roaming the streets or an illegal sprinkler running.

Those who don't come bleary-eyed to the door, but instead call out "come in" from the comfort of their beds, are greeted with a cheerful, "Good morning, it's the dogcatcher. Your dog was out."

Owners sheepishly explain their dog's escapades, then check for holes in the fence, maybe showing Gittleson a batch of puppies, or offering her a cup of coffee. An animal lover herself, she's happy to see litters, eat cookies with elderly women, and remind owners their dog needs to stay at home and be licensed.

Most owners cooperate. But not everyone receives Gittleson's admonitions good-heartedly.

The 5-foot-3 dogcatcher says she's been spit on, swung at, cussed out and threatened, had dogs sicced on her by their owners and been accused of baiting and stealing dogs.

Dogs themselves have simply sunk their teeth into her with varying degrees of determination. She carries a collapsible baton in her belt that extends with a flick of her wrist.

Gittleson says she's learned a lot about dogs since the first time she lifted one into her canine paddy wagon.

"I almost had a heart attack the first time I caught a dog," she confided. "I thought, `I've got to get him into the truck and keep him calm.' Even now, when I reach down and pick up a dog to put it in the van, I always wonder if it's going to turn around and bite me."

Sweet-talking the dogs she picks up and often letting them ride in front with her, Gittleson says some dogs actually become attached to her. She took one dog home so many times that it began running after her when she was in the neighborhood.

If a loose dog has a license and she knows where it lives, she'll take it home. If it won't get in the truck, then she follows it home. Wandering dogs without licenses generally end up at the animal shelter, where they're fed and walked daily until their owners retrieve them.

Not every dog story has a happy ending, though.

Some owners never claim their dogs, and after weeks or months of trying to find a home for the animal, Gittleson has to help euthanize it.

Fortunately, there's comic relief to offset the hard times.

Once on her way to round up two range bulls preparing to fight their reflections in the picture window of a new home, Gittleson says she stopped to avoid hitting a dog and a goose that were playing in the street. The gander, offended by Gittleson's invading pickup, got his dander up and attacked it. When she had penned the bulls in a pasture across the street, she returned to take care of the loose goose.

Another time she caught a potbellied pig and its canine partner hotfooting it up an alley. After netting the pig, she rode in the back of the sheriff's car so she could hang on to the pig. It began to squeal bloody murder while the sheriff was on the radio to dispatch.

"The pig was squealing and I thought, `Great. Now everybody thinks I'm beating a pig in the back seat of the sheriff's car,"' she recalls.