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... is a freelance photographer working in Middle Georgia

Thursday, July 29, 2010

An Award Winning Writer?

Over the years I have been truly blessed to win quite a few awards for my work, all for my efforts as a photographer. God has been very kind to give me this ability with a camera, and the opportunity to use it.

When I joined the Leader Tribune staff in November of 2008, I discovered another medium of expression, I began writing. During my time at the Telegraph, I occasionally did a little writing, but the pictures were my passion. Photography still is my constant, but writing has been fun. I really got into the words, often the story being accompanied by my pictures instead of the other way around. I was doing several stories a week and really enjoying my work.

One of my favorite stories was on Fort Valley animal control officer Jessica Weidner. That is Jessica pictured above. I spent the day with her, and wrote about her passion for her job, her desire to really make a difference. This story was entered in the Trib Publications annual Better Newspaper Contest. The story won a First Place for Best Feature Story.
One of my photos won First Place for feature photos. The win for a photo is cool, always a thrill to win an award, but the writing award is special. I got a call from a reader after the story ran this week, telling me about the win. There is a real irony to winning an in-house competition after being laid off.

I have included the story below if anyone would like to read it.

                                                             Jessica's Story

She began her workday Thursday dumpster diving behind Ace Hardware in Fort Valley. Her name is Jessica Weidner and she’s a cop. Jessica is also Fort Valley’s Animal Control Officer. Ace employees called Thursday morning after hearing puppies crying in the dumpster. Six puppies, maybe a week old, were under the garbage. “They were covered with ants and fleas, yelling up a storm,” she said while she washed the puppies, ridding them of the filth and fleas.

Jessica has been in the “animal business” for eleven years. She said she just kind of fell into the field. She spent over six years a veterinary tech, then time in animal protection with the State of Georgia. Last year she received her certification and spent about six months as a police officer in Reynolds, Georgia. She heard about the animal control position in Fort Valley and applied for the job. The first week on the job she had to crawl under a house to rescue three puppies, but said Thursday was her first time in a dumpster.

Jessica, Chief John David Anderson and a couple of colleagues gathered in the Chief’s office with baby bottles of formula and a box of puppies. The four feed the starving puppies. Chief Anderson said he and his wife would look after the brood until they were old enough to be adopted. Jessica said she can’t take animals home to recuperate anymore. Her young three children get too upset when they have to leave.

After the puppies were settled in Jessica hit the streets in her pickup truck fitted with a kennel and other tools of her trade. The truck bears the same lettering as the Department’s patrol cars. She said “I patrol within the city limits looking for problem animals. When I get a call I respond. Yesterday a lady called 911 and said cats were attacking her dogs and I needed to come out and do something.” Stray cats had been hanging around the lady’s yard attacking her Chihuahuas. One was injured enough to require a trip to the vet. Jessica had set up a trap for the strays.

After checking on the trap she rode across town. “I patrol high nuisance areas where there have been trouble dogs.” There are several ordinance violations she looks for. Dangerous dogs such as Pitt Bulls and Rottweiler’s have to be registered with the city and kept in specific enclosures. Dogs can not be running at large. They also have to have their rabies inoculation. Jessica encourages pet owners to check at the Police Department for a copy of the ordinances.

She often does drive-by welfare checks, making sure animals have shelter from the elements as well as food and water. She is a sworn police officer so she is also looking for criminal behavior.

Jessica spots a large white dog in a vacant lot near College Station Drive. She says the owner has been warned twice about the dog wandering the neighborhood. She stops and talks with the owner’s son who tells her the family has decided to surrender the dog instead of trying to keep in their yard. The dog is captured and loaded into the truck with the assistance of fellow Fort Valley Police Officer Stuart Williams. She said her fellow officers had been very helpful to her, assisting when she needed a hand. Stuart followed Jessica to her next call, an area where she had tried to pick up a neglected dog the day before. The owner was able to get away with the dog.

The dog had disappeared by the time she got to the location so she parted company with Stuart and headed to the office of Veterinarian Lori Giles with the dog she had picked up earlier. The city has entered into a program with Dr. Giles to handle impounded animals. She works with an out-of-county adoption service. The animals are spayed or neutered and put up for adoption. This program has earned the city’s animal control program a Low Kill/No Kill classification. The city is now able to apply for USDA grants to help with the animal control program.

Dr. Giles said that animals that are inpounded are held for three days. If they are not claimed in three days they will be sent to a shelter of foster home hopefully for adoption. Some animals will not adoptable due to aggressiveness or severe health problems. If funds are available the medical problems will be fixed. Dr. Giles said that animals will be scanned for an imbedded identifying micro chip.

Jessica said “When I approach people they think I am going to take their dog. I want to leave it in the home, just want to see it taken care of. This is something I enjoy doing, and somewhere I can make a difference.”

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