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A comforter of all creatures



From horses to dogs, cats and just about any other furried or feathered creature, Karen Willis loves them all — and has for as long as she can remember.

So it may seem a bit odd, at least at first, that the Hathaway Pines woman works at the Calaveras County Animal Control shelter, where hundreds of unwanted dogs and cats are destroyed each year. But then, maybe it's not illogical that such an animal lover would take comfort in giving comfort even to creatures with very slim or no chances for adoption.

"Most of the animals we get are adoptable, young ones generally more so, but in the spring we're even inundated with too many of those," she says, adding that people with "a throw-away mentality" are to blame.

Still, she also has pet happy-ending stories to share: like the Fresno woman who spotted one of the San Andreas shelter's available pets — a potbelly pig pictured on the shelter Web site. The woman was delighted to adopt him as a birthday gift for her husband. The husband was also delighted, and the little porker has settled in happily.

Willis, 44, works Tuesdays through Saturdays. Her duties are varied, from daily feeding and cleaning to checking on each animal's health and adoption prospects. She pitches in with general office work including writing licenses and answering phone calls, many of them dog-related complaints.

The most common come from neighbors objecting to excessive barking or dogs running loose.

Willis has a good store of unusual-animal tales even though she's only worked there for a year and a half. She's already seen everything from "a small rabbit who was already thoroughly litter-box trained" to "full-grown emus."

The shelter also has plenty of avian arrivals — from regular roosters to comparably exotic peacocks. The roosters often come from people finding out too late how much the birds crow early in the morning. And peacocks, though pretty to look at, "are loud and can be destructive," warns Willis, "attacking their reflections in fancy cars, even ripping roof shingles off houses to get at bugs!"

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