Sunday, April 14, 2024

INTERESTING FOLKS: Blairstown Welcomes New Animal Control Officer

ACO Robert Lagonera relocates a large snapping turtle out of harm’s way. Photo credit, R. Lagonera.

Keep this information on hand for any of your animal control issues:
ACO Robert Lagonera, Community Animal Control, LLC
24hr Hotline: 908-763-5035

Email: Communityanimalcontrol@gmail.com

Blairstown’s new animal control officer (ACO) Robert Lagnoera learned his love of animals from his mother who shared her passion for birdwatching with him.

“She made me into a bird nerd,” he joked.

Born and raised in Warren County, Lagonera was drawn to nature and the outdoors from an early age. Active in the Boy Scouts of America and with a steady supply of “Ranger Ricks” on hand, he initially thought he would become a New Jersey park ranger.

“Then I found out that those jobs didn’t open very often, and the pay wasn’t that great,” Lagonera said.

He wound up managing the Dairy Queen in Hackettstown for 20 years, but the call of nature proved too great to resist.

“I started doing work for the Musconetcong Watershed Association, and when an opening for animal control came up in Belvidere, I jumped at it,” he said. “I enjoyed the work, but it was only part-time.”

Ten years ago, Lagonera decided to make it his full-time pursuit.

“I realized that if I became a contractor [for townships], I could hire a backup team [something most towns cannot afford] and make it my full-time work,” he explained.

ACO Lagonera and his associate rescue a swarm of honeybees from Wells Fargo bank. Photo credit, Washington Township Police Department.

Now, Lagonera and his team cover animal control for 15 towns in Warren County. You may recognize him from the news as the ACO who wrangled a flock of surly chickens at the McDonald’s in Washington Township or as the ACO who aided in the care of a fawn, delivered by cesarean section by the side of the road in 2018.

Whether it is dangerous, like capturing an 800-pound pig, or adorable like rescuing abandoned kittens, Lagonera has compassion for every animal that crosses his path.

ACO Lagonera rescues an injured red-tailed hawk to recover at the Raptor Trust. Photo credit, R. Lagonera.
ACO Lagonera teaches officers from Washington Township how to handle an injured bird. Photo credit, Washington Township Police Department.

Lagonera has also done educational outreach for elementary schools and the Girl Scouts of the USA.

“I ask the kids ‘Do you talk to strangers?’,” he said, explaining his tactic to teach kids not to engage with animals they don’t know. “Of course, they say no because we teach kids not to talk to strangers. I tell them it’s the same with a strange animal. Never touch or pet an animal that you don’t know.”

Known fondly as ACO Robbie, the animal “havoc” specialist by a few police stations that have him on speed dial, Lagonera has some sage advice for pet owners.

“The most popular call is a loose dog,” Lagonera said. “Don’t be afraid to call me if your dog is missing. Many people are afraid because they immediately think they are in trouble. And while your dog getting loose is likely a violation of a town ordinance, I am not required to write you a ticket. Just like a police officer does not always write a ticket if they stop you for speeding. Of course, if you are a serial offender and your dog is always getting out, that needs to be addressed.”

He advises sending him a photo of your loose pet right away, that way if he gets a call about a loose animal, he can compare the photo and contact you.

“It’s always the best scenario if the owner can get to the location right away,” explained Lagonera. “The owner is the best animal control officer in many cases. Loose dogs may be skittish and run even further away when confronted with a stranger.” 

Cybele Tamulonis
Cybele Tamulonis, Contributing Writer

Cybele is a writer and editor with more than 16 years in the publishing industry. An avid reader, you can usually find her with the latest new book release from the local library. She currently resides on a farm in Hardwick with her husband and four children. In her spare time, she writes historical fiction specific to New Jersey.