New Canaan Animal Control recently brought on a new officer, Allyson Halm. Born and raised in Greenwich, Halm is familiar with the Fairfield County and New Canaan area. Before joining the staff in New Canaan, Halm worked with Greenwich Animal Control for 12 years, then became the CEO of Adopt-A-Dog of Greenwich for seven years. Halm is excited to take on the position at New Canaan’s Animal Control.
Here’s our exchange.
New Canaanite: First of all, can you tell us a little bit about your background and yourself.
Allyson Halm: Sure. I’m born and raised in Greenwich so I’m familiar with the state, the area. I got involved with animals at a very young age. Horseback riding and love of animals and love of dogs. I worked for veterinarians. I managed a boarding facility. I did a lot of private dog training, working with people in their homes and then the Animal Control position became available and that was in 1996 I think and I applied for that job and was there for 12 years.
What made you want to join Animal Control as a whole, in Greenwich and in New Canaan. What made you move to New Canaan?
My attraction [to Animal Control] I think was law enforcement, which you know society needs rules. They are there for a reason and I think protecting the public and animals is important. Animal welfare is important, especially with the wildlife in our area. People tend to disrespect the wildlife and that’s a big part of this job. When I left Animal Control in Greenwich it was to run an organization called Adopt-A-Dog. So I was the CEO there for seven years. I decided to move on just for some personal reasons and animal welfare is a tough business to be in. So and I’ve known [Officer] Maryann [Kleinschmitt] for years. Our paths have crossed. And so she let me know that there was going to be an available business here, and I jumped on it. I thought with my experience, my wisdom, I thought maybe I could make a good fit with the department.
Could you tell us a little bit about Adopt-A-Dog.
Yes. That organization is well into its 33rd year. They are a private group that does their best to rescue and protect unwanted cats and dogs in the area. When I was asked to come on, serious changes needed to take place and I believe I implemented those changes and you know animal welfare, the evolution of animal welfare and the industry (and a lot of people don’t recognize it as an industry, but it is), has changed dramatically and that’s a whole article in itself. You know, what’s going on in that industry, and I needed to step back so I did resign from that industry.
Did you do similar work at Animal Control and Adopt-A-Dog? Or were you working in different areas?
The one thing about business is that there are always people in involved. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Being able to work with the public in a fair and decent manner is really important. Understanding how people think and perceive things. I think the bear issue that we are having right now is a good example of working with the public, trying to defuse the fear, and at the same time protect the public. And I had the privilege of seeing the bear. I saw him on Saturday.
Was it over in the Silvermine area?
Actually I was on Cheese Spring, but I didn’t realize I had crossed the border [of New Canaan and Wilton] because I am still getting to know the New Canaan jurisdiction. So I had wandered into Wilton in vehicle and there it was. The bear crossed the road right in front of me and I have to admit it was a very surreal moment. I’ve dealt with fox, coyote.
Had you ever dealt with this before?
No, that was the first time. The bear was big. It was the size of this desk [referring to her desk in the Police Department]. I was like, you probably don’t know this, the Andy of Mayberry, if you ever watch Andy Griffin. You could see it on TV Land or something. So there was a deputy there called Barney Fife and he was only allowed one bullet and he kept it in his pocket. So when he got excited [he was reaching in his pocket for it]. So I’m trying to get my phone out and trying to tell people about seeing the bear. And it was funny because as I’m [driving] down a car’s coming up and we both stop and open our windows we look at each other and we [couldn’t believe it]. It galloped across the road. I was quite taken back but I feel honored to have seen the bear.
So had you seen the bear because you were in the area for Animal Control?
Well I had went up to patrol the area after the multiple sightings Friday night and never in my million years did I think that I would spot this creature. It was very surreal. I can understand why people are like ‘oh my god’ [when they see the bear]. But, the most important thing about wildlife is that there are two drives: flight or fight. Ninety-nine percent of the time animals want to leave the situation. They do not want to be confronted. They don’t want to be cornered. If that’s the case, then it becomes a fight issue and you don’t want that to happen so not encouraging wildlife on your property [is important]. Feeding this animal is not a good idea. Everything needs to be under lock and key right now and I believe that [the bear] is still being sited on a regular basis. It is a little scary.
Did you have any pets growing up? When you were younger did you always have a love for animals?
Oh yes. I brought dogs home. They followed me home. I would bring them in the house. We were always rescuing cats and kittens. We had a monkey when I was a kid, How we got that monkey, I’m not quite sure what we were doing with it, but we did have a monkey. My brother was into turtles and reptiles so we had everything. I also had my love of horses so I was horseback riding as a young girl. My mother actually wrote in my baby book: ‘loves all animals’ so clearly it’s sort of a genetic thing I guess.
Do you have any pets now?
Yes. We have a dog of course, Tucker. I have three cats, and we have a macaw, which is the blue and gold macaw, which was a stray in Greenwich. It was flying around in Greenwich and I got multiple calls [with people saying] ‘there is this blue bird in the tree’ and I would go out and try to find it, but I can’t fly so how was I supposed to catch it, it’s in a tree? But one day, this macaw, must have gotten very hungry [when] she flew down on this man’s deck while he was eating an apple. The man [told us] that ‘he just flew down onto his shoulder.’ So he walked into his house and called me and the rest is history. My family decided we should adopt this bird, who will outlive us all.
What difference are you planning on making at Animal Control in New Canaan?
I hope to just be part of the team and keep its status quo. I think [Officer] Maryann Kleinschmitt does a wonderful job here. She runs a tight ship. I’d certainly like to be incorporated more in the wildlife education. I think it’s really key that we understand that we live and share this land. But, Maryann has got it down. I can only think as time goes on, if I can get involved in the schools, I’d be happy to do that, working on more educational. But, Maryann does a lot of that.
What are you most excited about being here at New Canaan Animal Control? Do you think you’ll be doing anything different than you did in Greenwich or the same?
I think continue the same. I think I’m too new to be so bold as to think change is needed. I’m not really seeing that. Certainly the facility and the shelter itself is a bit outdated, but the amount of animals that come in and out, the numbers are thankfully rather low. So we don’t have to worry about having a state of the art facility necessarily. But so far, as I say, Maryann runs a good ship here.