From bee swarms to mountain lions, with thousands of dogs and cats in between, Pleasanton's animal services officer Roy Ficken has seen them all. Now the man who may be the city's best known policeman is retiring after nearly 30 years on the job. Ficken joined the force in 1982 when the dog (and people) population was much smaller. Working 40 hours a week as well as answering emergency calls, he's a friend to hundreds of pets who roam the streets and parks in town. Ficken says his eyeball survey shows that there are 2-1/2 pets for every household here. With 27,500 living units on the city's registry, that's a bunch of cats and dogs. Ficken has one of each: a friendly Gadalf II who always rides along on his patrols, and a blind black and white cat who towers over the small dog. But Ficken is known to many more as he makes his rounds, stopping frequently to chat with pet owners and watching the streets to make sure dogs are on leash and licensed.
It's not always an easy job. While in pursuit of a wild deer that had leaped a 6-foot fence into a homeowner's back yard, Ficken called Alameda County for a sheriff's deputy who had a tranquilizer gun. Standing nearby as the tranquilizer dart was fired, Ficken saw it ricochet off the deer's leg and come right back into his own left thigh. Although slightly hurt, the medicine had already left its deposit on the deer, which was removed to a rural area. Ficken, though, whose story made it into a local newspaper, spent the rest of the day hobbling around in the Police Department, drumming up sympathy and plenty of jokes for what he called the dangers of handling wild animals in Pleasanton.
Another time, Ficken was called to remove a Mastiff dog that refused to leave the side of its owner, who had died at home. Knowing that you approach a dog from his right side, Ficken tackled the animal from what was a messy scene. A few months later, a Mastiff being walked by its owner on Main Street went berserk when it saw Ficken. Sure enough, it was the same dog that had since been adopted from a shelter where it had been placed and he remembered the unpleasant encounter he had had with the officer.
Always looking for new ways to calm restless pets, Ficken tried his hand -- literally -- in moving a bee hive, having been told you can place your hand into a hive when the queen is away. What his bee instructor failed to add was that you have to have a clean-shaved hand and arm to make this move. Ficken's arm was sore for a month from all the stings the bees, disturbed by the hair, had inflicted.
After serving as a sergeant in Air Force intelligence in Germany, Ficken returned to California in 1972 intent on earning a degree at what is now California State University, East Bay, in Hayward. He aimed for a career as a foreign service officer only to find that he could speak only English and hadn't mastered Shakespeare as required. During this time, the Fremont park district offered him a part-time job at $15 an hour, and later a full-time position as a park ranger and animal service officer. When Harry Brown, Pleasanton's first animal service officer retired in 1982, Ficken was offered the job and the rest is history. Over the years, he's only been bitten once, by a Chihuahua in Fremont; sued once (unsuccessfully) for $3 million by a corporate pet store owner after he rescued dogs with broken bones jammed into a back room at its Stoneridge mall store and blew the whistle on the company's other outlets in Florida and Ohio where similar abuses were found; and has yet to see a live mountain lion, although he has carted away a few that were killed by cars on Foothill Road and the freeways.
A staunch believer that animals deserve the same quality of life we want for ourselves, Ficken has written the rules of the road for maintaining close working relations with the public he's served, a guideline he hopes his successor will follow as a part of the Pleasanton Police Department.
Fellow workers and friends will honor him next Wednesday at a retirement party at the Veterans Memorial Building on Main Street.