She was bitten by a rabid raccoon, became entangled in a motel room with a boa constrictor, and helped a generation of Rocklanders adjust to sharing their neighborhoods with bears, coyotes, and foxes.
Along the way Pat McCoy-Coleman has encountered countless reptiles, birds of prey, wild and domestic dogs, wild cats, wild turkeys, animal abusers and hoarders.
Now the Stony Point resident has more time to spend with her own pets — a pair of golden retrievers named Kate and Ted E. Bear.
McCoy-Coleman recently retired as animal controller in Clarkstown, a position she took up in 1981 when the position was simply called dog attendant.
McCoy-Coleman took the job with no formal direction but with plenty of hands-on experience breeding, training and showing golden retrievers with her father, Bill McCoy. Birth and raising puppies, dealing with illnesses and behavior problems during those years taught her “things you can’t learn from a book,” she said.
Their first “trainer” was Samson, a dachshund who had been abused by its previous owner.
“That dog was a nightmare,” she said recently. “Everything I was taught about animal control, this poor dog had these bad habits when we got him.
“Samson got into fights with every other dog in the neighborhood,” she recalled. “When people would come to me about their dog being attacked by another dog, I’d be like, ‘Hey, I experienced it as a kid.’ ”
call of the Wild
McCoy-Coleman has seen her work evolve from chasing stray dogs to teaching the sometimes difficult coexistence between suburbanites and animals that development has driven from their natural habitats.
Whenever new construction begins in a neighborhood, he uproots foxes, coyotes, and other creatures, forcing them to seek shelter in the rapidly disappearing forests in other neighborhoods.
Coyote sightings provoke an unusually high level of fear among the population.
“When they hear it’s a coyote, it’s like the big, bad wolf,” she said. “But an adult coyote weighs half as much as an adult German shepherd.”
Bears have similarly been driven from their natural habitat and forced into suburban backyards by mega-projects like Legoland.
“It’s sad that people aren’t more comfortable with animals,” she said. “We’ve taken over their homes and they have to go somewhere.”
Come back, yo yo
One day in the 1990s, McCoy-Coleman answered a call for a queue in a room at Nyack Motor Lodge. Expecting a smaller snake, she brought a small jar to catch it, then was met by an officer who said, “You’re going to need a bigger boat,” she said. “He lifts the bed and there’s Jo Jo,” a female boa constructor who was longer than the width of the bed. McCoy-Coleman later learned that Jo Jo had been purchased at a local pet store.
“This thing was stubborn and would tense up where we were having a hard time getting her in the crate,” she said. “But we did it, and I took her back to the pet store.”
The person who brought Jo Jo to the motel later became involved in a series of burglaries.
The dark and the light
McCoy-Coleman calls animal hoarding “the dark side” of her job, “because you walk into a home where the animals aren’t being properly cared for. It’s hard to understand, how did this person allow this?
On the other hand, the official has seen how animals can bring out the best in people, especially children. “Visiting the kids with my pets,” which she has done for years at local schools and Boy Scout meetings, is the part of her job she will miss the most. “Joining BOCES was the greatest thing I got to do.”
She had children on her mind when she was attacked by a creature in April 2015.
McCoy-Coleman made headlines when she was bitten by a rabid raccoon in broad daylight outside Clarkstown Police Headquarters.
“He bit me through my pants but they never ripped,” she said. “Your teeth are very sharp.”
The five-foot-tall McCoy-Coleman managed to jump out of her truck, grab her arresting pole and contain the infected animal before it could scurry to a preschool across the street.
“I was calm because I had a job to do,” she said. “I had to get this animal before it hurt anyone else, and I wasn’t hurt so badly that I couldn’t do what I needed to do. Your adrenaline is pumping. I was on a mission because I was more mad than hurt. “You did that in my own house?” she said with a laugh. “You know the cuts I had to take here in the police department?”
Fortunately, McCoy-Coleman had been vaccinated prior to exposure in 1991, when rabies was spreading among the wild population. But she still needed five injections of the six-shot series.
Longtime Clarkstown resident and City Superintendent George Hoehmann called McCoy-Coleman “one of the most caring people I’ve ever met in government,” and recalled it while she was dealing with a cat problem in his neighborhood. She once rescued a blind eagle that was trapped near Lake DeForest, he recalled.
“She loves every animal, and that’s no exaggeration,” said Hoehmann. “When she’s trying to save animals, to save them, that’s when she’s at her best.”
Brett Fliesser of Valley Cottage Animal Hospital will be hired on an interim basis as an animal control officer on March 8, Höhmann said. Fliesser has to pass the civil service exam in order to be employed on a permanent basis.
The golden years
McCoy-Coleman has owned and shown Golden Retrievers since she fell in love with the breed as a teenager. Her very first, in 1972, was called Rusty.
In 1979 she won Best of Breed at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show with Sir Duncan of Woodbury in Madison Square Garden.
“Golden retrievers, they are my life,” said the Bronx native.
In retirement, McCoy Coleman plans to continue her involvement with the Rockland County Kennel Club, where she serves as Vice President. She will also have time to volunteer for causes such as the annual West Nyack Turtle Crossings.
“I have to get up because the dogs’ alarm clock hasn’t changed,” she said.
Robert Brum is a freelance journalist writing about the Hudson Valley. Read his work at robertbrum.com