When “picking up dead things” is a 10-times-a-day occurrence, a person may begin to develop a mordantly cheerful sense of humor. So it was for Eleanor Sadler, the Animal Care & Control employee who amassed a strong online following under the moniker Officer Edith, posting puckish captions to smartly photographed rescues, along with retweets of various oddities from the animal kingdom.
Last Friday, Sadler announced to her 20,000 Twitter followers that she had resigned, and, “just like every other family with little kids,” had chosen to relocate. (In her case, to Annapolis, Md.) It’s an abrupt end to a two-decade career filled with distemper-afflicted skunks, hummingbirds nursed back to health on nectar, and raccoons with their heads stuck in a trellis.
“I would like to do something a little less exhausting emotionally and physically and spiritually,” she tells The Standard. “Every day, you walk into somebody’s trauma. You can’t guarantee you won’t euthanize their pigeon and they’re angry with you. Or you walk into somebody whose dog is dying, and you have to console and tell them they’re doing the right thing. Or they’re threatening to kill the skunk in their backyard, and you have to talk them off the ledge.”
That constant management of other people’s agitated emotional states is not inherently offensive, Sadler says. People are people. But having to oscillate between trapper and counselor, first-responder and nurse, wore her down—even in a city with a unique relationship to wildlife. Her followers might be surprised to learn that behind those adorably arch tweets, she was gradually burning out.
“I keep my cards close to my chest,” Sadler says, emphasizing that it wasn’t all bad. “I rescued animals that otherwise would die, got to meet great people who take great care of their animals. A little bit of everything.”
An omnivore who’s “mostly vegetarian,” Sadler is also, by her own admission, a natural. She started her career in Wichita, where she was told that possums are aggressive.
“I discovered they couldn’t be any more benign,” she says. “I’ve only been bitten twice in spite of handling thousands. They’re simple animals! When you first see a mama with babies on her back, it couldn’t be any cuter. It’s like a cartoon.”
Over time, she grasped the precise ratio of hard-science-to-gooey-love that makes for a besotted-yet-competent Animal Control Officer, one who tosses off phrases like “Ducks always look like they’re looking at someone they hate make a bad decision.”
From there, the Officer Edith persona took shape. At first, her posts were a bit more macabre, remarking that ravens (who are born with pink mouths that blacken as they mature) eventually look like they devoured a soul. Her superiors never objected to her side project, but as her following grew, she admits to mellowing out. It didn’t hurt to be agile behind the lens, either—and, in fact, Sadler had a had in hiring her successor, based on precisely that criterion.
“I asked for somebody who can take good pictures and who’s funny,” she says, adding that while she will hand over the reins to the Twitter account, she still plans to contribute occasionally.
Sadler now faces the prospect of a 3,000-mile drive with small children, her cat, plus her dog. In spite of being someone who spent years asking the internet to identify this mysterious spider or that strange tadpole, admits that for a long time, she wasn’t sure of the breed. She’s “just this weird-faced black dog.”
“Somebody said, ‘Is that a chug?’ I didn’t know what that meant, and I was like, ‘Sure,’” Sadler adds. “Somebody said it’s a chihuahua-pug mix. I Googled it, and they all looked exactly like her. I would never guess she’s a chihuahua! She’s so dense.”
Casual approach to pet ownership notwithstanding, Sadler never lost her sense of wonder over the natural world, from resilient two-legged pups to oddly beautiful chicken butts. California, as a U.S. state, is full of unique subcultures and quirky individuals. But zoologically, as a biodiverse hotspot with particular fauna, it may be even more peculiar—especially to someone born in Britain. And she will miss it.
“We don’t have raccoons or skunks or possums or rattlesnakes in the UK,” Sadler says. “There are a whole bunch of birds here we don’t have in the UK. I’m still utterly thrilled to interact with wildlife, and I’ve been utterly charmed.”
Peter-Astrid Kane can be reached at [email protected]