Parma Animal Warden Has Passion For People And Pets

Parma Animal Warden Julie Kocik holds a German shepherd mix puppy available for adoption.

Did you ever meet anyone whose career and personality created a perfect match?  If not, take a drive to the Parma Animal Shelter and say hello to Animal Warden Julie Kocik.  She’s a people person, the one with the indelible smile, who loves animals and her job.  In fact, Julie doesn’t hold back when talking about her passion for a career in the animal kingdom that has spanned more than 25 years.

“I love my job and I always have,” said Julie.  “I imagine they’ll have to drag me out of here if and when the time comes for me to retire.  But that’s a long way off.  The way I feel right now, I wouldn’t give-up doing what I do for anything in the world.” 

The animal world at the shelter amazingly operates entirely on money donated throughout the year.  The City of Parma leases the shelter building on State Road for a dollar a year, and Julie is the only paid staff member.  Parma veterinarian Dr. William Clark offers his services at no charge one day a week.  Julie’s two-legged helpers are all volunteers who are drawn to the shelter because of their love for animals.  Kristen Ballasch of Parma came by last month to offer her free time as a volunteer.  She says she enjoys the company.

“I love the dogs and I like to help them any way I can,” said Kristin.  “I have two dogs at home and I feel comfortable being around the dogs and cats.  I’m taking home an application with me right now.  I’m hoping they call me back and put me on the schedule.”

When it comes to schedules, Julie doesn’t have one, at least not a typical nine to five routine.  Yet, she says that’s the beauty of her job – no two days are ever alike – a fact of life both she and her husband accepted a long time ago.

“I’m on call 7 days a week, 24-7, and that’s the way I like it,” said Julie.  “I never look at the clock because I’m dealing with living creatures here at the shelter that are many times in need of care when it’s time for me to go home.  I may be called out at 4 in the afternoon to help wildlife in danger.  I do what needs to be done until the job is done.  I have never been one to punch a clock because my day is not over until a given crisis or concern has been resolved.  That’s just the way I am.  Luckily, my husband is very understanding when it comes to late dinners and plans that might have to be put on hold.”

Holding animals of all species is second nature for Julie.  The same practice can be more of a challenge for residents who come to the shelter to adopt a dog or cat.  Michael Brown is back from the Army following a tour of duty in Iraq and had a heck of a time holding onto Coal Car, an energetic black cat that was a little too friendly, quickly crawling on his shoulder.  The human and the cat both seemed to enjoy the attention.

“I’ve already got a dog at home and I’m looking to keep him company when I’m not in the house,” said Michael.  “I came here because I live in Parma and I don’t see the point of talking to a breeder when you have the shelter right in the neighborhood.  This is a really great place, and they have pets that anyone would like to have.”

Julie says she has always had a strong bond with animals, a trait she claims to have inherited from her mother.  She says her childhood home in Old Brooklyn would often become a temporary home for a stray dog or cat until a permanent residence was found for the homeless pet.  Julie says the time spent with her pets allowed her to playfully fulfill her dream to become a veterinarian. 

“We had a Border Collie by the name of Tramp,” said Julie.  “I would pretend I was a vet by gently wrapping Tramp’s paw with a small bandage and then giving him medicine so he would feel better.  He was great at taking his medicine – Necco candy wafers.”  Julie pauses and smiles.  “Being a vet would have paid more money, but I’ve learned that money isn’t everything.  Being happy at what you’re doing is priceless.” 

The shelter keeps its prices low for dozens of donated products on sale in its cozy gift shop.  The building houses separate boarding areas for cats and dogs plus a large, outdoor enclosure for exercise.  There is a vet office put to use when the doctor visits, a reception room for meeting and getting to know the pet of our choice plus Julie’s small office run by Cassie, a 13 year old cat that Julie says has yet to master answer the phone or running errands.  As for running the operation, Julie says it’s a matter of taking it one step and one task at a time and being as friendly as possible to both people and pets.

“I was told a long time ago, you can’t be good at caring for animals if you can’t work well with people,” said Julie.  “I’m all about education and telling our residents what they can do to become better owners.  I don’t like giving tickets for people that break the law.  But I take this job seriously when it comes to animal cruelty or having to inject a little common sense to solve a neighborly problem.”

Julie is authorized to write a ticket when a pet owner violates a city ordinance dealing with pets, whether it’s animal cruelty, disturbing the peace or endangering people or pets in the neighborhood.  She says the truly amazing part of her job is that she has never been the victim of a dog or cat bite in all the years she has been handling animals.       

“I guess I’ve just been very lucky,” said Julie.  “I’ve handled angry animals that wanted a piece of me, but I somehow avoided being bitten.  That’s pretty crazy now that I think of it – knock on wood.”  Julie then turned around, knocked on the top of her wooden desk and flashed that indelible smile.  For her, it’s just another enjoyable day doing what she does best at the Parma Animal Shelter.

The average cost for adopting a dog or cat is $85.  She says the average cost for adopting a puppy is $100 to cover additional veterinary services.  The Parma Animal Shelter is located at 6260 State Road.  The phone number is 440-885-8014.  You can also find information on the shelter’s website, www.parmashelter.org or www.cityofparma-oh.gov.  The Parma Animal Shelter is open seven days a week except Friday mornings.

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Volume 3, Issue 3, Posted 6:01 PM, 03.01.2011