Norfolk Animal Control officer recounts pit bull attack, wins humanitarian award

Posted at 1:23 PM, Apr 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-12 22:27:30-04

Norfolk, Va. - For Norfolk Animal Control Officer Stephanie Cherry-Rupert, helping animals is the best job in the world.

“It’s never, ever the same day,” Cherry-Rupert told NewsChannel 3 in an exclusive interview. “Every day is very different, from picking up strays, occasionally we get cruelty calls. We may get hoarding cases, or we may get a snapping turtle in somebody’s yard.”

cherry rupert 1While Cherry-Rupert loves rescuing and protecting animals, she says the job is not without its misconceptions.

“People generally think that we want to take their animals away from them. If an animal is in a good situation, and in a good home, we generally like to the leave them there. It’s a much better scenario for them,” she said, sitting in the driver seat of her animal control van.

The job is also not without its dangerous situation.

Being an animal control officer was Cherry-Rupert’s childhood dream, which is why she was devastated when a pit pull attacked her on the job in August 2014.

“I was bitten on the face, starting on the brow line, and it ripped away part of my lip,” she said. “Initially, it was actually devastating. I had tried to come back a little sooner than I probably should have, and was not able to hack it at the time.”

Cherry-Rupert says therapy, support from her co-workers and, ultimately, her love for animals pushed her through recovery.

“I was able to come back to it, and I feel that I’m a better officer for it,” said Cherry-Rupert.

For her story of perseverance, and her dedication to community education, Cherry-Rupert was awarded a humanitarian award by the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies.

"Our staff has found her extremely helpful and humane," said Rob Blizard, the executive director of the Norfolk SPCA, in his nomination form for Cherry-Rupert. "Through her own perseverance, Officer Cherry-Rupert was able to return full duty as a humane officer."

In a separate email to NewsChannel 3, Blizard talked about the importance of having officials from shelters and city municipalities work together.

"[Nominating Stephanie was] extremely important to me, because sometimes shelters and city municipalities do not have the best relationship," Blizard wrote. By nominating Cherry-Rupert, Blizard was sending a message of the positive relationship reflected in the Norfolk area.

The Norfolk SPCA is a member of the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies.

“It was definitely a very humbling experience, and I for sure had not expected to be nominated for something like that,” said Cherry-Rupert of the recognition.  “I was really surprised that I was being awarded for doing something that I love.”

Cherry-Rupert was one of two animal control officers who won the humanitarian award across the entire state of Virginia. The other officer was located out of Virginia Beach.