In the midst of the national debate about illegal immigration, a Duncan policewoman took the necessary steps to become an official U.S. citizen.

Teresa Cabello, who works in the animal control division of the Duncan Police Department, learned on May 16 that she earned the title of newest naturalized citizen in town.

But she is no stranger to the city, having moved here from Juarez, Mexico, at the age of 2.

“My only accent is Okie,” she said with a smile.

It’s that smile, and the fact that she is a woman called upon to handle ferocious animals, that she calls the biggest challenge of doing her job. But that challenge isn’t because of any self-induced feelings of limitations, but for having to constantly respond to questions like, “Why didn’t they send a man to help with this?”

Another challenge is trying to educate the public on what her division does.

“We’ve been called ‘killers’ out in public while we’re doing our job,” she said. “There are people out there that don’t see us in a positive light. There are parents who tell their kids ‘the animal control is going to come get your dog and kill it.’

“We try to educate them. We tell them we’re not the bad guys you think we are. We do help people with their pets, their dog and cat problems.”

She points out some of the services her department provides, like a free spay and neuter program. Besides, she asks, who wants the town over-run by packs of wild dogs?

Cabello and her two co-workers put in a pretty typical morning-to-evening shift, until the rest of town gets off work, goes home and releases their dogs to roam the neighborhood.

That’s when the animal control job really starts to get busy.

“We leave here at 4:30. Sometimes at 4:25 the calls start. If we get calls, we stay until it’s finished.”

The saddest part of the job is going on animal welfare calls, where Cabello has witnessed enough cases of animal cruelty to make a grown man cry.

“You’d be surprised how many people will tie their dog up in the backyard with no food or water. In this town we have a lot of people that don’t give their pets proper shelter.”

She has even been on a case where a pit bull accidentally hanged itself from its chain. She said the owner didn’t even know about it for perhaps two days, as he had not been out to feed it.

Cabello is in her seventh year as an animal control officer, and if there was ever any doubt about her abilities, one can look at her surprising statistics of bite avoidance.

She said she is called upon to round up at least two stray dogs every week. Out of all of the stray animals she has collected in her almost eight years on the job, she has only been bitten once. And that was a minor bite to the finger.

Her most interesting incident involved an animal not often seen in the Duncan area – a diaper-wearing monkey.

“I thought it was a prank at first,” Cabello said. “When I get there, sure enough, there’s a monkey dragging a teddy bear, wearing a diaper.”

She was able to capture the monkey, named Toby, before placing him into the passenger side of the pickup because it was too cold for him to ride in the back.

But Cabello learned another valuable lesson that day – monkeys that wear diapers are very smart.

When Cabello got out to deliver a cat trap on her way back to the animal shelter, Toby unlatched the passenger door and took off running again.

“I had to tackle him like a football player,” she said.

Being an animal control officer is a labor of love to Cabello, who also has four dogs and two parakeets of her own. Two of her dogs were former strays rescued from the animal shelter.

Besides being an animal control officer, Cabello has also been a reserve officer since 2004 and is the official court translator, the only one in Duncan.

Cabello and some members of her family have been living here on green cards and have had to go to Oklahoma City every 10 years to re-file for a new one.

Now that she has taken the four-month process capped by an intense quiz session, she said her first priority as a U.S. citizen will be registering to vote.

“I feel like I can represent (fellow Mexicans),” she said. “A lot of Hispanic people are afraid to ask for help for residency, because they are afraid of being deported. And they don’t want to better themselves because they’re afraid they could be deported.

“To me, it’s important to become a citizen of the United States, because I love America. But at the same time, I feel like I’m representing my people.”

And still another reason she wanted to become a citizen is so that she could become a full-time police officer. (Don’t tell Police Chief Jeff Johnson, but Cabello hinted that she wants to become the chief of police someday.)

Another more immediate plan is to have a cook-out with her family, featuring what she jokes will be “white people food, because I’m tired of Mexican food.”

Away from work, she ranks family time as her favorite hobby. Her daughter, Kassie, is a gifted singer and her son, Junior, plays baseball, the U.S. national pastime.

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