Grand Traverse County Animal Control Officer Deb Zerafa Rescues Seagull from City Opera House Roof on Her Day Off

There was a flurry of Facebook activity starting at around 5:10 p.m. on Sunday, September 3rd regarding a seagull being stuck on the roof of the City Opera House. Calls were made to various places to no avail. It’s hard enough to save animals on a weekday let alone a holiday weekend when no one is around.

Concerned citizen Nick Dalton had tried to contact 911, Animal Control, the Fire Department, Cherryland Humane Society, the media and many others but no help came. The City of Traverse City doesn’t have their own Animal Control Officer. Grand Traverse County Animal Control officers weren’t working because of the holiday and are not on call. Other entities might not have the resources or ability to resolve the situation. Animal lover Suzanne Weiler put out a plea on Facebook on Sunday afternoon, reporting that the bird had been stuck on the roof of the City Opera House for several days because it was impaled by a lightening rod. Disheartened residents and tourists watched the bird struggle, laying down and getting back up and also getting weaker without food, water or shelter. Many times when it stopped moving, onlookers thought it had died.


Weiler’s Facebook post spread fast and many concerned citizens were trying to figure out a way to help the bird before it died. Ggetting on the roof looked impossible because no staff or board members from the City Opera House were able to be contacted and rescuing the bird from the street looked like a daunting and unachievable option.

Finally, on Monday, September 4th, a connection was made between Grand Traverse County Officer Deb Zerafa and City Opera House Executive Director Diane Baribeau. Zerafa, who was at home working on a fence, jumped at the chance to help now that there was a way to get to the seagull.


After Zerafa gained access to the roof, she was able to rescue the seagull with the help of rescue assistant Debbie Douglas. The seagull was taken off the lightening rod and put into a cat carrier. Another helper, Wendy Wares, assisted in getting food and medicine into him once he was rescued.

A video of the rescue can be seen by clicking here.

The seagull was taken to Michigan DNR licensed wildlife rehabilitator, Jyl Gaskin. Zerafa had posted on Facebook that the situation didn’t look good. “Wing needs to be amputated and sepsis will probably set in because they are very susceptible to infection after this long without care.” A Facebook post by Gaskin around 11 p.m. on Labor Day confirmed to everyone that the seagull could not be saved.

These are Gaskin’s comments:

“I met a hero tonight. She is the Animal Control person for Grand Traverse.

All day people have called and messaged me about a seagull impaled on a lightning rod on top of the Opera House downtown. It had been stuck there for three days with the rod through it’s wing. I sympathized with all the callers and messages, but said I had no way of getting to the bird on the roof. I told them that I am 63 years old and my roof climbing days were over. Then I got another call. This amazing woman climbed up the roof of the Opera House and rescued the bird. She is 63 years old.

She understood that the bird might not be able to be saved, but she would rather have it put down mercifully than to suffer on a roof. She brought the bird and it didn’t take long to determine that the wind was not only torn open, and broken in several places, but I could smell the beginnings of gangrene. We put it in the fawn pen and I fed it some chicken so it could at least go with a full stomach (that’s important to a seagull). We walked around the yard and talked almost an hour. She is amazing.

This woman works long hours (today was supposed to be her day off) and truly loves the animals she deals with. she is brave and energetic and compassionate. Traverse City needs to get their shit together and take care of animal control…..NOW!

Even though the seagull couldn’t be saved. The woman definitely accrued some good seagull karma today.”

Due to the limited funding of the Grand Traverse Animal Control Division, Zerafa will be going back to being part-time in November and Grand Traverse County taxpayers will lose the second Animal Control Officer all together. It is unsure whether Zerafa will be able to continue in the position with only a part-time income when it’s already difficult to make ends meet with such a low hourly wage for a full-time week.

Ever since the Division was eliminated at the end of 2015 by County Administrator Tom Menzel, Health Director Wendy Trute and the County Commissioners, the community and the county have been at odds over the understaffing and underfunding of the Division. There is currently an Ad-Hoc committee studying the issue due to the passionate support of the Animal Control Division by Commissioner Cheryl Gore Follette. Though progress is being made in many areas including communication with the Sheriff’s Department, a permanent funding solution hasn’t been attained.

A small citizen’s advisory committee is looking into helping the county spread the word to get people to license their dogs as that is the sole income of the Division. However, but many feel that the county needs to kick in funding from the general fund or health department budget, whether animal control services are mandated by the state or not. Many concerned taxpayers were unsettled back in the beginning of 2016 by the fact that when animal control services were eliminated, there was suddenly money available to hire a Deputy Administrator, a position the county had never had before. That position still exists and the animal control funds were never reinstated.

The Animal Control Division is not just about the lives and health of the animals in our county. It’s also about the safety of our citizens due to dog bites, dogs running loose on roads, mental health issues, neighbor disputes and other incidents and concerns. We can’t rely on the goodwill of the taxpayers and the free services of the animal control officers to be the backbone of animal control services in our county. If you would like the county to reinstate the funding for animal control services, you can email the County Commissioners here: and you can also email the new administrator, Vicki Uppal, who is set to start her new position today on Tuesday, September 5th. You can email her here:


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