Traffic Q&A: Who deals with critters or trees in the road?

This photo from the intersection of 26th and Pearl after that late-august windstorm was posted on Facebook by Melissa Hubbard.
This photo from the intersection of 26th and Pearl after that late-august windstorm was posted on Facebook by Melissa Hubbard. Courtesy

Question 1: I recently saw a cat get hit by a car that drove off. It was a busy street and the cat was still alive. Cars drove around it, including myself, not knowing what to do.

What’s the appropriate response for bystanders in those cases? How can people help a distressed animal?

— Kari P., Tacoma


Question 2: What is someone supposed to do if they come across a tree down and blocking the road while driving? Who are they supposed to notify?

— Kenny O., Tacoma


Answer: Since both questions concern nature’s incursions upon the asphalt we humans have laid across the land — and because each carries us into the messy territory of navigating government bureaucracy — we’re fielding them together.

First off, the inanimate objects:

If a tree or a large, immobile animal — not beyond possibility around here, as you’ll see in a few paragraphs — blocks a busy road and could cause an accident, you have a traffic-obstructing hazard and should call 911 to report it.

This is the only simple answer we have this week, so we’re thankful it applies to the most urgent aspect of the query.

The rest of our answers depend on where you are, the condition and type of animal, and the time of day you encounter this problem along the road.

If you’re in Tacoma and you’re an easy-button kind of person, you can dial 311 from a landline or mobile phone during business hours to reach the “Tacoma FIRST 311 Customer Support Center.”

Or you can call the police non-emergency number at 253-798-4721 to tell a dispatcher about the tree or hurt animal you’ve come across.

After some description of the situation, people at either number will figure out how to route you to the right place.

Tacoma police spokesperson Loretta Cool says dispatchers are plenty adept at figuring out which agency will best handle such problems, from Public Works to Animal Control to Fish and Wildlife, or someone else.

Sometimes the cops field these things themselves, with decidedly mixed results. Years ago, Cool said, a Tacoma police officer radioed to report a lion loose downtown.

“He shot at it several times,” Cool wrote in an email. “I don’t believe he hit it. Thankfully, as it was a dog with a look-alike haircut.”

More peacefully, Cool herself helped recapture a Shriners Circus elephant that escaped from a birthday party in 1986.

“The elephant was wandering down the sidewalk on Yakima Ave., around N. Fifth street,” she wrote. “He did not run, nor break anything. He stopped when I took hold of his lead, but I had no idea what to do with him.”

This isn’t to be confused with Tacoma’s other 1980s elephant-on-the-loose escapade, when 2,700-pound Rama sauntered out of Point Defiance Zoo in 1987 for a 10-block walk up North Pearl Street.

Zookeepers caught up with him and walked him home.

(Rama, here on loan, was later returned to the Oregon Zoo in Portland, where he lived until he was euthanized in March at age 31, which is young for an elephant).

For any animal in distress you call about, police dispatchers will contact an appropriate agency to help, Cool said. If your situation concerns a fallen tree, they’ll get in touch with the city’s Public Works Department.

If you’d rather cut out the middleman, you’ll need to wade into the thicket of figuring out which agency to call yourself.

For a tree in a Tacoma city street, the Public Works number to call is 253-591-5495 whether it’s day, night or weekend.

For a tree (or deceased animal) on a state highway around Tacoma, the state Department of Transportation’s local maintenance office at 253-983-7550 should get the call.

Elsewhere in Pierce County, the county road crew can be reached at 253-798-6000.

Finally, to help a living animal in trouble: for a dog, cat, rabbit or other pet-type animal, Pierce County Animal Control can be reached at 253-798-7387 during weekday business hours.

After hours and on weekends, Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County director Kathleen Olson recommends a 911 call to help sort matters out.

If you’ve encountered imperiled wildlife such as a raccoon, possum or squirrel — or other native fauna, all the way up to moose, bears and deer — the state Department of Fish and Wildlife can be reached by phone at 360-902-2936 to field the report.

If the injured animal is in Pierce County and of the non-ungulate variety, Fish and Wildlife recommends seeking help from South Sound Critter Care at 360-886-8917.

Is that a lot of phone numbers to keep track of to help our animal friends? Unquestionably.

“It’s a pain,” Olson said.

Derrick Nunnally: 253-597-8693