Last Thursday, Janet Whiteley, Mayor Polisena’s administrative assistant, was held hostage in the Town Hall parking lot by a wanted man.
Whiteley arrived at work around 8:15 Thursday morning, only to have the fugitive run up to her car and prevent her from exiting.
“I rolled down my window to take a picture of him, and when I rolled my window down he heard that and he ran right up to my door and he would not leave. He was just staring at me,” said Whiteley of the incident. “He just wasn’t going to leave, and I ended up calling Vince Baccari [Johnston’s Town Clerk] and said, ‘Vince, look out the window, help me!’ The mayor then ran out and shooed him away for me and the chase was on.”
Whiteley was held captive by no ordinary outlaw. The man in question is the last of the “Three Amigos,” a trio of wild turkeys that had made the center of Johnston home. While two of his cohorts were caught on August 7 in a sting operation conducted by a tri-town animal control effort, this last yardbird has been on the lam ever since, taunting officials and officers alike.
Following the incident with Whiteley, Mayor Polisena said he sprung into action.
“I called my animal control officer and said, ‘Hurry, get down here right away, I think we’ve got him,’” said Polisena.
Upon receiving the call for help from the mayor, Richard Sousa, Johnston’s animal control officer, put out an all-points bulletin to North Providence and Smithfield for assistance.
“We saw the turkey, the mayor and the city clerk were chasing him up the street trying to follow him around and let us know where he was,” said Officer Sousa. “We followed him for about two miles.”
The turkey made its way to the old BJ’s parking lot on Atwood Avenue. He then moved to a resident’s back yard and was cornered behind some bushes by North Providence and Johnston Animal Control. But the bird took to the air and flew away.
“He was just a little too far away. If we had another body there we probably could have grabbed him with a net or safely secured him,” said Ernest Calandra, North Providence’s Animal Control Officer.
Following the first attempt, Smithfield Animal Control Officers Tom Taylor and Robert Salisbury arrived on scene to assist, bringing new meaning to the question, “How many animal control officers does it take to catch a turkey?”
The four officers then split up and canvassed the center of town looking for the bird. Eventually, the Amigo was found in the parking lot of Price Rite, and the chase was on again. The bird crisscrossed Hartford Avenue several times, headed up Atwood Avenue, and eventually flew to the top of a telephone in front of the car wash. The chase was then called off for safety reasons.
Animal control officers remain undeterred, as they have seen far worse.
“I was in Providence for 38 years before I came here, and the strangest thing I ever came across was an alligator going down the street. His name was Boots,” said Officer Sousa of other weird animal chases he’s been on. “I think people are rooting for the turkey. The key is they think they’re doing good by feeding them, but they’re definitely not.”
Residents of the town and elsewhere do seem to be on the turkey’s side. A Facebook page, under the name of Turk Key, has highlighted the adventures and escapes of the bird. Should the turkey be caught, he’ll be paroled to Snake Den Park, where the other Amigos have been taken.
“It’s really to the point where I don’t want to see someone get into an accident or the turkey get hit. I thought we could make him uncomfortable enough by rattling his cage,” said Polisena. “I felt that by maybe hassling him, he would go somewhere else. I just don’t want to see him get hurt, because if there’s an accident I have to live with that.”
Polisena reiterated again that members of the public need to stop feeding the turkey.
“That’s the problem, people are feeding him. It’s not good for the bird, and it’s not good for the situation we have,” said the mayor. “I love animals, too, but you can’t feed a wild animal because, what I’ve been told, is that they lose their sense to feed themselves. Feeding them at the intersection of Routes 5 and 6 where there are thousands and thousands of cars, something is going to happen, it’s just a matter of time.”
While the turkey still remains free as a bird in town, the mayor is confident that animal control officers will get their man.
“I probably shouldn’t go out on a limb and say this, but we’ll get him. We’ll get him alive,” said Polisena. “So far, he’s a lot sharper than I thought he was. He’s a lot sharper than some of my friends that I hang around with.”