Halloween is typically a time for haunted houses, creepy costumes and spooky seasonal efforts designed to spark the thrill of a fright.
But for local workers whose jobs seem creepy in nature, getting spooked is not a part of the job description.
This story takes a look at three very special vocations that Ventura County residents are taking on, including a funeral home director who works with the deceased, a pest management specialist who removes roaches, spiders and other creepy crawlers, and an animal control officer who deals with dead animals on a regular basis.
For them, their jobs are far from creepy. In fact, these three individuals take great pride in their professions, and understand that they are filling unique roles that aren’t for the faint of heart.
“I am truly proud of my profession”
As the owner of Rose Family Funeral Home in Simi Valley, Brittany Groot’s duties are vast, including embalming, meeting with families of the deceased and bringing loved ones into the funeral home — as well as janitorial duties such as cleaning the toilets and vacuuming.
“I’m also a self-learned seamstress, beautician, wood worker, plumber and florist — an overall jack-of-all-trades,” said Groot of Camarillo, who is a licensed embalmer and a licensed funeral director.
Her fascination with the vocation sparked around age 12, when she met a medical examiner who told her about his job – and the crimes he helped solve.
“I thought to myself, dang, this is a cool job,” Groot remembered.
As she got older, however, the path to becoming a medical examiner was not something that she thought she could do.
“So I found a local funeral home in Orange County, where I grew up, that had an Explorer’s Program that allowed students to come in and learn about the funeral home profession,” she said. “I was sold.”
As Groot got closer to graduating from high school, that dream fizzled and she earned a degree in child and adolescent development instead.
“While obtaining my degree, I knew I picked the wrong vocation and found a funeral home who allowed me to come in and volunteer,” she said. “By this time, I knew I had to go back to my passion.”
With that, Groot moved to Ventura County and started her journey at Cypress College to obtain her associate’s degree in mortuary science.
“After school, I needed to start my apprenticeship, so I looked for a job and found one at Rose Family Funeral Home,” recalled Groot, who quickly moved up the ranks and became a licensed embalmer two years later.
Prior to her role at Rose Family Funeral Home, Groot worked for Service Corporation International for a year and a half doing various jobs as a service assistant, which involved working side by side with the directors to help move flowers, set up the chapel, clean the facilities and occasionally drive decedents to the airport for return flights home after funerals.
Looking back on her vocation so far, she especially enjoys knowing that she — and her fellow employees — work very hard for the families they serve.
“We realize that this family will only experience the death and loss of a particular loved one once, and we only have one opportunity to serve this family in a kind, compassionate and caring way,” Groot said. “I love the community I work in and I enjoy giving back to the people around me.”
Being around death as part of her job has also affected her overall outlook on life.
“I have learned to love every day,” Groot said. “If I’m having a rough day, I just need to remind myself that tomorrow might not be here, so enjoy every moment of it.”
Although her profession has a “creepy” reputation, Groot added that she wouldn’t call her job creepy at all.
“I have the privilege and honor of taking care of families’ loved ones and I am truly proud of my profession,” she said.
“It can be a dirty job”
Roaches, ants, spiders and rats fail to faze Bobby Thomas, the owner of Harbor Pest Management in Oxnard for the last five years.
“Every pest has a season — right now it’s the big Halloween spiders that make the big webs,” Thomas said. “Then around spring and summer, it’s mostly ants, and during the colder months we get into the rats.”
Creepy bugs and critters never really bothered Thomas too much because he grew up on construction sites with his father, which constantly involved tearing structures down.
“The bugs behind the walls would come out — and so would rodents,” he remembered. “It never bothered me.”
Thomas goes out personally to sites to eradicate critters, and will sometimes don a gas mask and full suit to protect him from poisons if they’re required.
“Depending on the materials we’re using, every material has its own safety procedures that you have to follow,” he explained. “Depending on what we’re using determines how much personal protection equipment is required.”
Occasionally, Thomas will face occupational hazards when he goes out on a call. For instance, he’s been bitten by spiders and stung by bees on numerous occasions.
“I removed a bee hive recently and I couldn’t do it with a bee suit because of the space,” he said. “So I got stung, like, five times. I’m just used to it. It hurts for a bit, but I keep going.”
Another time, an elderly woman in Ventura called him because she thought she heard rats running around her attic.
During the inspection, he didn’t find rodents — but a momma raccoon with her babies.
“She proceeded to chase me out of that attic and that was one of the few times I was really scared, because a momma raccoon is about 40 pounds and they’re not nice,” he said. “She chased me right out and I told the lady that’s not a rat — that’s a raccoon. And she had no idea that something that large was living up there.”
Another time, Thomas went out on a call to a fast-food restaurant that had a very bad rodent problem.
“I got in there to do my treatment and opened up a cabinet. I saw a little reflection but I couldn’t tell what it was,” he said.
The reflection turned out to be a gigantic rat, which reacted in fright in the dark to Thomas’ presence.
“When I sprayed it in the face it didn’t know what to do so it jumped at me,” Thomas said. “It came right out at me and it chased me around the dining area — and the restaurant manager was standing on the side laughing hysterically.”
Not all of his calls result in laughter, however.
“Some of them are not good. It can be a dirty job,” he said. “I’ve had to do some really disgusting things, like crawl under a house to remove dead animals that have decayed. I’ve done this about 60 times, from rodents to small dogs.”
Thomas admitted that his job “is not for the squeamish.”
“I’ve had customers who are so appreciative. To me, it’s not much, but to them, it can really be a beneficial thing in their life,” he said.
Thomas added that he’s been involved with the pest eradication profession for more than two decades.
“I found a job that no one else likes to do, and I do it very well,” he said. “Knowing that I’m helping people with something they’re not comfortable with makes me feel good.”
“Sometimes I get choked up”
As a senior animal control officer at Ventura County Animal Services, Chloe Williamson’s job duties often involve an aspect that most people don’t consider: dealing with deceased animals on a pretty regular basis.
Many of these animals are found dead on local streets, while others are brought into the animal shelter operated by Ventura County Animal Services in Camarillo by their owners when the pet passes away.
“We do get a lot of deceased animals brought in to us — many come from Caltrans, which picks up the deceased on freeways,” explained Williamson of Oxnard. “Sometimes we have to open up the bag and figure out what it is, if it’s a cat or dog or may have been at one point. Then we scan for microchips.”
In any given week, it’s typical for Williamson to deal with about 45 deceased animals. During a recent week in October, for instance, she dealt with a skunk, wild rabbit, pit bull, poodle, cats and a possum — as well as two deer.
In other cases, Williamson picks up deceased dogs from their owners after the dogs have died in their houses. She also copes with animals that die while in foster care.
“But most of them are picked up in the field,” she said.
Each case is unique, and Williamson works hard to keep her emotions in check when facing these deaths, but it’s not always easy.
“Sometimes I get choked up,” she said.
One recent morning, for instance, Williamson responded to a call of a dog involved in a car accident. Coincidentally, Williamson knew the dog, which she had introduced to its owner during the adoption process.
“It can be emotional if they come back deceased,” she said. “And when people bring in their animals, they’re emotional. So you get emotional.”
As far as her coping skills are concerned, Williamson said she switches her mindset so she can do her job well, a skill that she learned before the animal shelter became a no-kill effort.
“When we used to be a kill shelter, we had to do lists of 20 to 30 animals a week, and that was hard because some of the animals you know,” she said.
When she first started working at Ventura County Animal Services, “I would be going into the bathroom crying for the first three weeks.”
The emotion of grief really never goes away, she relayed.
“Sometimes I can be cool and sometimes I lose it. It depends on the circumstances,” Williamson said.
Ventura County Animal Services is currently considering bringing in a specialist twice a month to help employees cope with grief and other emotional aspects that can occur with workers on site, Williamson added.
“This would be a person who would be available to us when we need to talk to someone,” she said. “There’s times where it can be rough.”
For Williamson, coping with death on a regular basis is all about balancing her emotions.
“They’re going to a better place. They’re not locked in a cage anymore, they’re not in pain anymore,” she said. “This is what I tell myself to talk myself through it.”