Audra Stillabower, CVT
Veterinary Information Specialist
National Animal Control Officer Appreciation Week is April 8-14th 2018. This is a week designed to say thank you and to show appreciation to all the animal control officers who are hard working and dedicated to helping pets and people in the community every day.
There are times when people have viewed animal control officers in a negative light. The view of the “dog catcher” who sneaks around trying to catch dogs out of their yard or wanting to take people’s animals. These misperceptions are detrimental to the officers when they are trying to work with the community to help protect them from dangerous animals and to also protect their animals.
These brave officers work day and night to help the community and can put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public. Here are some normal scenarios of a day in the life of an animal control officer:
There is a dog running around on the interstate and is putting motorists and itself in danger. The animal control officer needs to act quickly to get that animal and people out of harm’s way.
There is a large aggressive dog charging people in a residential neighborhood and trying to bite. The officer is tasked with capturing the animal to protect those citizens from getting bit and potentially getting a bite themselves.
A deer is stuck on an ornamental fence and is gravely injured. The officer needs to sedate the animal while having to get close to the wild animal.
A raccoon is acting abnormally, and people were exposed/bitten. The officer needs to capture this potentially dangerous animal for rabies testing.
These are some of the types of cases that animal control officers work every day. In addition, they help prosecute dog fighting and cock fighting rings and help with animal hoarder, abuse and puppy mill situations. They also help in disaster situations such as flooding, hurricanes and fires.
I was able to ask an animal control officer some questions about his profession recently to gain insight on what an animal control officer does and the frustrations that they face.
1. How long have you been an Animal Control Officer (ACO)?
I have been an ACO for 15 years and 4 months.
2. What made you want to be an officer?
Hmm, actually, I never wanted to be one, per se. I was laid off from a large electric company after a merger and went looking for something different. Animal control is what I found.
3. What are some of the normal duties of an Animal Control Officer?
We deal with almost anything animal related. We educate the public on spay/neuter, enforce animal related laws, and investigate bites for the local health department. We also assist the fire department, as the animals get displaced during fires. We also open emergency shelters during disasters, right next door to the regular shelter, so people can evacuate with their pets, instead of staying in a dangerous area.
4. What do you feel is the most rewarding part of your job?
Every once in a while, you get to do something really rewarding, like save an injured animal or help a family keep a treasured pet.
5. What do you find is the most frustrating or hardest part of your job?
The lack of support farther up in the justice system. Unless an animal crime becomes “newsworthy”, it is not considered a priority. I had part of a national dog fighting case dismissed, because the judge was ignorant and did not know it was illegal.
Don’t let your animal ride in a vehicle unsecured. The back of a pickup or a car with the windows down is dangerous and illegal. It the animal jumps out (and it happens a couple of times a year) the animal can get severely injured or die. And the owner gets charged with cruelty or conveying an animal in an unsafe manner.
6. What do you wish the public would know about Animal Control Officers?
We’re not magical. I can’t make your neighbor’s dog quit barking. Also, there aren’t that many of us, so response times can be extended. Sometimes I’m the only one working in the county.
7. What was one of your more interesting cases?
I had to remove an owner and his tiger from a strip club. He had brought the big cat in to pick up women. We had to educate him that it was not allowed.
8. How are some of the ways you handle a situation with a dangerous animal?
A control stick is standard equipment, but it is not always the best option. I have extensive experience with a tranquilizer gun and sometimes it’s the best and only way to capture a dangerous animal.
NOTE* A control stick is a metal pole with a loop at the end. The loop is placed around the dangerous animal’s neck. Once secured, the animal cannot whip around and bite anyone and can then be safely handled. Picture below.
9. What are some of the more frustrating public misconceptions about Animal Control Officers?
People labor under the impression that animals can be randomly seized if the owner is not “up to their standards”. Generally, they cannot be. If your neighbor doesn’t walk his dog, we aren’t going to seize it. It’s not something I would condone, as a dog owner, but it’s not illegal.
10. Do you feel that social media helps or hinders you in your work?
Social media is a 2-edged sword. I have responded to major floods where social media was used to let the public know the local shelter desperately needed supplies. They received enough stocks and funding to last a year.
On the downside, we recently had a cruelty complaint that was unfounded. The caller did not like the response, so she shared it on social media. It went viral and resulted in hundreds of hours dealing with the outrage and thousands of dollars of wasted money.
11. Is there anything else you would like people to know about Animal Control Officers?
We don’t have time to make up stories. If we say we just saw your dog loose, it was. I’ve had people swear their dog wasn’t loose, only to realize I had already impounded it.
Please don’t involve us in a neighbor dispute. If your neighbor doesn’t cut their grass, don’t make a fake complaint about their animal. That, and don’t surrender your pets to us. You took on the responsibility, see it through. Don’t leave your animal in the car. It begins to be a problem with the heat around 70 degrees F. In North Carolina, any John Q. Citizen can break your window and remove the animal with no penalty-if they think your animal is in trouble.
For National Animal Control Officer Appreciation Week, I hope this article helps to highlight the great work that the officers do every day. They work hard to keep us and our pets safe. They often put themselves in harm’s way and they fight to end dog fighting and cruelty of our beloved companions. This week, think about sending your local animal control officers a tasty treat or gift to let them know that they are appreciated or donate to your animal control to help save more animals.