This week, April 7-13, is National Animal Control Officer Appreciation Week. The hardest job a person holds in their life sometimes turns out to be the most rewarding. I was straight out of college in 1986 when I applied for a “just-for –the-summer-before-graduate-school” kennel position at the SPCA of Tompkins County in Ithaca NY. When an animal control officer left the SPCA a week later, I suddenly found myself promoted to Animal Control Officer (ACO). A career in animal welfare often takes you by surprise!
An ACO position opens a window to a very wide world. When you knock on a door to ask a person about the welfare of pet in their care, you learn more about people– and about yourself– than you ever expected. My first animal welfare investigation involved a dog chained to a dog house on the bank above a creek. Her inquisitive pups kept rolling down the bank into the icy water. Neighbors rescued the pups over and over, but the constant wet and cold took their toll and some of the pups died. The landowner tried to explain away her responsibility by stating that “It’s my son’s dog.” The son had left home over a year ago.The fact that the woman hadn’t personally chosen to have a dog allowed her to mentally distance herself from the animal’s plight. It was a huge wake-up call for me as a recent college graduate. The puppies and their mother were paying the price of a human power struggle. A very simple short-term solution—moving the dog house away from the creek with the help of the concerned neighbors—could have saved so much suffering.
Animal Control Officers face situations like this every day. A barking dog complaint is not only a noise issue—it is a story of an unhappy dog. A roaming canine may be called in as a nuisance—yet the dog’s life is at risk. A cat with kittens under a porch may be a headache for a landlord, but this feline family needs help. ACOs continually balance human wants and concerns with animal lives. It’s not an easy job.
I worked two years as an ACO, and the experience gave me the greatest respect for those who have made the job their career. I now travel to animal welfare conferences sponsored by Petfinder and I meet ACOs from across North America. Many of them have worked in the field for a decade or more. I also interact with ACOs each day via email as they sit down behind a desk to add their pets to the Petfinder search engine. Pets not only need to be rescued, they need to be reunited with their guardians or find new homes. It’s a very large and rewarding circle. Often there is little time for rest.
We can help our local ACOs by keeping our own animals safe and happy at home. Identify your pets with a microchip and a collar ID tag so if your pet ever becomes lost, your ACO can immediately notify you. If you notice an animal that needs help, get as many details as possible before calling for help, so your ACO can locate and rescue that animal quickly.
The field of animal control and welfare is both challenging and rewarding. Just type your own zip code into the Petfinder pet search to see all of the animals your local ACOs and animal welfare agencies have saved!