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On the Job: What Do Animal Control Officers Really Do?

Recently I was pulled over on the side of the road in my animal control truck, entering notes from the call I had just finished. A man out checking his mail saw me and came over and tapped on my window. I rolled it down and he launched into a long complaint about the cost of his dog license. I tried to explain that his license fee helps ensure that we can be there to help animals in need, but he cut me off. “There was a dead dog in the street in front of my house one day and I called but you guys wouldn’t come. What is it you do then?” He demanded. I explained that our department doesn’t pick up DOA’s and again tried to tell him what we do. He brushed me off, asked me if I would go out with him and then turned and walked away when I said, no.

Most people have no idea what animal control officers do. April 9-15 is Animal Control Officer Appreciation Week so it seems like perfect timing to let people know why we are here. Yes, we pick up strays, and in some cases DOA’s, but there is so much more to it. ACO’s do humane investigations, seek justice for abuse, neglect and abandonment, and bring animals in need to safety. We write long reports, face abusers in court and deal with lost, injured, sick and aggressive animals. We protect people from dangerous animals and animals from dangerous people. We do bite quarantines and rabies prevention. We educate the public and teach people how to better care for their animals.   

I’ve seen abuse and neglect so severe that years later I still choke up at the memory. I’ve removed animals from the arms of their deceased owners, from fatal car accidents and from floods, fires and murder scenes. I’ve fed and cared for people’s pets and livestock at their homes while they were hospitalized. I’ve removed animals from homes and vehicles after their people were arrested and removed large aggressive guard dogs to enable law enforcement to search areas. I’ve picked up animals after suicides and animals that were left with human bodies and no food for long periods. Some of the things I’ve seen will haunt me for the rest of my life, but I do it because the animals need me.  

I’ve had to put critically injured deer down with a rifle at two in the morning in my headlight beams because they can’t be saved and a release from their pain and fear is the only mercy I can offer. I’ve been injured in a cockfighting raid and taken to the ER to be sewn up. I’ve been threatened by gang members and animal abusers. I’ve had people scream profanity in my face and flip me the bird for no reason at all. I’ve been called puppy killer and worse, by people who have no idea that I’ve dedicated my life to this profession because I think dogs and other animals are one of the greatest gifts we will ever have.

I’ve taken home animals that were too young, too ill, or too badly injured to stay at the shelter. I’ve stayed up all night caring for the orphaned, the broken and the dying. And I’ve dripped heartbroken tears over the ones I couldn’t save and the ones nobody wants. But I’ve also seen some incredible  rescues, saved animals from certain death and removed animals from terrible abuse and given them the life they deserve. That’s what keeps me going and that is why I do what I do.

And when someone tells me “I could never do your job, I love animals too much” I look them in the eye and say “I love them to much not to.” 

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Shirley Zindler is an animal control officer in Northern California, and has personally fostered and rehomed more than 300 dogs. She has competed in obedience, agility, conformation and lure coursing, and has done pet therapy. Zindler just wrote a book The Secret Lives of Dog Catchers, about her experiences and contributes to Bark’s blog on a regular basis.

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