By Phil Snyder, Executive Director of Suncoast Humane Society
Published in the Englewood Sun on April 19, 2015
Unless you are in that field of work, I'll bet you didn't know that Animal Control Officer Appreciation Week has come and gone. And, if you didn't know, it is another example of how the important services performed by animal control officers and animal control agencies, in general, are underappreciated.
Due to the population explosion of people, and especially of dogs and cats, the need for effective animal-control services has increased over the years. As late as the 1950s and '60s, animal control departments still were called dog pounds (from the word impoundment), managed by dog wardens. Field staff were referred to as dog catchers. Very few pounds even sheltered cats, as stray dogs were considered the main problem, both with public safety and public health. In most states, the scare of rabies was much higher than today.
Over time, factors such as pet overpopulation, whose birth rate is 10 to 1 over humans, the public's growing concern over the treatment of pets, and the need for better public service in general led to the expansion and improvement of many animal-control programs. Pounds became animal shelters, and the agencies became animal control and even animal services. Dogs, cats and other domestic animals were better regulated and protected by laws and ordinances. Shelters became better equipped to care for dogs, cats and other animals kept as pets by the public. Some animal-control facilities even have arrangements for housing straying livestock or other farm animals.
State animal-control organizations grew across the country with the purpose of sharing and providing valuable resources. Those resources include professional advice, training and networking to local animal-control agencies. They also monitor legislation and seek better laws that both regulate and protect animals.
In 1978, the National Animal Control Association (now the National Animal Care and Control Association) was born as a national resource for professionalizing services and programs.
The number of complaints from the public to city and county governments regarding stray dogs and cats, injured animals, animal neglect and animal abuse is very high. The money budgeted from animal-control programs, by governments, is normally not enough to meet the demand. It definitely does not meet the need. Some animal-control departments stand alone as a government agency, but many are under public safety or public health, and usually take a back seat to other needs at budget time.
Why isn't everyone always happy with animal control? Think about it! If your dog is picked up running loose, you are mad. If the animal-control officer is unable to capture the neighbor's loose dog you complained about, you are mad. If the cruelty complaint you report does not end in a conviction, you are mad. How could they possibly please everyone?
Many of the services provided by animal control go unnoticed and definitely unappreciated. I hate to think of how it would be to not have their services. The result would be an increased number of dangerous dogs roaming our neighborhoods, more people bitten, sick and injured animals left unattended, and no help for animals suffering from neglect and abuse. I know we would learn to appreciate what we lost.