What You Learn When You Go From Dog Trainer to Animal Control Officer

by Guest Blogger - Katie Brennan

Going from a full time dog trainer to an Animal Control Officer has not been a tough transition at all.  My goals of helping people and animals are still very much the same, but now I feel I can impact lives on a larger scale through my ability to do more community outreach.  While researching if this would be the right career move for me, I of course had to learn what exactly being an ACO entails.  And to be honest, I was a bit surprised! 

In reality, we should be called "Dog Control Officers."  It would make things a bit more clear to the general public.  I thought I would be dealing with ALL animals - domestics and wildlife alike, but that is not the case at all.  For example, once cats are outside of someone's home they are considered to be wildlife or feral, and therefore I have no jurisdiction over them.  Small animals and birds are also out of my scope, and of course that means wildlife is, too.  So who handles those types of things? 

If it is a case of hoarding, cruelty, and/or neglect, that falls on property management (if it's a rented property), the Board of Health, possibly code enforcement, and the Humane Officers of the SPCA.  I may be called in to assist, and I may even be the first to respond to a complaint and therefore the one who informs the parties necessary, but I am not wholly responsible or able to resolve the issue entirely. 

For wildlife complaints, I turn people on to searching for and contacting wildlife removal and/or pest control companies.  I am not equipped to trap and deal with animals on the rabies vector except for dogs.  I can lend out traps if I have any available at the time, but I cannot do anything with animals that are then trapped on private property.  For cats, I turn to local rescues for assistance. 

So what in the world DO I do?  Well, I help enforce dog law at the state and local level. I help reunite lost dogs (and other animals) with their owners.  This does cross the line into animals other than dogs, but it is a valid part of my job.  I am equipped with a microchip scanner so that I can scan for a chip on scene if an animal is picked up, and I do have access to police records to help find current phone numbers and addresses if a dog or cat is wearing a collar with information on the tags.  If the dog has their license or rabies tags on, I can also contact the vet or County Treasurer's office to get contact information. 

If an animal is found without any chip, tags, or any form of identification that points to an owner, I have the task of taking it to our County SPCA.  There is a required stray hold through the SPCA, which gives the owner time to go pick up their animal without worry of it being adopted out.  Many times, I am contacted by the owner shortly after taking it in, so there are a lot of happy endings that take place.

I also respond to complaints of dogs being off leash and not under control.  In my Township, we do not actually have a leash requirement, but our local ordinances do state that the dog must be under control whenever it is off of the owner or keeper's property.  So running up to people uninvited constantly would be a violation of this and could result in citation, even if the dog is friendly and means no harm. 

I am the one to speak to if there's a recurring barking dog issue, as well as if there is someone constantly not cleaning up after their dog while off their property.  In fact, I can issue citations for both of these offenses.  While I do mention citations, I have to say that they are my last resort.  Many times just speaking to an owner once is enough for them to correct the issue, and many complainants feel more at ease knowing that I can help bridge the gap and work with all parties involved to resolve the issue. 

Whenever someone is bitten by a dog, I am to be notified.  I work together with the Department of Health to enforce a 10-14 day mandatory rabies quarantine for any dog that has made contact with a human in the form of a bite.  Even if it is a minor injury that heals up without stitches or sutures of any kind.  I confirm that the dog in question is up to date on their shots and has their current license, and then the owner is allowed to keep the dog in their home for the quarantine period.  If the dog is truly aggressive and they therefore feel they cannot handle the dog, I can refer the owner to a boarding kennel for that 10-14 day period.  Once the quarantine is over, I can either go and take a look at the dog myself, or the owners take it to their vet to ensure that it is free from disease and healthy.  All parties involved are contacted and notified of the results of the quarantine. 

In the case of a truly bad bite, I do have the ability to issue a dangerous dog determination citation.  I cannot deem a dog dangerous as that is for the court to decide, but I can get things moving along to take it to court, and alert the state that this is a possibility.  Once a dog is found dangerous, it then falls under the inspection of the State Dog Wardens for my area.  I can go with them for further inspections if they need me to, and I can also let them know if there has been a violation of the dangerous dog requirements once found guilty.  Deeming a dog dangerous does NOT mean that the dog has to be put down.  What it does mean is that for the owner to keep the dog, they have to agree to a list of somewhat strict requirements for housing, insurance, and taking the dog out in public, among other things.   

ACO Katie Brennan with her education dog Bubbles.

ACO Katie Brennan with her education dog Bubbles.

Another way I can assist the State Dog Wardens is by going with them on rabies and license canvasses.  We go door to door checking to make sure that every owner/keeper has their dog up to date on rabies vaccinations and that they have a current County license.  Failure to produce either of these are citable offenses, but we give owners usually 48 hours to comply if they need time. 

Of course, I also have to do things like report writing, answering calls via phone or dispatch, and if your ACO has a kennel of their own, they have to make sure that the dogs there are taken care of throughout the day.  Some ACOs do work with wildlife at times, and others choose not to.  There are also some areas wherein the ACO is responsible for picking up roadkill and doing other tasks for their department.  I personally work for a police department, but this is not how all Animal Control is done.  Your laws will also vary according to which state you live in, and even more so when you get to a local level. 

I am personally very thankful that I was given the chance to take on this position in my community.  It's only very rarely like the Animal Cops show on Animal Planet, but there are still many chances to make a positive impact, since most of what we do is actually educating people on how to properly care for their animals.  You might not always be happy to see us if we knock on your door or give you a call, but you can be sure that we have the best interest of the animals and community at heart. 

Note: Different Animal Control Agencies may operate differently. If you're interested in pursuing a job in animal control, contact an office in your area for more information.

***Katie will be back with an awesome series on Dog Fitness Tricks! Stay tuned!