When Was the Last Time You Thanked Your Local Animal Control Officer?
In honor of National Animal Care & Control Appreciation Week, the ASPCA’s Julie Morris introduces you to 5 hard-working, lifesaving ACOs—and invites you to shout out about your own hometown heroes.
So, when was the last time?
Well, now is your chance! It’s National Animal Care & Control Appreciation Week (April 9 – 15), and I can guarantee that your local ACO would love your appreciation. It is tough work and often goes under the radar.
Animal Control Officers (ACOs) are responsible for responding to emergency calls involving animals and people, providing proactive solutions and services, resolving community animal disputes, enforcing laws, capturing dangerous dogs or other animals, rescuing animals in jeopardy, investigating cruelty cases, providing expert testimony in court cases, providing humane care to animals—and a lot more.
The Dog Catcher of yesteryear existed mostly in cartoons, usually only to be outwitted by some stray dog. This version bears no resemblance to today’s professionals. Today’s ACOs are highly trained, compassionate individuals who provide a vital community service. Animal control has advanced the field and served animals with more positive outcomes, and collaborates with both private citizens and public entities.
As we celebrate this week, hard-earned by officers working to help both people and animals, I’d love for you to “meet” a few hard-working ACO heroes and hear their responses to the following question I posed to them:
Think of a time in the field you really felt that you made a difference for an animal in your community.
Let me introduce our five heroes:
Meet Randal Mize, Fort Worth Animal Care & Control, Fort Worth, TX
Officer Mize was called about a dog running through traffic, with cars swerving all over the road to avoid hitting him. Long story short, the dog in his frantic state went into a deep-banked creek and was drifting away to the current. Next? Just a regular day’s work for Officer Mize! “I jumped down into the creek and was able to secure the dog with a catchpole and saved him from drowning.”
Meet Lori Strittmatter, Mansfield Animal Care & Control, Mansfield, TX
Officer Strittmatter and another ACO were called out for a dog-at-large. They found a white German shepherd extremely emaciated, sunburned and almost hairless. Surprisingly, the dog was wearing an old rabies tag, and the officers were able to obtain a warrant for custody of the dog and prosecute the owners. “In the end,” shares Officer Strittmatter, “we were able to place him with a reputable rescue, where he turned into a foster failure and has been able to live out his remaining years in a loving home.”
Meet Jessica Kooistra, Kent County Animal Shelter, Grand Rapids, MI
Officer Kooistra received a call about a dog lying in a horse pasture, reportedly dying. The caller was able to point out the dog to her in the far corner of the pasture, where three beautiful white horses were curiously sniffing him. Officer Kooistra carried the 50-pound dog back to her vehicle, all the while being sniffed at and followed by the curious horses. The Kent County shelter veterinarian waited for them at the shelter and found the old dog had two broken legs and was likely blind, and they made the humane decision to euthanize her. “I stroked her head and spoke to her, hoping to comfort her a little, but I'm not sure she could even hear me,” remembers Kooistra. “I thanked her for being so good, and I think she knew I was there to help her.” With a little detective work, the officer was able to locate the owners, who were relieved to know that their beloved Abby was at peace and free from suffering.
Meet Sasha Kite, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care & Control, Charlotte, NC
Officer Kite responded to an attack-in-progress call to find three dogs involved in a fight. Two of the dogs had been tethered outside a store and got into an altercation with the third dog. All were underweight and hungry. The owner apologized, explaining he had run out of dog food, had just gotten a new job and couldn’t afford enough food for them; Officer Kite gave him a small bag of food she had in her van. She also noticed a KIA Memorial Bracelet on the owner’s wrist and a military backpack with his name patch on it, and went on to do just about everything she could to “help someone who had served our country and clearly loved his dogs.” She brought dog food to his residence every other week while arranging to get the two unneutered dogs fixed. Over time, she watched them gain weight, and even arranged for a dog house with straw. “It brought me great joy to help them,” she says.
Meet Francisca Rapier, Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Services, Spokane Valley, WA
Officer Rapier recalls so many moments—helping animals out of snare traps, freeing goats whose heads got stuck in fences, freeing fighting dogs from a life of violence, pulling out a dog stuck in a hole with a porcupine after days of confinement—but what matters most is why she is an ACO. “I do this because I love life and people,” she says. “My hope is to leave them with a memory of how I made them feel, and a good feeling about the individuals who make this job their passion.”
Wow. As you can see, being an ACO isn’t an easy job, and perhaps Officer Rapier sums it up best: “There have been those especially memorable animals, but the reality is that every time I or any other officer puts on that Superhero suit—our uniform, that is—we make a difference.”
Do you have a story to share about your local ACO? Leave a comment here, and be sure to thank your local ACOs the next time you see them in action.
Julie Morris is the Senior Vice President for the Community Outreach (CO) Program Group for the ASPCA, where she is entering her 26th year. CO’s work focuses primarily on fewer dogs and cats at risk in communities. Before joining the ASPCA, positions held included Executive Director of the Humane Society of Huron Valley, Ann Arbor, MI, and Director of Operations at the Michigan Humane Society in Detroit.