Animal control officers enforce important laws, ensure public health
Editor’s note: The following story chronicles a morning visit and ride-along with the staff at The Colony Animal Control Shelter.
Many a volunteer has signed up to put in time at The Colony Animal Shelter with high hopes of caring and nurturing for the animals, only to quickly learn how tough the job can really be.
A typical morning at The Colony Animal Shelter begins with cleaning all the litter boxes and dog kennels. With a small staff, it’s a one-person job on a rotating basis that takes hours to complete, requiring all the dogs to be moved from their indoor kennels to those on the outside. It’s Ahmad Moore’s turn today, and he’s too busy to talk.
Things aren’t any slower for the officers hitting the streets. Mornings are among the busiest times of day as residents awake to whatever issues wildlife and stray animals may have generated overnight. Evenings are busy, too, for the same reason as people arrive home from work.
Today, the first stop for Animal Control Officer Robert Cox is in a lakeside neighborhood where overnight a skunk had found its way inside someone’s home. The carcass was left inside a trash bag on the curb. No amount of plastic could contain the skunk’s odor as we traveled throughout the city with the creature’s remnants in the bed of the truck. Later that morning, it would be joined by the bodies of two squirrels that fell victim to vehicular collisions.
Collecting and transporting road kill and otherwise deceased wildlife is among the many “eww” tasks animal control officers must accomplish on a routine basis. The carcasses are taken back to the shelter where they are placed in an incinerator, which provides an efficient means of disposal not just for the squirrels and skunks but also the dogs and cats who have been euthanized at the facility.
While some years are better than others, euthanasia rates at The Colony Animal Shelter are currently low, which is indicative of the overall animal control system functioning at its best.
“We have worked very hard on lowering our euthanasia rates,” said Patricia Barrington, Animal Services Division manager, adding that it’s been months since they’ve had to put down an animal for reasons other than health or temperament.
Another routine task is patrolling the Shoreline Trail and city parks to watch for strays or loose animals off their leash. Leash laws are on the books for a reason, and they are strictly enforced in The Colony. The most-dangerous animal encounter that officers face, Cox said, isn’t a bobcat, snake, or coyote but potentially aggressive dogs, which highlights why leash laws are vitally important to the community.
Barrington said ensuring the safety of residents is among the main reasons why leash laws require strict enforcement.
“It is very rare that a child walking home from school is attacked, threatened or bitten by a dog or cat contained in a home or fence or controlled by a leash,” she said. “The majority of animal bites are committed by free-roaming or stray animals.”
But it’s not just humans that require protection. Leash laws safeguard animals, as well.
“Your pet is less likely to be hit by a car if under your control on a leash,” Barrington said. “Free-roaming or stray animals are easy prey and convenient meals for predators such as bobcats and coyotes.”
Public health for both humans and pets also benefits from enforcement of leash laws.
“Pets that are kept within the parameters of leash laws are less likely to come into contact with high-risk rabies carriers such as skunks, raccoons, bats, foxes and coyotes,” Barrington said. “A domestic animal that tangles with a rabid raccoon and then finds his way home could potentially expose countless humans, not to mention other household pets, which if also allowed to roam come into contact with even more animals and humans.
“The potential for catastrophe is real and should be taken seriously.”
So when an animal control officer patrols the parks, he or she is taking an active role in maintaining a safe and healthy environment for The Colony’s residents. Rather than issue citations, the officer hopes first and foremost to encourage a sense of civic duty and common courtesy.
“It’s very simple – society has an expectation of behavior. No one wants to have to worry about being threatened by a stray dog trying to get to their cars in the morning,” Barrington said. “No one wants to run over dog poop with the lawn mower in their front yard – especially if that person doesn’t even own a dog. Part of being a good neighbor is being a responsible pet owner.”
Cox soon receives a call reporting a stray dog on Caldwell Avenue. It’s a black Lhasa Apso. A microchip scan later reveals his name is Shaggy and he’s from Frisco. This is the second time he’s wandered off from home only to end up at The Colony Animal Shelter. Shaggy’s owner is soon contacted and scheduled for pick-up.
However, not all strays are so lucky as to have an owner so quickly en route for collection. There is limited space available at the shelter, and every new stray animal taken off the streets puts additional pressure on the facility’s capacity. Policy dictates that new strays are held for up to four days to allow the owner ample opportunity to reclaim the pet.
That said, “any animal in the shelter is ultimately taking up space. Once capacity is met, animals that have been at the shelter the longest or the ones with obvious injuries, health or behavioral issues are euthanized in order to accommodate the new intakes spending their four-day grace period at the shelter in hopes an owner will step up,” Barrington said.
Cox’s final call of the morning involves mediating an incident in which dogs of neighboring homeowners fought or were otherwise overactive with each other, resulting in injury to one of the dogs. Upon seeing the dog bleeding profusely from its ear, Cox advises the pet owner to seek veterinary treatment. Animal Control officers are not medics, and pets are viewed as property in the eyes of the law. Cox informs the parties the incident is a civil matter, and he encourages them to secure their fence lines and pets at all times.
It may sound cliché, but working in The Colony Animal Services Division is indeed often a thankless job with misunderstood responsibilities. More than dogcatchers, TCAS staff members are tasked with promoting responsible pet ownership and safeguarding the public. It’s a perception Barrington works hard to manage during her annual visits with school children in the spring.
“I tell all of the kids that if you see one of those animal trucks, please wave and smile. Not many people are happy to see us, but the kids understand we do really good work,” she said. “The guys love patrolling school zones because those kids wave and smile so big when they see them.’”
Story by Blaine Crimmins, communications specialist with the City of The Colony.