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Monday, October 5, 2009

The Animal Control Officer Defined

So animal control officers are not police officers- thanks Wiki for clearing that up!

An animal control officer may be an employee of, or a contractor to, a municipality, is charged with the responsibility of responding to calls for service ranging from stray animals to investigations of cruelty to animals and dog fighting, and bringing them to a compound or animal shelter, where the animals are held for a certain time before being returned to their owners, put up for adoption, released back into the wild, or euthanized. Animal control departments are also responsible for investigating incidents of human contact with both wild and domestic animals, such as bites. They may work with Health Departments, police departments, sheriffs departments or parks and recreation departments.

Variations of the historical phrase "I wouldn't vote for him for dogcatcher" or "He couldn't run for dogcatcher in this county" refers to an individual so poorly regarded that the individual in question is not fit to be elected to even a trivial position of public trust. In actuality, this position is usually an appointed one in localities that have a dedicated full-time animal control officer.

The role of the Animal Control Officer has changed over the past few decades. Gone are the days of the big bad "dog catcher". Today's animal control officers focuses more on educating the public on proper animal care, and rescuing animals from dangerous or abusive situations. They also pick up dead or injured wildlife and stray animals for disposal or treatment. The position can either be held through the jurisdiction's police department, or contracted to the local shelter (usually the humane society or SPCA). Depending on the size of the county and the funding they receive, there may be a single animal control officer or a team of them on duty. Usually the requirements for this job are a high school diploma, and some prior experience with animals. Training is done both on the job, and through agencies such as Animal Services Training and Consultation (ASTAC) and the National Animal Control Association, which holds classes around the country. Some states, like North Carolina and Virginia, require state mandated training for Animal Control Officers or specializing as Cruelty Investigators. These courses are typically may be up to 80 hours or more in length and must be related to the job performed.

The amalgamation of animal control with other municipal code enforcement appears to be the latest evolution of the animal control officer's position and governments frequently cite that such an arrangement has allowed them to better streamline services and more effectively enforce local regulations. This has also brought about significant professionalizing of the bylaw enforcement field, and incumbents in these fields are increasingly relied upon to accept greater enforcement roles and responsibilities as police work becomes more streamlined toward criminal law. This has led to a greater dependence on local governments to regulate and enforce animal care, and cruelty investigations are increasingly handled at a local level, as opposed to being the sole responsibility of the state or provincial government. This has created municipal enforcement officers, who previously handled animal control, who are now engaged in a variety of quasi-police activities, especially custodial policing roles that for lack of staffing are not handled by police officers. ACOs and bylaw officers can frequently be found in police and municipal departments providing security to prisoners, guarding court houses, investigating dog fighting or writing parking tickets. This has led to increased police training and arming of these officials. The New York branch of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) employs several animal "cops" who are armed and have policing powers. This arrangement is becoming more common throughout the United States, particularly in larger cities where civilian animal control officers have difficulty conducting investigations due to a lack of cooperation from suspects. Such changes have also made a career in animal control and municipal enforcement more dangerous, requiring more skills and training, and accordingly offering greater compensation. Security clearances have also become the standard requirement, and as such, the process of becoming employed in one of these positions has become more time consuming.

Historically, Dog whippers were charged with keeping dogs out of churches in 16th- to 19th- century Europe; they also sometimes filled a more general animal-control role in villages.

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