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202 Forest Street
Jacksonville, FL 32204


A Day in the Life of an Animal Control Officer

Amy Samson

The day starts at 7:30 am. As soon as I arrive at the city shelter, Animal Care & Protective Services (ACPS), I’m met by several of the officers waiting to start the day. There are nine active field officers and two trainees, each patrolling an area of about ninety square miles. Everyone checks the computer to see what calls have come in overnight. These can be anything from dogs roaming at large, aggressive animals, cruelty calls and dead animals. Each officer has an assigned area, but will go where needed. 

First, I am allowed to sit in on an oral test for a trainee. Three officers are involved in the test.  Each officer brings up a scenario that the trainee will probably come in contact with. The trainee is able to cite the ordinances involved and whether an officer is allowed to rescue dogs or cats under these circumstances. Although this particular trainee was an officer in another state, she must go through the same training as a new officer before she is allowed alone on the street.  

I spend the next one-and-a-half hours watching an officer prepare a cruelty case. He gets all the information together to take to the General Counsel’s office, who handles these cases. The information includes the animals kennel card, pictures, doctor’s evaluation and all citations to the owner. The kennel card is the information that the officer supplies when the animal is brought in to the intake room at ACPS, such as type of animal, sex, size and other information.

After we drop off the information to the General Counsel’s office, we go on our first call. The call is for a mother dog and her puppies living under someone’s house. We are going to meet up with two other officers to help on this case. I’m told that generally, each officer brings in about 12 animals a day. If the animal has an owner and that owner surrenders custody, it becomes the property of ACPS. The animal will then be assessed to determine the next step. If an animal comes in as a stray, there is a six day holding period to give the owner a chance to reclaim their pet.

On the way to the call site address, we come across another mother dog and puppy in the street. The officer stops to check on them. We end up taking the puppy, which appears to be sick. We leave the mother dog because a neighbor comes out and tells the officer that he knows the owner and will take care of the dog until the owner comes home.

When arrive at the call site, we find the mother dog under the rear portion of the house, with a four to five inch opening to get to her and her puppies. One of the officers shines a flashlight on the mother, and she doesn’t look good. She looks weak and just closes her eyes. She doesn’t show any aggression, but she isn’t friendly either. The officers decide to bring the mother out first, then the puppies. They start digging a little hole to get the mother dog through. I’m not somebody that can just observe, so whether I was supposed to or not, I got on my hands and knees and started moving dirt away with my hands. After we got the mother dog out, we started trying to get the puppies out.  There wasn’t much room, but since I was the smallest, I just dove in. I lied on my back and reached my arm under the house to get to the puppies. I couldn’t see anything, and we didn’t know how many puppies were under there. I finally got my hand on a little brown and white puppy. I passed it to one of the officers to put in a carrier. I felt like a hero. It was an amazing feeling. The other puppies were beyond my reach. One of the officers brought a shovel to enlarge the hole so they could reach the remaining puppies. Two more puppies were brought out. Unfortunately, there were others that did not make it. But I believe one nursing mother dog and three puppies is a good save.

On the way back to ACPS, we see a dead possum in the road. The officer stops the vehicle and collects the animal so it can be properly disposed of at the shelter. Once back at the shelter, the officer has to put the information on each of the collected dogs into ACPS’ computer database. Each animal that is brought in gets their flea medicine, dewormer and bordetella administered by the officers before taken to a kennel. The mother dog is brought in first. She is a very sweet and beautiful black dog. She is put in a kennel where she can be watched by veterinary technicians.  She is given a small plastic kiddie pool and a blanket to get comfortable in before her puppies are brought in. The puppies are soon reunited with their mother in the kennel. They start nursing right away. I’m told that they will go into foster care the next day to get healthy. 

Later, I’m told that we will go back out in the field to check on known “dumping sites”. Some people won’t bring their animals to the shelter because there is a $25 fee to surrender the animal, so they dump them somewhere. The officers have developed a rapport with businesses and homeowners around these “dumping sites” to notify the officers if they see any animals that have been dumped. Fortunately, we did not see any animals.

At the end of the day, I thanked the officers for allowing me to join them and for everything that they do. I had an amazing and eye-opening day with them. They are all heroes to the dogs and cats that they save every day. Whether a cruelty case or a scared stray on the streets, these animals know that they are being rescued. I was also able to meet my personal hero. He is the officer that saved a very special Pit Bull that was so emaciated and weak that he had to be carried to the officer’s vehicle. This special dog is now a part of my family. Thank you just doesn’t seem enough for some of these rescues. These officers have to walk a fine line to save these animals. They don’t want to take animals away from their owners unless absolutely necessary. The officers will educate the owners and give them options if they have problems feeding their pets or taking them to the vet.

Remember, these officers are here to protect the animals. They are not “dog catchers”. They do so much more. They go in to dangerous situations on a weekly basis, if not daily. If you see something, say something. Report any animal abuse, strays or any other problem that you see.  You can be a hero, too. These animals need us.

-Lisa G.