The quintessential negative depiction of the “dog catcher” of American movies and television has once again been cast in “Hotel for Dogs.” In the cinematic tradition of the “Shaggy D.A.” and ‘Lady and the Tramp”, animal control officers are portrayed as film antagonists; blundering villains, awkwardly incompetent and enthusiastically sadistic in their treatment of canines.

But are animal control officers anywhere close in behavior to these cinematic depictions? The National Animal Control Association (NACA), established in 1978, is on a PR campaign to show the pet loving community that they are not so bad after all. NACA is an independent, nonprofit organization fostering the high standards of professionalism in the practice of animal control. As the primary professional association for animal control practitioners, NACA members participate in extensive instructional programs with the goal of improving their knowledge and skills in order to protect the animals and communities they serve.

According to the NACA, animal control officers are responsible for working in rural and urban areas supporting shelters that take in approximately 6-8 million animals per year. The organization also states that between 600,000 and 750,000 of these animals (nearly 30% of dogs) are reunited with their families annually, and approximately half are adopted from the more than 5,000 shelters operated across the country thanks to the hard work of these professionals and others.

As part of the PR message, NACA is making th following points:

1. Officers are also called upon to safely and compassionately euthanize tens of thousands of dogs, cats
and other animals too injured, sick or aggressive to be adopted or in the most unfortunate circumstances, as a result of budgetary constraints.

2. Animal control officers investigate thousands of animal cruelty cases and are often called upon to testify in court.

3. They may perform their duties and protect the public at great personal risk, whether attempting to free a terrified trapped pet, facing a wild, diseased animal or rescuing animals from abusive and neglectful environments. Officers have been threatened, injured and even killed in the line of duty, shuttering puppy
mills, investigating cases of animal cruelty, and prosecuting organizers of dog fighting and blood sports.

Further, the NACA is calling upon parents to explain to their children that professional dog catchers are not the inhumane monsters we see in the movies; rather, they are hard working professionals with a difficult task at hand.

It’s true that not all dog catchers are bad, of course. And, they are responsible for dealing with bad situations brought on by the public at large (dog fighting, puppy mills, abandonment of pets, not spaying and neutering to control population growth, etc.) but so often the animal agency is blamed by the public for having to remedy these situations in varying ways. That does not, however, mean that the public should not continue to be vigilant and monitor the actions of all animal agencies to insure animals in their care are treated as humanely as possible.

So next time you see an animal control officer (and you know they are a responsible, hard working professional treating animals in their care with respect), give them a thank you for their hard and often heartbreaking and even dangerous work they perform for our community’s benefit.