Involving the Community Through Proactive Animal Control
After working as a street Animal Control Officer and manager for several years, Todd Stosuy became frustrated with what seemed to be an endless cycle of impounding animals and issuing citations – but not seeing long-term change.
Stosuy, field services manager for Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter, wanted to find a way to the root of the problem. "As officers, we need to assist our community members with proactive and positive education that helps not only modify behavior and understanding of animal ownership in an effort to keep animals in homes and out of the shelter, but also to build vital trust of our agency within the community we serve," he explains.
Several years ago he began teaching workshops across the country on the strategies of community-oriented policing within animal control departments.
Stosuy says people who abuse or severely neglect animals should still be arrested and prosecuted, but rather than looking at the number of citations or impoundments as a measure of success, proactive animal control uses the way people treat their pets as a better assessment of effectiveness. To get there, he advocates providing community members with information and resources and building relationships that foster trust in animal control agencies.
Proactive Animal Control Strategies
Here are some of Stosuy's recommendations:
Officers should be friendly and available and out in the community, driving slowly with windows down or traveling on foot so they're more approachable. A first-name-only introduction is less intimidating than using a last name preceded by "officer."
Instead of always penalizing people for violating ordinances, officers may be able to provide information and resources (free shots, food, housing, enrichment and S/N), thus giving people the opportunity to make humane choices for their animals.
Bilingual materials should be available for non-English-speaking community members.
Instead of picking up a loose dog and immediately taking him to the shelter, scan for a microchip and/or search locally for his home, making sure to explain to the owners why dogs must be under their control at all times. This RTO in the field is not only more humane, it reduces intake.
Compassion and Balance
Stosuy offers these tips to other ACOs:
Be empathetic and compassionate to animals and humans alike. "Officers spend a majority of their working life dealing with animal owners," he points out. "If we aren't willing to work with people … we are failing the animals and communities we have been charged with protecting and serving."
Have a healthy work/life balance. According to Stosuy, effective ACOs "hang up their duty belts at the end of the day and take care of themselves." He strongly believes that to prevent burnout officers must engage in healthy activities and hobbies outside of work.
Slow down. "There will always be animals and people who need your help," he notes. "If you try to take on too much too quickly, you will burn out and never survive in this field."