Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Working the rural low track with animal control

Animal control officers face many of the same dangers and responsibilities as other first responders, yet they aren’t afforded the same pay, respect, training or access to support services provided by governments to police, fire and ambulance attendants.

Yesterday I rode along with 28-year-old James Spain, an animal control officer for Whatcom Humane Society in northern Washington State.

He was patrolling a remote, two-mile area oddly called Paradise. It’s known for soaring crime rates, meth labs and Russian mobsters. Cellular and radio access is nearly non-existent.

As we cruised rural roads through lush, pristine forest, beams of sunshine reflected off garbage, abandoned half-finished houses and automobile chop shops.

A one-year career has brought to James a catalog of traumatic images more troubling than anything viewed by most people in a lifetime. He has rescued scores of animals in need in the line of duty, but the work takes its toll. Burning out after less than a year isn’t uncommon.

“You name it and I’ve seen it out there,” he says. “Every time you go to rescue an animal, and the animal doesn’t make it, you feel some guilt.”
Still, he isn’t deterred from his mission to save animals, and he intends to stay in the field.

“Until all the animals out there grow vocal cords and opposable thumbs and learn to speak English, they need someone to speak for them,” says James, only half joking.

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