In the case of one young girl from Carson City, her dream is to save the lives of pets.
That’s why when 12-year-old friend Annah Howard told me she wanted to be an “animal cop” when she grows up, I immediately thought of my contacts at Washoe County Animal Services and the Nevada Humane Society.
“The next time you come visit me,” I told my young friend, “I’ll see about arranging a meeting with people who can teach you about that job.”
Last weekend she came to visit, so I followed through and arranged a career day-style visit for her with Mitch Schneider, the manager at Washoe County Animal Services, and Bonney Brown, the executive director of the Nevada Humane Society. I told them what Annah wanted to do for a career and asked them to talk to her about how their system works, the kind of training and education she needs to work in the field and other related job options.
We began our tour with Schneider at 10:30 a.m. Friday in the animal services dispatch room. Schneider told us about the system used to send the animal patrol officers to various calls and how it tracks where they are at all times. The different “animal cops” have a range of specialties they have acquired through their years in the field, Schneider said. Depending on their specialties, dispatchers determine the calls to which they are assigned, such as excessive barking or maybe a hard-to-catch runaway. Using the agency’s computer equipment would be no problem for any tech-savvy young person growing up today, Schneider said.
In telling Annah about the types of calls handled by animal services, Schneider touched on what would be a recurring theme of the tour: People who work to protect the welfare of animals must first learn to work with the people who own them.
Next, we moved on to seeing one of the animal services patrol trucks. Schneider showed Annah the standard equipment inside: a computer, several devices for collaring an uncooperative dog, an arm guard in case said dog tries to attack and a shotgun for “dispatching” an injured bear, horse or deer that cannot be saved.
As we walked to to area where homeless livestock is kept, Schneider talked about how animal officers also must deal with property laws since animals, under the law, are property. Annah was already somewhat versed in this area, having told me previously she read about how she would have to serve search warrants and prepare reports that could be presented at trial.
When our time with Schneider ended, he advised Annah to start getting experience with animals by volunteering at a shelter or participating in 4H. Annah told him she hoped to attend a college program for animal investigators, which Schneider said certainly is not her only option. Studying law enforcement or criminal justice anywhere would be a good way for her to launch her career, he said, adding that he looks for applicants who have “emotional intelligence” -- the ability to love animals but separate that passion from the job they have to do with thick skin.
“You have to love to help people,” he said, “help people be responsible pet owners. We give them the information it takes to be responsible pet owners.”
We then walked next door to the Nevada Humane Society (NHS) to meet Brown.
With the two organizations next door to each other, it is easy for the county to move the animals after five days when they go from “stray” to “abandoned” status. As she showed us the “showcase area” -- a hallway near the entrance that is lined with cages housing available cats — Brown said NHS adopts about 800 animals each month. Placing some of the cats near the front door not only helps them be seen by potential adopters, it also helps them social by having them near each other and people.
Brown went on to say that NHS is run by a combination of paid staff and volunteers. She told Annah that county animals services often hires people who have worked at NHS because they learn safe animal handling and how to handle humans during delicate situations involving animals. Brown said her experience working in retail helped her when she moved to the administrative side of saving animals.
“There we were marketing things like bathrobes,” she said. “Who cares about that? Here we’re marketing to save lives.”
Speaking of saving lives, we next visited NHS’ veterinary clinic. NHS' in-house veterinarian was in the middle of surgery fixing a cat while another animal waited on the next table, lying flat on its back with all four legs splaying in each direction and out cold from anesthesia with a heart monitor attached to its tongue. Nearby was a small pen where a pit bull mix groggily woke up from surgery and a chihuahua waited its turn on the operating table.
But the real heart melter was a tiny kitten, no bigger than a fist, inside an incubator trying to get accustomed to its new world.
We backtracked through a maze of kennels housing homeless dogs of all sizes and temperaments before coming to an office marked “Animal Help Desk.” Inside we met Beatta Liebetruth, a longtime fellow animal worker of Brown’s. Liebetruth explained that her job is to field calls from animal owners in distress and help them through a variety of pet-related problems. Her primary goal is to work through the issue and keep the animal in the owner’s possession. Only as a last resort will she recommend the human bring the animal to the shelter.
“If you help the person, you help the animal,” Liebetruth said.
After leaving the help desk, we visited Jamie Shockey, a former University of Nevada, Reno, student who started working for NHS while she was still in school. She wanted to work with animals and ended up with a job doing intake evaluations. This means when a new dog comes to the shelter, she will take it into a room and put it through a series of tests: play with it, tug on its ears, examine its teeth, take away its bowl of food, introduce it to another dog, etc. She records its behavior to make a determination about its adoptability and whether it will need extra training before it can safely be placed with a family.
After watching Shockey perform a demonstration evaluation, Annah said she really liked the look of that job. Who can blame her? You get to play with dogs all day, though of course there is much more to it than play.
The day after our tour, I sat down with Annah to talk about the visit. The first thing she mentioned was that she learned that the people we met work to prevent animals from winding up in shelters. She also said she didn't know that animal services also dealt with livestock or that there were so many homeless cats.
Annah originally was inspired to be an animal cop after watching a television show about them and seeing an episode with three abandoned dogs and two cats.
"I got very angry at the people who were abusing the animals," she said.
Our tour seems to strengthen her resolve.
"I felt more inspired to do," she said.