Local animal control officers don’t have the casual appearance they once did. They now wear uniforms.
The three officers have law enforcement background. And they work out of a police department substation, which is just inside the entrance to the Central Nebraska Humane Society. That substation was built less than a year ago.
“Since I came on here about seven months ago, we’ve changed things considerably,” said Officer Taylor, the head animal control officer. “We’ve got a whole new group of guys. All the guys have a law enforcement background.”
Taylor was a Hall County employee for five and a half years, In addition to working for Hall County Corrections, he was also an armed transport officer for ICE and the federal marshals.
Officer Mohr, who has a background in military police, is in the Navy Reserves.
A part-timer, Officer Milem, has worked for Hall County for seven years. He is an armed transport officer.
The board decided to change the animal control job into more of a law enforcement position, Taylor said.
When the officers started out in the job, they tried to “let the public see us” and educate pet owners about what they have to do.
Now, they’re doing more enforcement.
The job is enjoyable, Taylor said. “We’re actually out there with the public, keeping our community safe,” he said.
The goal is to make pet owners accountable for their actions.
“If you’ve got a dog that’s running at large, you’ve got to be accountable for that,” Taylor said.
Jacque Harvey, executive director of the Central Nebraska Humane Society, says animal control has “come a long way towards a more professional image. We’re animal law enforcement, so that’s kind of what we want to portray — not that we’re all out to enforce. We’re out to educate (and) just assist in any way we can with animal issues.”
Taylor believes their law enforcement background makes them more effective in their jobs.
Half of the people they deal with are familiar to Grand Island police officers and Hall County deputies, he said.
Two of the animal control officers “have worked in Hall County for a significant amount of time. We know who the criminals are,” Taylor said.
Because of that experience, they know which people around whom they need to be cautious. Taylor has sometimes told Mohr “do not turn your back on this guy.”
One Grand Island man has an extensive criminal background. “He’s just a bad dude in the community,” Taylor says. But the man doesn’t neglect his animals.
“He seems to take care of them pretty well but he has one dog in particular that likes to get out,” Taylor said.
Over the course of five days, the animal control officers gave that dog owner three citations, which adds up to “a significant amount of money,” Taylor said. The amount was $987.
If he receives a fourth ticket, which Taylor thinks is likely, it will be another $150 fine, “And he’ll be considered a nuisance owner, which is another $150 fine on top of it.” A pet owner is considered a nuisance owner after the fourth citation, which means the dog may be seized.
The animal control officers would rather not have their first names used in this story because of the brutal world of social media. When pets are involved, people can have very strong feelings.
Animal control officers do a lot of welfare checks, which means they visit homes to make sure pets are getting proper shelter, food and water.
The officers don’t just issue citations. They also help people.
People were calling about a house at Eighth and St. Paul, saying the dog didn’t have food and water.
It was a nice dog and it did have food and water, Taylor said. But its shelter “was a little iffy.”
The officers had trouble contacting the dog owner. Taylor decided after hours to make one extra stop, and finally connected with him.
He had been in jail numerous times and had just gotten out of treatment. He had been taking care of his dog, keeping it fed and watered. But he needed some help, so the animal control officers set up a kennel for him, got it tarped and “got it all fixed up for him,” Taylor said. The man did receive a citation because he hadn’t been providing proper shelter.
“That’s the thing. We’re not just out there trying to pick on people. We’re helping them,” Taylor said.
People online misread the situation, he said. Taylor wonders if those people had even been there to look at the house.
The officers deal with a lot of bite cases.
Under state law, when a bite is reported, officers must try to find the animal the best they can. The animal is then put under 10-day rabies observation.
The Humane Society does euthanize dogs at times. That practice comes in for a lot of criticism on social media.
“Some people out there — they don’t understand the process,” Taylor said. They don’t realize that a dog was put to sleep because it had bitten five people, including a child, causing her to lose an eye.
Those people love pets “and we totally get that, and understand that,” Taylor said.
There is a way to rehabilitate dogs. “But if you can’t rehabilitate a dog and he is dangerous around people and children, I mean, there’s just no other choice,” Taylor said. “It’s a sad deal.”
Animal control personnel are not sworn officers. If someone needs to be arrested, a law enforcement officer must be present.
The animal control people are able to serve their own warrants.
They also keep their weapon certifications current. They also are trained in pressure point control tactics, which are defensive tactics.