Deep in the Trenches

In previous posts, I mentioned the risks involved in working in the field of animal welfare. Those risks included getting fired. I have been fired. Multiple times. I hold them as trophies for doing the right thing or for just being pigheaded. You decide.

I was the animal control officer for a neighboring town while completing my degree. With a diploma in hand, I began my job hunt.

Lane County, Oregon: I was hired as the Field Supervisor. The job required that I work 11 or 12-hour days and then handle all of the emergency calls at night. It is amazing how quickly a new job can wear you down. Animal Control fell under the Finance Director. You can imagine that the only interest he had was numbers. And so it was. He placed a citation quota on all of the animal control officers and only those who met his quota of 40 citations a month would see promotions or offered the new trucks or equipment. I was opposed to this. I think we should use more than one tool in dealing with pet owners. My boss disagreed. I lasted three months. I remember the sense of joy that overwhelmed me when I realized that I didn’t have to go back to working there.

Lesson learned: sometimes it is better to be fired when you are not smart enough to leave.

In my next job, I was hired as the Chief Field Supervisor serving Portland Oregon and the gal who hired me claimed that having been fired from Lane County was a very big mark in my favor in getting the job.

Jacksonville Florida: Jacksonville Florida was in the middle of major layoffs. Animal Control was under the Environmental Services Department. We shared that Department with Sanitation Services. The Sanitation folks were undergoing the greatest number of layoffs, so our boss decided to lay off the entire administrative staff of Animal Services to make room for his buddies in Sanitation. If it is any consolation, the Sanitation folks discovered they were unprepared for working in Animal Control and I got to watch my old organization tank in the media. Working in the South forces you to face the dynamics of the “Good-Ole-Boy” system. Although located in Florida, Jacksonville is the southern end of the old South. Coming from the North, sometimes the old South is a hard pill to swallow when you believe that the laws should be distributed evenly for everyone.

Lesson learned: You’re either a good old boy or you are not. Stay away from working in the South. And as I once was told, “maintain a firm grip on your Northern ethics.”

Milwaukee Wisconsin: At some point in my career I wanted to take on a challenge. I had spent years enjoying our adoption successes in Gainesville Florida and wanted to turn a high-kill shelter around. Milwaukee claimed that they wanted to experience an evolution in their policies and wanted to become more progressive. I started bringing in rescues and volunteers into the shelter only to have been met with resistance by a couple of employees. One of the employees had worked there for 30 years and he fought every effort to improve the place. Clearly, I could not get around this obstacle and found myself unemployed. Again!

Lesson learned: Sometimes your ego prevents you from seeing a bad situation. Don’t be fooled by organizations that claim to want to evolve when they are impaired by immovable forces within their organization.

Roanoke Virginia: I call this “out of the pan and into the fire”. One of the local private animal shelters in Roanoke was trying to get me fired before I set foot in the county. I remember an early meeting that this group called to discuss the animal shelter; when I arrived they would not let me attend the meeting. I think the only time I was ever invited to their shelter was when they wanted to lynch me. In the previous post, I talked about turning this shelter around from having a 10% live release rate to over 90%. We were adopting out all of our adoptable animals, but that wasn’t enough for our volunteers. They were demanding that we release dangerous dogs out for adoption. Not on my watch! The people that I worked for were all peacemakers; I had to go. Let them deal with damage control. I came to meet some of the nastiest people working in the animal rescue field here. But, despite their behavior towards humans, they made up for it, in their efforts towards animals. Even dangerous animals.

Lesson learned: I am old-school animal control; where I believe my primary obligation is to protect the community that I serve. There is no place for us old guys because the profession is evolving in which the animals come before the community. I’d rather be fired than have to work in a place that considers placing potentially dangerous animals out for adoption. Didn’t I warn myself about working in the South?

So there you have it. The whole purpose of my blog is to prepare people who want to get into the animal welfare profession. It isn’t all about playing with kittens all day. But, those kittens come in handy on a stressful day.

I enjoyed my career and I count my terminations as trophies. I have to live with myself and I feel like I did my part in keeping each community that I worked for safe. And to think that I studied Wildlife Resources in College so that I could man a fire watch tower and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Either way, in both professions I would have had to deal with ticks.