Friday, October 2, 2009

How much training do animal control officers get?

In Virginia they are required to get 40 hours sometime during their first two years on the job. There's a lot of 'courtroom demeanor,' (comb your hair, don't tell the judge to bug off if he annoys you ...), a couple of hours instruction in using a catch pole ... I believe there are about two hours on basic animal husbandry.

We won't even discuss the selection criteria for the job.

The root problem here is that animal control selection and training are still back in the 1950's when "He couldn't even get a job as a dog catcher" was a common way to call someone stupid, while the job itself has made ever-greater demands.

Back in the 50's it really was just catching dogs -- and recognizing the occasional case of someone beating his horse or setting a cat on fire. Today we expect animal control to second guess breeders and farmers with decades of experience and in the case of farmers, very often college level work in animal husbandry. It's basically a joke, one that's only funny when the weakest animal control officers stick to catching dogs and stay out of the way of people who have a clue, namely, those who do it every day and cannot meet their goals with animals that aren't in top condition.

Then take a girl who couldn't get a job as a dog catcher but does get through veterinary school, where, you guessed it, she gets essentially no training in small animal husbandry. And she can't immediately find a practice to join when she graduates or wants the security of a government job. Where might she work? Why the state department of agriculture, that's where -- inspecting dog breeders, and with the power to declare "Seize them all!"

The large animal vets do get some husbandry training: I don't think you can graduate in one of those programs without pulling a calf out of a cow. But I don't believe the small animal vets even see a whelping, let alone study nutrition and care of dogs, cats, etc.

I know this: I haven't encountered a single vet who is familiar with the use of fenbendazole pre- and post-whelp to eliminate roundworms in neonates. We think it makes a real difference: In four or so generations, a couple of litters per, outcrossing every time, our puppies all tend to be real bruisers, right from the start. Logically that's because they don't have to share their nutrition with a bunch of rapidly-developing worms. And we've never seen a single worm in stools when we do use a conventional wormer on them once, right before they go home.

Where did we find that protocol? Why in Ettinger and Feldman, the standard veterinary textbook, that's where.

To be fair, most animal control officers mean well and know their limitations. They know the job is stopping the "we know it when we see it" serious abuse and enforcing basic confinement laws and they stick to that. Most of them actually have good hearts and want to do it right. But the exceptions -- the cases where the semi-qualified majority and ignorant or zealot few -- have to check out breeding programs and care of dozens or hundreds of breeding animals -- are often horrific.

If we truly want breeders inspected then we need to stop passing inspection laws and spend the money that the 'wipe out visible breeding' program costs on upgrading our animal control officers. If we don't think this is really essential -- and I'm among those who feel that inspection of small breeders who sell only directly is a waste of money and an infringement on basic rights -- then we need to just cut it out. If there's a serious complaint, get a warrant and go take a look, otherwise, let it be.

So far, the average taxpayer says "They're dog catchers -- spend less on them." And with Oprah's help, HSUS says "inspect-inspect-inspect." And we go with both programs.

Visible imperfection is a consequence of freedom. The alternative is perfect corruption with the worst sins hidden, under some degree of slavery. You'd think that in the new century we'd be a lot clearer about the merits of these alternatives than seems to be the case.