Written by Chris Fitzgerald, Director of Rochester Animal Services
In the previous issue, I shared some tips for ensuring that your pets stay safe and secured at home with their owners. I thought I would take the opportunity to devote this Director’s Cut to explaining what Animal Services is doing to help facilitate pet retention.
The field of animal care and control continues to evolve. Dog catchers and dog wardens are now typically referred to as animal control officers. Throughout the country, animal control officers (ACO) are providing a host of functions and services beyond the capture of loose dogs. Whereas the common perception may be that ACOs want to catch dogs, the reality is rather the opposite. Our industry is largely comprised of compassionate pet lovers who want to help people and animals. Scooping up unwanted and stray animals and impounding them at a shelter is not always the best approach. Even the nicest shelters are stressful environments and the stress makes animals more susceptible to illness. Once sick, it becomes harder to adopt the animals into new homes and the influx of new animals often exceeds the live release or save rate.
Here in Rochester, we are working to expand our community outreach and pet assistance efforts to try to keep animals in their homes and reduce the intakes at the City’s shelter. Although ACOs generally are reactive responding to a host of calls for service involving animals, an increased emphasis is being placed on providing proactive services. In their routine patrols, ACOs have been shifting the focus from enforcement to community-oriented outreach. The Animal Service vans are stocked with food, water, bowls, collars, leashes, and toys that have been obtained as donations and can be provided to pet owners in need. We are trying to resolve issues on-the-spot by providing assistance with the immediate needs and information to address ongoing concerns.
In addition to daily community-wide patrols, we are planning to assign ACOs to preventative patrols in target areas within which there have been high calls for service involving strays and surrendered pets. During such preventative patrols, ACOs drive slowly through neighborhoods with their windows down and stop along the way to talk with citizens about their pets. The idea is to address concerns before complaints or problems arise. Our goals include reducing shelter intakes, increasing sterilization (i.e., spay and neuter), increasing license compliance, and becoming more of a helping agency.
We also hope to begin door-to-door efforts when staffing allows. As with the preventative patrols, these foot patrols will focus on target areas. ACOs and teams of volunteers will walk door-to-door through targeted neighborhoods and speak with people about their pets, provide assistance including free items (e.g., food, water, bowls, etc), promote dog licensing, provide spay neuter information, and provide referrals to other agencies and resources.
In order to become more proactive, we will be adjusting our field service scheduling to increase the number of ACOs working during daytime hours. Doing so should facilitate our ability to assign ACOs to proactive patrols while still ensuring coverage for response to calls for service. We are planning the preventative patrols and door-to-door campaign to commence once those scheduling adjustments have taken effect.
These proactive initiatives will continue to expand to include additional items (e.g., training crates, dog houses, etc) and services (e.g., spay neuter) as monetary and in-kind support is obtained. If you are interested in getting involved with our community outreach and pet assistance programs, please contact us at AnimalServices@cityofrochester.gov. Together, we will help owners keep their pets, reduce shelter crowding, reduce euthanasia, continue to improve our save rate, and change the image of “Animal Control” from dogcatcher to pet helper.