Pet column: Diary of a dogcatcher
Special to the Tribune
My first ridealong took place 22 years ago. From the passenger seat I had eye contact with the guy on the corner who gave our animal control truck the finger as we waited for the signal to change at Ski Run and Highway 50. I was stunned. We were on a mercy mission. In the animal holding compartment was an HBC — hit by car — victim we were rushing to the veterinarian. I later learned that in the not-so-distant past one of our humane officers had been lured out to Pioneer Trail on a false call and two shots were fired through the windshield of his vehicle. It happened more than once. A previous executive director’s car was smashed while it sat in her driveway. The suspect had received repeated running loose citations for his dog. Animal love is not for the faint of heart.
In the 1970s and into the 80s, whenever a new executive director was appointed, male or female, the South Lake Tahoe newspaper headline was “new dogcatcher in town.” I came on the scene after local media was less inclined to use the term. The Humane Academy had been established in California. Humane Officers like myself who worked for private humane societies were mandated to prove 40 hours of specified continuing education to obtain and renew peace officer status. The dogcatcher was being professionalized. After 19 years of community service, the South Lake Tahoe Humane Society, Inc. gave up animal control duties as an independent contractor for El Dorado County and the city of South Lake Tahoe. I remained a court-appointed humane officer for a little more than 10 years before breaking the pin on the back of my badge in the traditional act of retiring it. I watched both animal control and humane officer training evolve within a new career field. Every person I met at a conference or in a corral doing hands-on exercises cared. To continue the work, you have to continue to care.
Compassion fatigue workshops were developed to support shelter workers, especially those who had to perform euthanasia. The Mazer Guild was formed. I am proud of that lapel pin which signals that I supported my colleagues and studied the psychological consequences of killing something you rescued and nurtured. It occurs to me now that Satanic cults who brainwash children by giving them pets and then ordering the innocent youth to kill their cherished animals as a rite of passage mirrors what caring men and women are asked to do in animal shelters every day of the year. Euthanasia due to lack of space for the nation’s abandoned pets still is part of someone’s job description.
In our transient community I expect few remember how the South Lake Tahoe Humane Society Inc. came to be known as the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, proud owner of a progressive private shelter with animal-friendly radiant heating, lots of natural light, and people-friendly interior design. Programs included free dog training for adopters, expanded humane education programs for local schools on North, South, East and West shores of the lake, support for senior pet owners and maintaining the already established subsidized community spay-neuter program. I was privileged to work in partnership with our colleagues at El Dorado County Animal Control and to enjoy the feeling that we really could help prevent pets from coming to the shelter in the first place. As fewer and fewer animals came through our shelter it was closed. The need for two shelters diminished as did private financial support for operations. Today, our local county-owned tax supported shelter occupies a modern new facility and staff adopts out virtually every abandoned pet who comes their way. Often room can be made for pets from nearby overcrowded shelters where routine euthanasia is not a memory.
As I hang up my pooper scooper, I am grateful for all the professional and personal support which has enabled me to keep the faith, maintain the passion, and further the mission of your local Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Together into the future, we really can “Keep Tahoe Kind” for the animals and for each other. The board has selected a new executive director with fresh ideas to take the lead.
— Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind.” Dawn Armstrong is the newly retired dogcatcher.