NOTE: Debra Starr wrote this column from her experience behind the scenes. Starr is an active volunteer at Manatee County Animal Services. She has been doing animal rescue work for more than 18 years and spends several days a week at the shelter working with the animals. She also works behind the scenes on adoption events and programs to raise community awareness.
They are the unsung heroes of the animal rescue world. They are first responders, rescuing dogs and cats from unsafe conditions, liberating them from abusive homes and protecting them from potential danger.
The nine animal services officers with Manatee County Animal Services have lots of stories. The favorite part of most of the officers' jobs involves reuniting lost pets with their owners.
Jerry Hill is the senior officer in the field. Last year, he picked up a stray Boston terrier and, luckily, the dog was microchipped. Hill still remembers the cries of joy and surprise from his owner when he called to tell her he had found her precious "Odis," who had been stolen 1 1/2 years before from Lancaster, Pa.
Every day brings new challenges as the officers prioritize the calls dispatcher Ray Dorsett sends their way. The cases vary greatly, stemming from dog bites, injured pets, aggressive animals, strays, neglect and cruelty, nuisance complaints and dead animals.
James Bacon works with Dorsett in the front office. He is involved with the administration of the permanent tags and certificates required by the county. Citizens are required to update their pet license certificates every year. The certificates contain vital information, including when the last rabies vaccination was given, the expiration date, owner's contact information and the veterinarian who administered the vaccination.
Rick Browning has saved many animals as an animal services officer. He understands educating the public is an important component of his job and tries to help owners understand their pets need adequate shelter, food and safe conditions.
Joel Richmond is the enforcement supervisor. He assigns daily zones to the officers and sets up vet runs for adopted pets and feral cat transport for the Humane Society for the Trap/Neuter/Release Program.
Richmond's job is a balancing act as he reviews daily logs, follow-up reports, time cards, employees, court issues, vehicle fleet services and land and kennel maintenance. Richmond also fields calls and is often called out to assist on cruelty, bite, nuisance and dangerous dogs cases.
He is certified in chemical capture (dart gun) and can be called out anytime day or night.
Officer Ernie White has been involved in animal control for more than 20 years. White was part of a successful community involvement team in Orange County that worked hard to change owner behavior for the better. He hopes the No Kill Manatee effort will be able to expand to do the same in our community. He and his wife, Debbie, recently adopted a dog from Manatee County Animal Services.
Steve Bell is another compassionate officer who has brought many injured animals in for treatment, including the now famous, Axle, Bell discovered with grievous head wounds. He also brought in Tucker, a Chihuahua mix who I fostered while he recovered from being hit by a car. No Kill Manatee stepped in and provided medical care and happily, both dogs are healed and living in loving homes.
Officers Taunia Ireland, John Beesley and Christina Rios also work tirelessly to protect the public and rescue distressed animals. Being an animal services officer is not easy. It can be dangerous. When the officers enforce the law, they often face harsh criticism from unhappy citizens. We should, however, appreciate these unsung heroes and do our part to make their jobs easier.
The Palmetto Shelter is now full with strays the officers have brought in. If you have been thinking about adopting, come visit us today. All pets available for adoption are offered without a fee in celebration of "Just One Day," Tuesday only, at Animal Services in Palmetto and Downtown Bradenton.