Animal programs | Opinion/Comment: Marcia Mayeda | Animal Control Officers Are Not Hollywood Villains

Dear Hollywood,

Animals are a beloved and popular subject for film and television because they provide heartwarming stories and highlight the intrinsic reward of the human-animal bond. Many wonderful TV shows and movies have helped raise awareness about animal kindness, how to care for them, and the importance of protecting them in our society. Keeping animals in the forefront of people’s minds is a good thing.

However, my toes curl and my blood pressure goes up when I see the incredibly offensive and inaccurate portrayals of animal control officers in these forms of entertainment. I did a quick internet search for “dog catcher movie” and was amazed at the number of movies that include dog catcher as an evil villain, dating back to the early 1900s!

Even the term “dogcatcher” is a pejorative and outdated label; the appropriate term is Animal Control Officer (ACO), Humanitarian Officer or similar professional title. In film and television, ACOs are universally portrayed as mean, animal-hating, and incompetent jesters. These cartoons in no way accurately portray the hardworking, compassionate, and dedicated women and men who have chosen this career because they believe deeply in helping animals and people who care about them.

ACOs work around the clock, in all weathers, to protect and rescue animals in need. It’s a physically tough and emotionally taxing profession that garners modest pay and little acclaim from the public, especially thanks to the representation of ACOs in entertainment. The reality of the ACO’s work is far from its misrepresentation.

ACOs investigate animal cruelty and neglect, removing animals from inhumane and abusive situations. They capture dangerous dogs that pose a danger to people and other animals, preventing serious attacks and deaths. The ACOs investigate cases of dangerous and vicious dogs and subject these cases to administrative or judicial review in order to impose restrictions on the keeping of these animals.

DACC TurtlesACOs are mandated child, elder and dependent adult abuse reporters. Many times DACC ACOs have responded to animal neglect calls only to find humans in grave danger as well. Our officers have, on countless occasions, obtained help for vulnerable people from law enforcement or social service agencies.

ACOs respond to wildfires or other emergencies, working in dangerous conditions to rescue pets and livestock left behind by evacuated residents. These animals are transported to safe temporary shelters while DACC provides care until they can be reunited with their owners.

ACOs enforce animal licensing and rabies laws. Rabies is nearly 100% fatal, an excruciatingly painful death that is nearly eradicated in the United States thanks to pet rabies vaccination and licensing programs. Ensuring compliance with these laws has made our nation safer and healthier.

ACOs also enforce other important laws. These include mandatory spaying/neutering laws to reduce pet overpopulation and euthanasia; microchip laws to ensure that pets have permanent identification in case they become separated from their families; and animal safety in animal-related businesses such as pet stores, grooming facilities, boarding houses, etc. ACOs regularly assist law enforcement officers in serving search warrants or securing animals so that the police and sheriff are not harmed by animals on the property.

Hollywood, I understand that a story needs a good villain. Can’t you do better? I’m sure your creative writers can come up with better villains than the tired old dogcatcher trope. How about dogfighters (dog fighting is a crime and a brutal and vicious activity in which animals suffer horribly). And the rooster hunters? This too is a crime and is prevalent in many parts of the country. Dognappers are good villains – we’ve all heard the heartbreaking and chilling stories in the media of people being shot or assaulted while their beloved pets were stolen from them.

DACC horseIn all of these cases, the ACO is a hero – the officer breaking up an illegal animal fight; the officer who finds the kidnapped dog, scans him for his microchip and returns him to his family; the officer rescuing horses from a burning barn; or the officer who sees that an abused senior and her pet receive the services and care they need.

In fact, the State of California recognizes the importance and value of ACOs through the state-designated Certified Animal Control Officer (CACO) program. ACOs must undergo rigorous training and experience to achieve CACO certification and maintain their status through regular training. There are more than 300 CACOs in California, and about 50 of them work for DACC.

Please join me in thanking our COAs for their dedication, compassion and bravery. Hollywood, please continue this tribute by describing the ACOs as the true professionals that they are.

Marcia Mayeda

Marcia Mayeda is the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control.

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