The Modern Day Animal Control Officer: ‘Protector’ and ‘Educator’

September 12, 2014

by Shannon Lindsay, Rivier University Intern

“Yes, I hate the term dog catcher.  You can quote me on that.”  This was Jana McMillan’s quick response when asked whether she felt there would always be a stigma that comes with the job of animal control.  However, she’s not sure that misconception will ever fully go away.

If you were to walk into the animal control building in Hudson, you would be immediately greeted by the loud noise of barking dogs, one being McMillan’s own.  She owns four dogs, but this particular one she found on the job.  Animal control is only required to hold stray dogs for seven days (she always holds them for at least ten, though).  After this time, McMillan generally turns the dogs over to a local animal shelter if no one has claimed them; however, the shelter wouldn’t take this particular animal because it was concerned by his loud barking.  McMillan ended up keeping him for such a long time that she became attached to him and decided to adopt him herself.  This is certainly not something you would expected from a so-called “dog catcher” portrayed in a movie.

McMillan’s office is scattered with dog beds, which is explained by the fact that she often likes to bring her dogs into work.  She also admits that if one dog has been in the kennel there for a little too long, he’s allowed to come in, too.

Although originally from Texas, McMillan has been the animal control supervisor for the Hudson Police Department for almost 17 years.  She earned her college degree in criminal justice and was trained as a police officer; however, not many patrol officers’ jobs were available at the time, and this is what brought her to New Hampshire.  She was working in loss prevention when the job in Hudson opened up.  She felt that her background in dealing with animals in Texas would make her a good fit for this position.  She has remained here ever since.

While many may still believe that the job of animal control is simply to pick animals up off the streets and get rid of them, McMillan assures these people that this is not the case at all.  These officers actually wish to help both the animals and their owners.  McMillan likes to think of herself and her fellow animal control officers as “educators, mediators, rule enforcers, and protectors,” but not dog catchers.  She expands on this by explaining that they are, first and foremost, protectors of public health, but that they are also protectors of the health of all animals; this includes wild animals along with domestic ones.  “We want people to not see us as the dog catcher anymore,” McMillan explained.

The most frequent calls that McMillan receives year-round are calls about loose dogs (whether these calls be from the dogs’ owners themselves or from others who see them roaming), dogs barking, chicken complaints (surprisingly enough, this is becoming a more common issue), and pets left in cars (her personal pet peeve).  She currently bandaged wounds on her arm, but says she handles few calls about vicious animals and has probably only been injured by an animal four or five times in all her years with animal control.  She explained that during spring and summer, calls about wild animals are more frequent.  Generally, educating the people who are having the problem is necessary to solve the problem, though there are sick animals on occasion that need care.  Occasionally, situations of animal abuse do arise.

In her 17 years on the job, McMillan has noticed a significant rise in the number of people who abandon animals. Whether they’ve been left in the street, in a parking lot, or in an apartment; she’s seen it all.  During the first few years that McMillan worked for animal control, she found not even one abandoned animal, but now it’s a fairly frequent occurrence.  She quickly places the reasoning for this on the bad economy of late, which affects people’s pets just as much as it has affected their own lives.  People think that they have the money to care for an animal, but when they can no longer afford it, they often panic.  Many of the abandoned animals have noticeable health issues that the owners, most likely, could not afford to fix.

While she enjoys the day-to-day variety of her job, McMillan admits that makes it challenging as well.  She finds herself advising her new assistant, whom she is currently training, “I can tell you how to handle this situation right now, but next time it might be different.”  McMillan easily admits that her most dreaded calls involve a family losing or having to give up a pet.  Her favorite calls, on the other hand, involve helping a family or an individual solve a problem with a pet.  She states, “I like to get info out;” this is something that animal control as a whole is trying to emphasize.  The animal control association that she is a part of has been working toward presenting animal control in a more positive light.  They strive to be seen as helpful to the public, rather than scary.

Like other animal control officers these days, McMillan works hard to offer more frequent rabies vaccination clinics to the public.  The Hudson Animal Control Division hosted one clinic this past July in collaboration with the Humane Society of Greater Nashua, with an upcoming clinic being hosted in collaboration with the students from the Alvirne High School vet tech program.  The students will work at the clinic, and money raised from the clinic will benefit the vet tech program at the school.

McMillan is excited that Alvirne will host its own vaccination clinic next Saturday, September 20 from 9 am-2 pm.  They will have four different vaccines available for dogs and three for cats, as well as micro chipping and testing for heartworm and Lyme disease.  While McMillan is not directly associated with this particular clinic, she finds it just as important to get the information out to the public because it could be helpful to a number of people and their pets.