Catching stray dogs can be the most challenging – and most fun – part of animal control. “Sometimes we’re successful and sometimes we’re not,” says St. Paul’s Todd Carey. “But we do catch a lot of dogs.”
These days, cities tend to prefer crews with enforcement or veterinary tech experience, says Minneapolis’ Terry Shaw. But wardens say that, regardless of training or background, the only way to learn to catch stray animals is to actually do it.
Carey still tells stories of the officers who mentored him. “They were courageous people,” he says. “They did things that amazed me, as far as being brave. You’re being confronted by two large dogs, and they’re both aggressive, and some of these guys would laugh. Because they weren’t afraid at all.”
The truth about dogs, Carey says, is that most of them are sociable – and predictable. “They know commands. They listen to people. So probably the most important tool you have is your voice. Just get them to come to you.”
With dogs that do act aggressively, he says, “you look at their body language, or their sound – what are they doing? Sometimes dogs are dead giveaways. Are they barking? Growling? Showing their teeth?
“A lot of times dogs will do false charges: They’ll barrel at you, and then they stop short. They’re just trying to intimidate you. We don’t let them intimidate us; we intimidate them,” he says. “There’s not many dogs that are fearless. You can intimidate most of them.”
Of course, he says, “It takes a while to be comfortable. You can’t always tell when a dog’s going to bite you. But usually you get bitten by a dog that’s frightened, not by a dog that’s aggressive.”
Who’s outsmarting whom?
Animal control officers have a range of tools they use, ranging from commercially produced control poles to handmade snares and bite sticks that protect them and distract dogs long enough to collar them.
“But your best tool out there is your brain,” Shaw says. “It’s going to keep you safe. It’s going to help you establish what your priority is at that particular moment, because 30 seconds later that could change.”
Outthinking dogs often requires maneuvering them into a contained space that eliminates escape options. But if dogs have been on the loose awhile, they often know the terrain better than officers do.
And St. Paul’s Mike Koranda tells of one dog that even recognized the officers’ vans and uniforms. So Carey put on a raincoat as a decoy.
They caught the dog.
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