Ride with a Charlotte Animal Control and Protection Officer | WFAE 90.7

The first call of the day for Constable Chris Meyer was for a small black dog tied to a tree. It was a sunny day in mid-June and the neighbors were concerned that the dog had been left unattended and outside for too long. Driving an animal care van down a street in the Derita neighborhood, Meyer saw the dog tied to a tree with a red rope.

By the time Meyer turned around and parked the white van, the dog was gone. Meyer got his catch pole and headed for the front door, where he met a man who spoke Spanish. Meyer worked with a phone and a translator to explain that the dog needed a tether of at least 10 feet, with food, water and shade.

The dog, a pit bull mix, also needed a rabies tag. Meyer said free rabies shots are available at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Animal Care and Control Center — located near the airport — on the second Saturday of every month. The officer entered information about the dog, address, owner and visit into the Animal Care & Control database, and left.

His next call, in Huntersville, was about a flock of ducks.

Meyer, who has been an officer for two years, said his organization has changed significantly over the past 20 years. No longer are they the caricatured dog catchers in movies like Lady and the Tramp, Homeward Bound and On the Secret Life of Pets.

“From what I understood from our story, it was more of a refuge to slaughter: go out and collect animals, there is no owner, and most likely the animal would be slaughtered. Some breeds would be culled,” Meyer said. “In 10 years, it has turned into a model of rehousing, resocializing dogs and having them adopted or adopted.”

Meyer summarized some of the division’s key programs. A Stay program allows people to take a pet compatibility test visit for up to five days. In addition to rabies vaccination clinics, the center offers $10 microchipping and free registration in local and national databases. New grants help solve many problems. For families who lack financial resources, the Human Animal Support Services program can sometimes provide free or discounted dog food, fencing, shelter, and veterinary care. Social media channels submit photos of adoptable pets.

Melissa Knicely, director of communications for the division, explained that in 2005 the center had a live release rate of 30%, meaning that only 30% of animals at the center were released alive and 70% been euthanized. In 2020, they hit a 90% exit rate, and the rate is now hovering in the 80s.

Crazy animal stories

“This place is the definition of ‘You can’t make this up,'” said Justin Morrison, an animal protection officer for more than seven years Morrison treated elephants fighting in a convenience store parking lot, an opossum in a kitchen drawer, roosters terrorizing a city government parking lot with ankle bells, a boa constrictor at a bus stop, and an extremely mean miniature horse named Darryl.

“Horses are the definition of repeat offenders,” Morrison said. “If an animal is going to get in trouble, it will be a horse. Darryl and his grandma, a real grown horse, would break loose from the property they lived on, run through the woods and find themselves in the backyard of someone’s house tearing it up.

Education and Advocacy

Morrison explained that dogs are legal property worth $1,000 and an officer who improperly removes a dog from someone’s home could be charged with a felony. Officers now see themselves as animal advocates and educators of pet owners. They explain a lot about state laws and local ordinances on animal restraint and animal care practices.

Knicely listed three core elements of the organization’s mission. They try to ensure pets are prepared and available for foster homes, which frees up space in shelters; that pets can be reunited with their owners, which requires collar ID tags, microchips and registration; and that pets can stay with their families.

“This is really one of our great community outreach efforts,” she said. “There are a lot of reasons why pets are turned in: for financial reasons, because they don’t have a good fence or whatever.” Animal welfare officers then work to identify solutions and resources to ensure animals stay with owners.

Pit bulls are Charlotte’s most popular breed

A walk through the center’s adoption area reveals that the most common breeds are American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers and Bull Terriers, commonly referred to as pit bulls. Knicely explained that pit bulls are sometimes difficult to adopt. Living in an animal control kennel creates stress for them and they don’t show up well.

Sam Carnes

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Queens University Press Service

“If they show that, they’re going to sit here, and the longer they sit here, the more their behavior deteriorates,” she said, adding that getting out of the kennel improves their behavior.

How residents can help animals

Residents of Mecklenburg county can help animals by volunteeringoffering foster homes, to make donations, and just being good neighbors, Morrison said. Help doesn’t always need to come from animal protection officers. If a neighbor’s dog needs water, residents can kindly let the owner know, Morrison said.

Officer Meyer said he would like animal protection and control officers to be considered first responders. They are the first to respond to calls about injured and sick animals, animal neglect, and people’s irresponsible or ignorant behavior.

“We’re the ones going there,” he said. “We should be treated the same.”

Benjamin M. Yerger