Stepping over crushed beer and soda cans, animal control field supervisor Joey Robinson knocked on the front flap of a tent with his catch pole. He’s been called to perform a welfare check on a dog, wagging his tail a few feet behind him, as no one emerges from the tent.
“A dog doesn’t need to live this way,” Robinson said.
The dog’s leash wrapped around the tree, being yanked back after a running start toward Robinson. No water bowl or shelter for the dog was present, so Robinson returned to his truck to leave a door card on the tent. The property will be checked again Monday, and if the owner does not comply, he or she will receive a citation or the dog will be impounded.
All of this was done while Robinson wore a bulletproof vest, a lifesaver he is thankful for on every stop.
“You never know what they’re going to do when they get irate,” Robinson said. “But it hasn’t come to anybody pulling out any weapons or anything like that on us yet.”
Robinson is the sole owner of a bulletproof vest in Hall County Animal Control, a roughly 5-pound accessory that can run $1,300 to $1,500 each. Being with animal control the longest, Robinson said the single vest has been passed down to him.
“Anytime I go out and do a search warrant or go in a house, I’m always glad that I’ve got one to put on, because you don’t ever know when you go in a house to do a welfare check or a seizure,” Robinson said.
“People treat their animals like their kids sometimes.”
Hall County Animal Control has up to six staff members who can go on calls, with four officers working in specific districts of the county. Robinson acts as a floater, going to problem areas.
Animal Control applied for a grant to supply the other five employees with bulletproof vests.
“There’s some places we go to where the people are hostile; they don’t want to cooperate with us,” Robinson said.
The vests would be paid for through a “100 percent grant” from the National Animal Care and Control Association, said Hall County Animal Control Director Mike Ledford.
“All but two of my two animal control officers are certified, and they deal with the same people on the same calls, the same types of situations that city of Gainesville (Police Department) and everybody else deals with on a daily basis,” he said.
Georgia Animal Control Association Secretary and Treasurer Cindy Wiemann echoed Ledford’s comments, explaining the similar risks animal control officers face compared to police.
“People who don’t respect the laws don’t respect the laws in regards to animals and usually in other ways also,” she said.
George Harding, executive director of NACA, said the organization received applications from 135 different agencies across the country and a request for 704 vests. With the funds available for the grant, NACA hopes to award about half of the agencies and fund around 250 vests.
“They need to have the same protections as police officers do, and a bulletproof vest is one of those things that help to give them that protection,” Harding said.
Ledford said he expects to hear back about the grant within the next couple of weeks.
When an animal control officer sees a violation, the owner will receive a written or verbal warning. The officer then has the discretion to recheck within the following 10 days.
On an average day, an officer clocks about 100 miles on the odometer, Robinson said, responding to nine or 10 calls a day.
“They see the badge, it’s a symbol of authority. And they don’t take too kindly to it sometimes,” said Robinson, a five-year Animal Control veteran, the last year as field supervisor.
He left work on the farm for a job in animal control, but still has a Gillsville farm populated by hunting dogs, cows, horses, goats, dogs and chickens.
“I liked dealing with animals, so I figured I could go to animal control and deal with a lot of animals, a different kind of animals,” he said.