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To Bobby Roberts and Mary Lovro, there’s no such thing as “just an animal,” and that belief serves them well in their job as the City of Minot’s animal control officers.
“If it’s ‘just a guinea pig’ or ‘just a cat,’ who decides where that ends?” Lovra said. “All animals deserve to be treated properly and with respect.”
Their job is much more complicated than the old-fashioned notion of a dog-catcher. If their job conjures up images of chasing wayward mutts with a big net, think again.
These days, animal control officers like Roberts and Lovro have a wide variety of duties. Yes, they’re the ones who are called when someone finds a stray dog or cat. And, yes, they get called to clean up the mess when an animal is struck by a vehicle.
But they’re also focused on educating the public about how to properly care for animals, and providing information to animal owners about City of Minot ordinances. They conduct follow-up visits to the City pound to check on animals they’ve brought there. There’s always another call for service to answer, and there’s paperwork to complete. They often spend time in court testifying in cases ranging from an abandoned guinea pig to a dangerous animal or animal bite.
“Tickets we write are a B misdemeanor, so the odds of us ending up in court are pretty high,” Roberts said. “I would say as many as 50 percent of our tickets end up in court.”
For Lovro, the time in court is valuable in helping educate animal owners about proper care and requirements of City ordinances. She rejects the notion that animal abuse or neglect shouldn’t be taken seriously because “it’s just an animal.”
“We’re trying to help keep your animal safe and help keep the public safe from the animal, but we’re also trying to help the owners properly take care of their animals,” she said. “I consider myself a liaison between the owners and the court. I’m not for the owner. I’m not against the owner. I’m for the animal.”
That love for animals makes some aspects of their job especially difficult for both officers.
“The one thing that sticks with me the most is losing an animal,” Roberts said. “When you have to tell the owner that their animal is gone, that’s a tough day.”
“The most challenging part is seeing neglected and abused animals,” she said. “The most frustrating part is trying to make sure those animal’s owners are held accountable for their actions.”
Animal control officers do not complete the same training as sworn police officers. Roberts and Lovro both finished a basic training course, and completed training at a national animal control academy to become certified animal control officers.
In their current jobs, Roberts and Lovro can write citations for parking violations and citations related to animal control issues, but they do not have the authority to conduct traffic stops or perform other duties of police officers.
They don’t carry firearms. Instead, the tools of their job include collars and leashes, portable thermometers, pepper spray, scanners to check for identification chips, and batons to help them control animals if necessary.
The two animal control officers came to their jobs from different paths.
Roberts has been an animal control officer for 11 years. He’s been with the City for 15 years, working in the bus transit department for two years and spending two years as a parking officer before moving into animal control.
“Every day is different, and I like that,” he said. “The warmer it gets, the busier it gets because everyone wants to let their animals run around outside.”
Lovro came to Minot from Michigan. Having grown up on a farm with animals, she enjoys life in rural Minot with her husband, children, and a variety of animal friends. After 10 years in the United States Air Force, she was looking for something new.
“I’ve always wanted to be in law enforcement. When I saw this job come open, I knew it would be right for me,” she said. “I love it. There are some difficult aspects of the job, but one of the most rewarding things is when I get to see other people treat animals with respect and dignity.”
She’ll celebrate her one-year anniversary as an animal control officer later this month.
Their days are a combination of paperwork, collaborating with other agencies, and responding to calls for service that can range from a potential dangerous animal to a concerned resident who thinks their neighbor’s dog has been outside too long to someone who found a stray animal.
Roberts said about 50 percent of their calls are for loose animals, whether it be dogs, cats or other critters.
“And I’d say we average about 10 animal bites a month,” he said. “In the past three months, I think I’ve written two tickets for dangerous animals.”
Roberts and Lovro often come to the aid of local law enforcement agencies. If someone is stopped and arrested, and they have an animal in the vehicle, or an animal at home that needs to be cared for, the animal control officers are called.
“In one case, a man was arrested. I got to the scene, and he had a bearded dragon in the apartment. It was a big animal that I knew nothing about,” Lovro said. “So I took the animal, and I went to a local pet store and said ‘Educate me.’ They taught me a lot pretty quickly so I’d be able to care for the dragon in safekeeping. Within a couple of days of keeping it at the pound, I was able to handle and feed him. It was kind of cool.”
The process of dealing with a stray animal can be a long one.
“When we respond to a stray animal call, we first want to control the animal, for everyone’s safety. Then we’ll check for identification tags. If there are no tags, we have a portable scanner so we can check if the animal has an identification chip implanted,” Roberts said. “If there are no forms of identification, and there’s no owner visible, the animal is taken to the City pound.”
Roberts said between 600 and 700 animals come through the pound during an average year. Contrary to popular belief, heading to the City pound isn’t an automatic death sentence for an animal. The majority of stray animals are reunited with their owners or placed in new homes with the help from other agencies, including the Souris Valley Animal Shelter (852-6133 or svaspets.com) and Facebook groups like For Belle’s Sake and Save the Roof Kitty.
“One of the major misconceptions is that the pound puts down animals or that after three days we euthanize them,” Lovra said. “That is not the case. We have many outside agencies that are willing to take animals from the pound and find them good homes.”
Both officers battle misconceptions about their jobs, which can be frustrating.
“First, I’m not trying to take your dog. Two, I don’t want to put your dog down. Three, I want you to keep your dog as long as possible,” Roberts said. “My job is to make sure your dog is safe in your hands.”
Dispelling those misconceptions can help educate the public on the duties of an animal control officer. For Lovra, changing that negative perception starts with educating children and adults about her job.
“You’d be amazed at how many times we get kids who ask us if they can see the dogs in our trucks, but we don’t drive around with animals unless we’re on the way to the pound,” she said, laughing. “But that question from a child allows us to start a conversation, and before you know it, the adults have joined in and now we’re answering questions about what we do. That’s our opportunity to educate them.”