A dog waiting to be adopted sits in a kennel recently at the Tri-Cities Animal Shelter and Control Services in Pasco.

A dog waiting to be adopted sits in a kennel recently at the Tri-Cities Animal Shelter and Control Services in Pasco.

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Even though Animal Control Officer Marissa Adamson has been with the West Richland Police Department for over nine years, she says the first six months of 2023 have been the hardest yet.

Only the third Animal Control Officer in the department’s history, and the only one on staff now, Adamson estimates she’s responded to thousands of calls since she started in 2014. But during the past two years, she’s been responding to more calls than usual.

Adamson says there has been an increase in dumped animals, animals are held for much longer, rescues are filled up and people are claiming their pets less often. While many people have speculated this has to do with the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantines, like staff at Preventing Homeless Pets in Benton City, Adamson says it’s impossible to know if that’s really the sole cause.

She imagines it has contributed to the existing problem, along with the booming population around the Tri-Cities and a lack of Animal Control Officers. Adamson is the only Animal Control Officer in the area staffed within a police department. The only others in the area are through the Tri-Cities Animal Shelter, which has around 10 officers.

While an increase has been observed in the past couple years, the first half of 2023 has been the worst. Adamson says she’s having a tough time placing dogs anywhere, with regional animal shelters and humane societies full and local fosters taking on as much as they can. She’s even had to reach out to humane societies in Seattle, Spokane and Oregon.

According to Adamson, the purpose of Animal Control Officers is three-pronged: rescue, enforcement and education.

Rescue by West Richland Animal Control

The West Richland Police Department has a specific protocol for rescued animals, if it gets to that point. Rescued and stray animals all stay in a kennel without a collar to see if anyone comes to claim them.

After a dog has been in the kennels for 72 hours, they’ll have one of four outcomes: claimed by an owner, adopted, fostered or euthanized. Adamson says they do everything they can to prevent euthanization and currently have a high return rate. They work with the Tri-City Animal Shelter to foster and adopt out rescued animals, as well as nonprofits in the area.

Most calls for animal cruelty are false alarms, according to Adamson, but all are followed up on. She’ll ask the caller to look around, see if there’s doggy door access, look for food and water bowls, see if the pet is noticeably skinnier. If there is a cruelty case, the dog will be brought in to one of the police department’s kennels.

Adamson clarified that while she responds to more dog-related calls, animal control is still paying attention to cats. Dogs are more often dangerous toward people and property, according to Adamson. They’re also easier to identify than cats. But stray cats are also abundant here, and she encourages spaying and neutering your cats.

In fact, Adamson said the cat overpopulation is more of a concern in the Tri-Cities area than dog overpopulation. The dog population has yet to become a problem, but she speculates it could in the near future if current patterns continue.

A bulletin board inside the Tri-Cities Animal Shelter and Control Services is covered with fliers for lost and found dogs.
A bulletin board inside the Tri-Cities Animal Shelter and Control Services is covered with fliers for lost and found dogs. Bob Brawdy [email protected]

Different reports with Animal Control

Another aspect of animal control responsibilities is enforcing regulations regarding animals. West Richland has a barking dog ordinance that can lead to a fine in case of excessive barking. To be considered excessive, two non-anonymous reports must be made for the same dog. Adamson can report to the scene and observe the dog, if necessary, then note herself as the second report. She usually encourages conversations between neighbors first, offering advice on how to approach the dog’s owner. But if that makes no difference, she may visit the scene.

Warnings come first, but if another complaint is lodged for the same dog within two months, Adamson can fine the owner.

Other regulations require dogs to be leashed and owners to pick up their animal’s poop. You can be fined for these as well, but Adamson prefers warnings with education first, and fines if the problem persists.

There are some regulations regarding cats, but it is difficult to determine a cat’s owner without a collar or microchip, so there are less fines issued toward cat owners.

Three kittens vie for attention from visitors inside the intake room at the Tri-Cities Animal Shelter and Control Service in Pasco.
Three kittens vie for attention from visitors inside the intake room at the Tri-Cities Animal Shelter and Control Service in Pasco. Bob Brawdy [email protected]

How animal control responds

Adamson responds to calls regarding several kinds of animals, not just dogs and cats. Any sort of household pet, like livestock and smaller creatures can fall under her job description. Wildlife is under the jurisdiction of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, but she is sometimes utilized by the department.

Enforcement also includes calls about aggressive animals. Force is used incrementally, assessing how aggressive the animal is. First, Adamson approaches the animal with no tools. Backup is prepared with pepper spray and a light taser. In case of emergency, they are to be used in that order to protect her.

If it’s clear the animal is aggressive at that point, Adamson returns with a standard catch pole. With backup still in place, she tries to approach the animal and get the catch pole around its neck. If the animal is still too aggressive, she may use more powerful tools, like a shock pole, but it’s rarely necessary.

Animal Control offers education

Adamson prides herself in her educational approach. Most of the time, people just don’t know better, they don’t know how to better navigate animal ownership, according to Adamson. If no one tells them the best methods for improvement, the cycle of animal adoption and dumping will continue.

“The animal community needs to be kinder to each other,” Adamson said. “Ripping on each other is not going to help the animals.”

She recommends staying calm with pet owners who aren’t doing everything right. Even if you’re upset for the animal, you have to approach them calmly, or no progress will be made. To further educate fellow owners, explain calmly.

If this doesn’t work, hold back from immediately going after them online. If there’s a possibility for a criminal or civil charge, look up your city codes and break down what’s necessary for a charge. If you can prove a code was broken, calmly explaining this to the owner could help. If not, you can take the information to officials.

Resources for difficult pet owners

For anyone struggling with an animal, information is easily available online and in libraries to help you better understand their behavior and how to improve it. There are accessible tools for responsible dog ownership. Adamson recommends obedience classes if you can sign your dog up, if not, try looking up breed-specific trainers on YouTube to train from home.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has a list of resources for dog owners noting behavior issues, explaining where those behaviors come from and how to work on them. Insight Animal Behavior Services also has a list of trusted resources and offers one-on-one support sessions with expert advice on your pet’s behavior.

Contacting animal control

If you see an animal and aren’t sure if it needs to be rescued, take a picture. Email it to animal control at [email protected] describing when and where you saw the animal and any other relevant details. Adamson keeps up with social media pages for animals lost and found locally, answers calls and monitors all reports. If the animal belongs to someone, she’ll be able to reunite them.

If you’re concerned about a neighborhood animal, observe it for a couple weeks and report your findings to Adamson. Try to see if it’s losing weight or getting dirtier, both indicators of strays. The more you can tell her definitively up front, the better.

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