Humane Officer Kathy has worked with animals since she was 18. When she was younger, she worked with animals in obedience classes and grooming sessions, and even opened a pet supply store. She has trained dogs since 1971 – for forty years now. Considering the way her love for animals evolved over the years, it isn't surprising that she found her way to the Humane Society.
Kathy began working at the Fallen Timber Shelter in Elizabeth Township in the late 1970s. Fallen Timber stands very close to her home; when it opened, she felt she had to work there, still drawn to animals after many years. She left her job with Bell Telephone and started her new career at the "satellite shelter," which means a smaller and more rural shelter than the one on the North Shore. She is the only officer on site now and she has worked with the small shelter from the beginning; for a couple years she even worked on outdoor maintenance, cutting the grass and doing other work on the property. After working as an assistant manager for four years, she went on to become an officer. Because of her years of involvement with the shelter, Kathy was always familiar with the investigations department.
Her very first day was rough and a little wild. She remembers training in the field with Officer Bob. They went to a smelly cathouse in Applewald; the smell floated through the air and the two officers could smell the house's odor up to a block away. Kathy couldn't believe what she saw; she couldn't believe the magnitude of the stink, either. The owner became hostile and defensive and waved garden tools at the officers. Eventually they worked their way inside. In that four-bedroom house the pair found 200 cats and 6 inches of feces. It took months to work the case through to the end. On a scale of 1 – 10 of severity, Bob rated it a 10.
During her first week, she and Ron also investigated a case of neglect involving horses owned by a mentally deprived woman; all of the equines had to be euthanized.
Kathy's wondered if this was a test of some sort to see if she could survive her first week on the job. After eleven years, Kathy still calls her first week her worst week. Luckily, rather than putting her off and driving her away, the cases fired her up and fueled her desire and passion to help animals.
As rough as working in the field turned out to be, Kathy essentially continued to do the same thing as an officer that she always did in the past: she educated owners. What she didn't know going into the law practice was how much education goes into play. As a law officer, her first goal became rectifying a situation; prosecution is not a priority because it does not necessarily solve any problems, she explained. By educating owners on laws they may know nothing about and forming some kind of relationship between Kathy and the owner, the owners feel less alienated and more involved and even in control of their situation. And by showing respect, Kathy stands a greater chance of success and cooperation from the owner.
Every day on the job is different for Kathy. Most of the time she deals with the standard animals – dogs, cats, rabbits. Sometimes, though, the job surprises her. Ten years ago she dealt with iguanas because owning the reptiles turned into a fad in American society; pot bellied pigs, snakes and alligators have also popped up on Kathy's radar. Sometimes birds and dog fighting rings have appeared as well.
People skills are essential and thinking on your feet is a must in this line of work, according to Kathy. She never knows who will answer the door when she knocks; and while most people are extremely defensive, some are downright unpredictable.
Making people feel comfortable with Kathy is the best skill she's developed over the years. Sometimes this means talking with the person she's visited from the beginning; sometimes it means she stands quietly while that person vents to her about whatever is on their mind. Either way, Kathy judges the best way to make some progress on the job and with the person.
Some people avoid showing her information as well; a lot of Kathy's people skills come from officers Bob and Ron, who taught her in the beginning how to work with difficult owners. The key is to approach in a manner that doesn't invoke feelings of being threatened; owners have to feel that the law officers are on their side rather than against them. It helps invoke feelings of respect from both parties.
But Kathy must not be too open with the owners, either. She must handle everything calmly and coolly, keeping her emotions out of the picture and remembering what her job is. And as angry as some people might make her, she must act respectful and kind, hoping that this will have a positive impact on the owner.
Kathy receives 30 calls a month and issues three to four citations a month on average. Some calls are unfounded and come out of overly concerned people; others involve vendettas and anger between neighbors, or disputes between spouses. No matter what the situation, a common problem is that the animals sometimes become the pawns, and Kathy's job is to give the animals a voice in the disputes.
Her job also calls for judgment calls and thinking on her feet, trying to decide the best course of actions for animals and their owners; sometimes working with an owner can cause more harm and suffering to the animal in the long run if they stay at the home, for example. But sometimes bringing an animal to the shelter means it will have to be put down for one reason or another. It's not always easy knowing the best course of action; second-guessing herself is as much a part of the job as her people skills.
Kathy believes that over the years she's also learned to be a better person thanks to working as an officer; her people skills are above average, to say the least. While she feels she's never dealt with blatant sexism or harsh judgments about her as a woman or as a person, she manages to understand where people are coming from when she knocks on their door. She's learned to avoid judgment on her part, or to ignore her prejudices and stereotypes completely; this allows her to handle each situation from as fresh a perspective as possible. Because she's spoken to and worked with people who live differently than she, she has a better understanding of where other people come from and what they deal with in life. And because she speaks to families, she often hopes that the children listen and learn from what she tells their parents. There lots of lessons to be learned by all parties in this job, she's found.