Aiken County Animal Advocates
THE VOICE OF PAWS
(Palmetto Animal Welfare Services, Inc.)
By Joya DiStefano
His first assignment involved picking up a half-dozen cats. The area around the single-wide mobile home indicated young children in residence. A small white dog barked in one window; a black and white cat sat looking out another. A young man came out and helped load three adolescent cats and three kittens, all black and white, into the cages. The one that got away was not that hard to catch.
“He says they were dropped off on his property,” Officer Miller said as he climbed into the truck. Next calls were pick-ups: a cat in a county trap, then a puppy on a porch, both north of I-20. Almost as an aside he said, “I brought in 33 animals last week,” adding, “That was just me.”
Officer Miller is one of four animal control officers working for Aiken County Animal Services. These men, along with Chief Bobby Arthurs, cover all of nearly eleven-hundred square miles, including acting as occasional auxiliaries to the cities of North Augusta and Aiken. Their primary responsibility is public safety, but as the public-private partnership between county government and Friends of the Animal Shelter, Inc. (FOTAS) developed, bringing more resources to an overextended staff, the role of the animal control officer and shelter staff has been broadened while still upholding the public trust.
“You can be a dogcatcher or you can be an animal control officer,” Bobby Arthurs says he told the new officer last year during the ride-along as part of his training. And Officer Patrick Miller must have gotten the message.
Last spring Officer Miller was instrumental in arranging private help for a family who had moved and needed a fence to confine their dogs, all spayed and neutered with current rabies vaccines. On another case, a couple in very hard times, upgraded the care of their five dogs, got the rabies vaccines, and needed help getting dogs’ weight up. Officer Miller arranged temporary food donations. And that is not the only case.
There were the six dogs in the Valley. They were so thin that when the elderly woman, receiving her warning, took them to the vet for the rabies shot, the vet called Officer Miller to have him investigate the case. “I try to work with people,” he said, and has been assisting with donated food to help fatten up the dogs. He remained quiet a moment then said, “Where is the cut-off point?” He meant the line between compassion and fostering an unsustainable dependency, a boundary that an animal advocate as public servant must confront, or anybody, for that matter. He will find it, rest assured.
As we rode along the county roads, Patrick Miller talked about the job more than himself. We picked up the big beautiful gray cat in the trap. He talked about the emaciated horse that was in the road and no owner was ever found. There was the Billy goat that kept getting out while the owner was out of town. He and another officer caught the butting creature that, once captured, went meekly back to his pen, again. When we came to the puppy on the porch, I asked if I could ride her on my lap. He offered me a pad to separate me from the fleas. I could feel her bones through the filthy fur.
Riding the animals back to the shelter, Patrick confides that sometimes he lets an obviously good dog, one whose owners can’t be located, ride shotgun with him for company before taking it to the shelter. Patrick ruminates over a case involving multiple pit bulls. Throughout his involvement, the number and color of the dogs keeps changing. Maybe the guy is selling them. Yes, dog fighting is illegal in South Carolina, “But like everything else, you have to have proof,” he added.
At least the conditions provided those dogs have significantly improved. In fact, Patrick makes routine rounds to places he calls “trouble spots.” They have all improved. And, in the month of September, 436 animals came into the county shelter; 252 were cats and 182 were dogs; 236 cats were euthanized (93%) and 87 dogs (48%). Obviously, we need more animal advocates.