Animal control is about dogs, cats, (even turkeys) and people
By Collin Overton
EPHRAIM—When Stephen Brandt isn’t enforcing Ephraim city ordinances, he’s picking up stray dogs off the street. Sometimes, like in the case of last Thursday, those dogs bite.
“It was fine until I grabbed ahold of it and then it bit me,” Brandt said, pointing at two tooth marks from a small dog on the back of his hand. “Which is what they normally do.”
It’s only the second or third time Brandt has been bitten since taking the animal control job in 2016.
As the ordinance enforcement and animal control officer at Ephraim Police Department, Brandt gets 10 to 20 calls a week to collect at-large dogs and cats and transport them back to the pound. He worries mostly about animals running loose on Main Street; as this has been known to cause accidents.
“It’s not only the animals we have to worry about getting hit, it’s how the drivers drive,” Brandt said. “If they go nuts and think they should swerve, what are they going to cause? Use your logic there.”
Ephraim, like most places, has ordinances on dogs roaming around at-large and trespassing on citizens’ property. Whenever someone in town spots a loose dog and calls it in to the county dispatch, Brandt arrives, picks it up and transports it back to the Ephraim pound until owners can claim it.
Fortunately, most of the animals Brandt collects belong to someone. Animals not picked up by an owner within three business days will be considered abandoned and subject to adoption proceedings, according to Ephraim’s animal control ordinance.
Many of the dogs Brandt picks up go to Wag-N-Train, a local dog rescue foundation, he said.
With the job comes misconceptions. For example: the myth that dog catchers can directly put animals down after capturing them.
In order for the city to put a dog down, it has to be court- ordered, vet-ordered, owner-ordered or owner-requested after the dog bites somebody, he said. Animals not determined to be vicious by the city go back to their owners, who then have a say in what happens to the animal.
“I won’t arbitrarily take what an owner wants done and do it for them,” Brandt said. “I’ve had requests over the years to do that. I said ‘I don’t own them, I don’t do that.’ I say, ‘That’s your problem, that’s your issue, here’s your dog.’”
Sometimes it isn’t a dog, though, but a wild turkey. Residents spotted one walking down Main Street Thursday before calling it in.
Brandt was able to get about a foot away from the bird to throw the net and put it in the truck with the help of a couple of citizens. The turkey was to be collected by a Richfield wildlife refuge on Monday, Brandt said.
For him to have to trap an animal like that is rare, he said.
“Ninety-eight percent of the time someone has already caught them, and I just pick them up,” Brandt said.
Still, the job takes some force and grit; Brandt has had to use pepper spray on aggressive dogs in the past. However, Brandt says cats are worse to deal with. He seldom handles them without gloves, at least until he gets to know them, he said.
“I take precautions around dogs as much as I can—as much as I should,” Brandt said. “And there’s times when you’re going to get bit; that’s all there is to it.”
Before working for the city, Brandt was a truck driver, picking up new RVs in Illinois and Indiana. Once he saw the opening for the Ephraim position, he thought it seemed like a job that would keep him in the outside and more active.
Three years in, he says it’s often humans who are harder to train, not animals. Owners’ behavior is often the reason dogs are repeat offenders in the shelter and respond aggressively to people.
“It’s human beings who need the training of how to deal with a dog, and how to train the dog to respond reasonably to humans. You don’t do that through arrogance, you don’t do that through kicking the dog…there’s better methods.”
Still, Brandt values citizen opinions and said he incorporates them into how he does his job. He said he operates on a principle of logic and caution.
“People call me dog catcher and I say ‘Yep, I’m the local dog catcher.’ That’s not a misnomer to me… it is what I do, I do catch dogs. But I catch them in a logical manner,” Brandt said.