Animal welfare officers, more than dog catchers

animal welfare officers

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – You’ve seen them out on the street. They may have even found your pet for you, but animal welfare officers do a lot more than pick up stray dogs or cats. These law enforcement officers put their safety on the line every day.

“I’ve been involved with animals since I was probably five.”

Corporal Kathryn Waite knew she wanted to go into law enforcement, but her real passion is animals.

“I thought this would be perfect for me. I love my job. Everyday’s a different day, you just never know what’s going to happen,” said Waite.

Yet, Corporal Waite says it’s the people, not the animals, who make her job dangerous.

“I find it very challenging, it’s very risky,” Waite said.

She’s on her own- to issue citations, write up reports and conduct investigations.

Waite says there are less than 30 animal welfare officers to cover the entire city. What’s more, she says officers responded to nearly 34,000 calls last year. Waite says that makes their job even more challenging. She says that large call volume means they have to prioritize their calls. Bites, APD assists and injured animals are all at the top of their list. Yet, it means you likely won’t see an officer respond to a stray dog or cat right away, unless they’re in the area. In fact, there’s a chance Waite won’t get to all of her calls for the day, due to emergencies.

Waite says the amount of paperwork officers have to complete is enormous. She says she types of her notes in the field, the same notes she might use as evidence in a case.

She says her toughest calls are when she has to help police and fire respond to bodies and hoarding cases.

We rode along with Waite to find out what other sorts of calls she sees on a daily basis.

“Safety is our number one thing so, I’m going to go ahead and turn around here,” said Waite, planning an escape route as she pulled up to a defendant’s home. He’s charged with animal cruelty for allegedly killing a dog.

She knocked on the door and greeted the man, who asked News 13 stay outside. We listened from there.

“I’m going to issue a citation for animal cruelty,” said Waite. “You killed the dog.”

While the dog’s owner refused to press charges, the man’s confession means Corporal Waite will still issue a citation, but for a misdemeanor. Only APD could have filed felony charges.

“I’m already done with my investigation because, pretty much, he already admitted to me he threw the dog and killed it,” Waite said.

Yet, not all cases are this cut and dry.

Waite walks into a Bank of America where she’s welcomed by an APD officer and bank employees.

“Hi. How are you? Corporal Waite, Animal Welfare. What can I do for you?”

The call is a 10-18. That’s a dog bite, but Waite isn’t so sure.

“It’s just a scratch, so it’s not a bite,” said Waite, examining the young girl’s injury. “Accidents happen and the thing is, whenever you see a dog that you don’t know, you never pet them without permission.”

“No. She’s saying it was with his teeth,” said a witness.

“Are you sure?” questioned Waite.

Waite stepped outside to speak with the APD officer on scene.

“The kid goes right up to the dog and starts petting it for 17 seconds, goes back to mom, goes up to the dog a second time and the dog just jumps up- unknown bite or unknown claw,” the officer explained.

Waite has no choice. She must order the dog be quarantined.

“We have to treat it as a bite because you never know.” Waite said.

That’s just it. Waite doesn’t know what her next call will bring.

In light of that dog bite call, News 13 asked Corporal Waite about what she sees when it comes to bites. She says, statistically, about 80-percent of bites are in-house and small dogs, like dachshunds and poodles, are most often the culprit.

Despite her workload, Waite is still able to make time for a program called Operation Street Dogs, providing food, blankets and services to pets on the street. It’s all donation driven.

News 13 plans to continue to cover Waite’s animal cruelty case and will bring you more information as it becomes available.

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