MILTON — Working for the Santa Rosa County Animal Services department — which responds to calls related to wild animals and pets — at times can be stressful, according to Department Director Dale Hamilton.
“We have 19 employees total between staff and animal control officers,” Hamilton said Tuesday, addressing Santa Rosa commissioners during their budget workshop. “They work seven days a week.”
During 2016, six officers responded to 6,600 calls and filed 820 bite reports.
“That’s a lot of calls,” he said. “They’re a wide variety from citizens to law enforcement to emergency medical services … Every position is stressful. There are a lot of emotions.”
Whether responding to a dog bite or a dog barking, officers have an element of wariness, according to Hamilton.
“You never know who you’re dealing with,” he said. “You never know what you’re going to run into.”
The officers have radios and check in with the office but sometimes they take too long to do so.
“A lot of people don’t like us for whatever reason,” Hamilton said. “It can be rough sometimes. We have had to call the Santa Rosa Sheriff's Office on several calls just to have somebody there.”
Taking bite reports can be stressful, according to Hamilton.
“If you get bit and have to go to the hospital, by state law (the hospital) has to notify us,” he said. “Most people don’t know that. We show up to do a bite report and they think we’re taking their dog. That’s not the case at all ... We’re not taking the dog but doing a bite report.”
While Animal Services also responds to barking dog calls, they don’t always involve legitimate nuisances.
“We have (calls about barking dogs) every day,” Hamilton said. “We have people call saying things that are not true to get somebody in trouble.”
They respond to calls on illegal dog fighting, too.
“You have to have proof, a search warrant,” he said. “You need to have witnesses … They will fight in the middle of the woods. Without somebody on the inside helping, it’s hard to prove.”
Technology is helping to mitigate some fears for officers in the field.
Animal Services, along with other county departments, is implementing ESRI Workforce, a smart phone application that tracks drivers.
If a driver hasn’t checked in with the office, staffers can see if he or she is still at the same location. While the program can be used to hold drivers accountable, this isn’t the reason Hamilton likes it.
“The safety part of it for me is what I’m impressed with,” he said.