Webinar presenter Bryan Harkey answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Getting Started in the Animal Control and Protection Field. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: How do you convince your city or your town, that there needs to be more staff? In Medina’s case, they were talking about how you, they’re filling all kinds of different jobs – the groundskeeper, kennel tech, vet tech, shelter manager, ACO, and basically, anything else that the city asks for. How do you build that case to get more staff on hand?
Bryan Harkey: That’s a really good question. It is not an easy one, because we deal with that same problem here in Charlotte, especially like niche jobs, where you’re really trying to fill a specific situation, and it’s a hard thing. Basically, how we do it, is we just ride up the request, and we send it to our HR department, and we do it repeatedly, and a lot of times, it takes a year to fill the one job tasks we had. If she’s running any issues like we have. They only allot us so many positions, and we have to give or take for something. So, if she has something she’s not using and willing to give up, to get the other position, sometimes that works best. Sometimes we have to lose something to get something. I don’t know if it works the same in her county, but that happens to us a lot. So, I’ll give up, say I had 38 animal controls positions, animal control officer positions, originally. I’ve given up, I’m at 32, so I’ve given up six positions. To create six new ones throughout the shelter, but it’s just, it’s the game you play in government is just how they make it.
Audience Question: What kinds of challenges can we expect to find in a new job when we move across state lines? So, they’re there in Charlotte and they’re moving to Colorado? What are the challenges in taking this job across state lines?
Bryan Harkey: The biggest challenge is going to just be… the good thing is you’ll have a core understanding of how to read law, or read ordinance, and these things are prepared and written by attorneys, and we all know exactly what that looks like. It’s hard to follow. So, your biggest challenge is, one going to be learning your new city. You’re learning your new area, and then number two is just taking the information you already know, and how to read these laws and interpret them in your new counties or cities. And sometimes terminologies are a little bit different. So, you have to take that into consideration.
Audience Question: Are ACO sworn, or are they armed?
Bryan Harkey: That’s also a County by county. Here in Charlotte, they are not. But if you go across the state line in South Carolina, their animal services are sworn. So, some of them are anyway, but, yeah, it’s a county by county or city by city decision. It’s not, it’s not the same everywhere.
Audience Question: Bryan, you said that your agency is part of the police department. Are all agencies housed with the police departments or are some non-profit organizations are, how are these structured?
Bryan Harkey: They’re structured… this is the same thing, I hate to keep going back to the same answer but, county by county, like my neighboring county, Union County, it’s with the Sheriff’s Department. But inside of Mecklenburg County, I have an animal control that is standalone, meaning, it’s not under the police department. It’s just, it’s just a standalone entity within the government, their city government. And then, I have another city inside the county and Mecklenburg, and they are under their police department’s guidance. So, it is literally all over the spectrum. There’s no right answer.
Audience Question: What are some of the key characteristics or personal skills that you look for when hiring an ACO?
Bryan Harkey: That’s a good question. So, some good character things that I look for. I look for people that can be aggressive, but not towards people or animals, but towards the resolution of a situation. Meaning that government response kind of has a stigma of being slow or lacking resolution. So, I’ll look for people who are, you know, they have the motivation to see things. I look for people who, who are honest, all the time, or at least they are presenting me. At the time of the interview, as what they seem to be an honest person, you can kind of pick up on these things if you just sit through enough of these. You learn when people are giving you everything they have, or when they’re holding back, or when they’re using answers that are they’ve kind of like practiced before they got there. You may want to look for somebody who kind of does the right thing when nobody’s looking now. A lot of these things are, I’m basically explaining the perfect person. But, you know, people who own their mistakes, people who know animals, who you can tell know animals when they, you know… And I’m not expecting every person, or I’m never going to hire every person that only knows how to deal with animals does. That’s not always a good answer, either but those are kind of some of the things I look for.
Audience Question: What are some of the hardest things an ACO has to be able to deal with?
Bryan Harkey: Probably testifying in court, writing reports. There’s a lot of people that are really good with animals but writing reports. It’s amazing how well-rounded you actually really need to be. Because you are creating a police report, so that’s what you’re writing. And, you know, you need to be able to write a good report. You need to be able to testify in court or at least learn to testify in court. You need a good understanding and comprehension of ordinance and state laws, or at least be able to be educated to understand these things, be able to grasp this knowledge and then use it and enforce it. But, yeah, those are some of those.
Audience Question: Do tattoos and other body modifications matter in getting hired as an ACO?
Bryan Harkey: It depends, yes, no. Some agencies, some and some police departments are way more progressive. You can see, like Georgia or other states around the South, some of these larger cities allow people with beards and tattoos. My agency does as well. Some they allow some tattoos, as long as they’re not like racist or you know, different things like that obviously, or have to be certain size-wise. But I mean, it’s different for every place. I have tattoos. There are other people that work that have tattoos. It is just you know, tasteful or covered up. Whatever the rules or you have to follow.
Audience Question: Are there any special certifications or specialty certifications that you would recommend? So, for example, like getting certified due to be able to investigate animal fighting cases, those kinds of things?
Bryan Harkey: I don’t really know if you can search those. So, when it comes to dogfighting investigators, most of that happens while you’re on the stand. Where a judge declares that you are an expert witness. But you can go to study and investigate dogfighting or cruelties situations throughout your career, that will basically set you up for success once you get on a stand to have a judge consider you as an expert witness because that’s basically what it boils down to. You can go and learn these things, and then use them in your investigations. Other trainings, like NACA trainings ACO 1 and 2, these trainings touch on this. And then you’ll have, HSUS has regularly scheduled programs that teach you things about, hoarding or dog fighting, or all aspects of cruelty. So, all of these things are good, and they all help build your, you know, your resume. But actually, being you know, considered an expert, you had to do that on the stand.
Audience Question: Are background checks, pretty typical, when you’re getting hired as an ACO?
Bryan Harkey: Yes, everybody usually does it. Especially if they’re related to any police department or sheriff’s department, you’re going to have a background check. ——- They’ll do a polygraph, some places require that, as well. We actually required that up until like a year ago.
Audience Question: You talked about on-the-job training; how long do you think it takes for a typical employee to really start getting proficient at the job?
Bryan Harkey: So, typical trainer with me, with our facility, we do a 16-week FTO field training officer session. And then, I would say, usually, after about a year, you know, because we can teach you everything you need to know in 16 weeks. But you’re not going to know how you, yourself, as a new officer are going to implement this training until you start doing it alone. So usually, typically, after about a year, you’ll start feeling extremely comfortable. But 16 weeks is about the frame rate, in which you work with someone step by step learning every corner.
Audience Question: Would you say it’s more difficult dealing with the animals or with their owners themselves?
Bryan Harkey: Owners with camera, cell phone cameras stuck in your face, that’s the hardest thing to do.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Getting Started in the Animal Control and Protection Field.