Public Health Heroes: BCHD Animal Control Officers Often Save Humans, Too

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Animal Enforcement Officer Supervisor Hodge made his way to the courthouse to get a warrant signed regarding an investigation of a home where animal abuse was suspected of taking place. Officer Hodge and other Animal Control staff met with Baltimore Police Department (BPD) officers to go to the house to execute the warrant. After entering the house, the Animal Control Officers did not find any of the dogs. Instead, the officers found the floors covered in dog feces and trash and a rancid smell in the air. What appeared to be a vacant home actually housed a family with two small infants.

The Animal Control Officers documented the evidence of animals in the home and the unsanitary conditions and left in their vans to attend to other emergency calls across the city. As a result of the warrant and the owner’s history of animal related violations, BCHD will revoke the license of the pet owners to prevent them from legally owning any other animals. The Animal Control Officers also alert Child Protective Services of the living conditions in order to initiate an investigation.

Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of Environmental Health, Mary Beth Haller often discusses the strong correlation between animal and human abuse. She described how in domestic abuse, abusers often harm or threaten to harm family pets as a means to control and torment their victims and that many stay in abusive relationships for fear of what will happen to their pet if they leave. The main approach for Animal Control cases is to not only focus on the animal, but to evaluate at the entire situation to see if abuse, neglect, or cruelty is happening elsewhere in the home or if residents need to be connected to resources in the city. The department collaborates closely across agencies with BPD, State’s Attorney’s Office—with a specially designated prosecutor—and Baltimore Housing Authority.  

Despite work that can be very emotionally draining or disturbing, the officers are jolly and excited, even in the early morning hours or after long shifts. Many of the Animal Control Officers told happy-ending stories explaining that they rescued animals and were able to personally adopt them. The walls of the office are lined with photos of many of the animals that they have saved throughout the years.

As Director of Animal Control Sharon Miller shared, not all of the animals that Animal Control rescues are so fluffy and cuddly. Officers have come across caimans, pigs, emus, iguanas, horses, and a cow. The department coordinates with wildlife rescues and sometimes the zoo to ensure that all of the animals have a safe place to go. Director Miller oversees a staff of 20, with 15 field investigators on rotating shift schedules.

Animal Control responds to approximately 22,000 service requests each year and almost 1,500 bites cases. The cases include endangered animals, cruelty, evictions, barking, unsanitary conditions, rabies investigations, and standbys to support police if a situation includes an animal.

One of the cutest members of the Animal Control staff includes Leila, a cat rescued by the team. She patrols the office, eating treats and spreading affection to the hardworking Animal Control team.

Thank you to the Animal Control team for all of your dedication to save lives across Baltimore!

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