Workers at the Lawrence Humane Society have started carrying concealed guns to work, and they say it’s for a very good reason.
“We have to protect not only our staff and the animals, but other people that come here,” said Midge Grinstead, executive director of the animal shelter.
The shelter may be most notable for being full of yappy, irresistible dogs that give those melting adopt-me-or-else looks.
But the local shelter also is the only one in the state that investigates all cruelty and neglect cases in its county. The shelter’s three cruelty investigators respond to hundreds of calls a year, which bring a component of risk and danger to the job.
“We’re dealing with people that might not be in the best position in their lives and we might have to take their animals, or we might have to ask them questions that would make them uncomfortable and we just want to make sure that we’re protected,” said Kayse Aschenbrenner, investigator.
It’s the kind of tension that can sometimes spill over into the shelter when people are determined to retrieve their confiscated animals at no cost, Grinstead said. She said people have come inside the lobby on multiple occasions, pointing guns in workers’ faces, shoving them and swinging baseball bats at them.
Mark Grinstead, the director’s husband who also works at the shelter, is used to dealing with angry people. The former fire investigator said having a gun on his hip provides him peace of mind while he is on animal cruelty calls and working at the shelter.
“Just for safety’s sake, it’s nice to be there and have a concealed weapon,” he said. “It’s never visible; it’s just there, just in case.”
Aschenbrenner and the Grinsteads respond to calls throughout the county, where they’ve been through the training and have the ability to remove animals from people’s property without a search warrant.
They are not considered law enforcement, but have gone through special training at an animal cruelty school in Columbia, Mo., as well as conceal-carry training required by the state. Aschenbrenner is still pursuing her license.
While 80 percent of the calls the investigators respond to are simply an opportunity to educate pet owners about proper care, Midge Grinstead said workers do seize animals that have been abused, starved or injured.
“When you’re dealing with that element, things are going to escalate,” she said. “I’ve seen people lose their children while I’m taking their dogs and they’re madder about me taking the dog than they are about losing their kids.”
The violence associated with their work is escalating, the humane society director said, and doesn’t only follow the workers around at work, but also to their homes.
She recalled a situation last summer when someone pulled up in a car outside her home and pointed a gun at her while she was on her lawn mower.
“There’s a time and a place for everything, but having that extra protection and having the knowledge that you can protect yourself is good enough,” said Midge Grinstead. “I’m not a big weapon fan, but I need to know that I’m protected.”