City of Lawrence animal control officers are tasked with enforcing city ordinances. Here’s a look at some of those ordinances:
• Owners cannot leave animals in vehicles for more than five minutes if the temperature is above 80 degrees or below 30 degrees.
• Animals cannot be left outside on a leash for more than one hour, and there must be at least three hours before the animal can be let outside again.
• Owners cannot have more than five dogs more than 10 weeks old on the same property.
• Dogs, cats and ferrets, older than four months, must be vaccinated.
• No domesticated animals are allowed to roam “at-large” in the city, except at designated dog parks.
• Fines for the above offenses range from $10 to $500, depending on the violation and number of offenses. Impounding fees are also imposed if an animal is taken to the Lawrence Humane Society.
About 4 p.m. on a recent weekday, animal control officer Linda Durkes stops at a home in North Lawrence where earlier she’d noticed a pit bull chained up outside with little water. She’s back, to see how long the dog has been left outside.
As Durkes visits with the dog, she gets a less-than-polite welcome from the animal’s owner, who storms out of a home across the street.
“You got a problem with my (expletive) dog?” yells the owner, who has a tough-guy look, complete with shaved head and numerous tattoos.
The owner grabs the dog, slings it over his shoulder and throws it inside the home.
Then he comes back to berate Durkes some more.
But in just a couple of minutes, the owner has calmed down, as Durkes explains the city ordinance he was violating: that dogs can be chained up for only an hour at a time and need adequate water. No ticket this time, but Durkes will return on another day to check on the dog.
To an outsider, the encounter looked pretty intense. But it’s all in a day’s work, Durkes explains.
“That’s not as bad as some of them,” says Durkes, aware that for many pet owners, the presence of an animal control officer is not good news.
“They’re just angry. They need somebody to be angry with.”
Seven days a week, Durkes and other animal control officers patrol Lawrence, enforcing city ordinances regarding domesticated animals: mostly dogs, sometimes cats, and occasionally rabbits, Durkes says.
The animal control office — a division of the Lawrence Police Department — also handles dispatch calls from area residents, often related to stray or vicious animals and dog bites. Oftentimes it’s simply a matter of education about city ordinances. But other times it’s for an adventurous canine sneaking out for a run — what the city refers to as an “animal at-large.”
Working two shifts throughout the day, the animal control officers keep busy, responding to calls from dispatchers.
In 2010 and 2011, the officers averaged 10 calls a day. In about 20 percent of those calls, officers confiscated an animal and took it to the Lawrence Humane Society shelter.
Durkes, in the large van with simple letters on the side that read “Animal Control,” shows off some of the tools of the trade. Several long poles with different contraptions sit in the seat next to her. They’re “snappy snares,” she explains, and are used to help safely catch wayward dogs. There’s also the thermometer they use to check the temperature in cars when someone calls about an animal left unattended in the heat.
It’s a fun job that keeps you on your toes, Durkes says.
During a two-hour ride-along with the Journal-World, Durkes dealt with the unruly dog owner, checked on traps to catch some stray cats, wrote a citation because two dogs sneaked away from their owner’s backyard, and followed up on a dog bite. On occasion, the officers are the ones who are bitten.
While the officers in the big van are not always welcome, Durkes says their role is that of animal advocate.
Durkes has three dogs, one of which she met on a routine neglect call.
“I’m an animal lover,” Durkes says.