Weekly Volcano Blogs: Walkie Talkie Blog

December 20, 2011 at 10:30am

Tacomans in the doghouse

Pam Velder, Tacoma Animal Control and Compliance Officer, made it very clear to a citizen that she needed to ensure that one of her two pit bull dogs were not entangled in its chain. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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Star wasn't about to step outside the doghouse.

I couldn't blame the black and white Great Dane.  Would you want to walk across 20 feet of wet plywood covered with feces to greet a stranger?

Then again a dog is just a dog, and leaving it to live in deplorable conditions is OK.


To some of Tacoma's citizens, the answer is yes.

"I suspect this was a ‘throwaway dog,'" Pam Velder, an animal control and compliance officer for Tacoma, told me as we walked around the back of a house in East Tacoma.

"It was cute as a puppy, but as it got bigger it was tossed outside," Velder said as we stood in the large backyard - a big ass eyesore comprised of junk and garbage.

We walked out of the landfill of a backyard and around to the front door.

Velder knocked.

A few moments later, a man appeared. He appeared to be disengaged from reality.

"You have to stay on top of your dog's condition," Velder said. "She looks better since my last visit, but she still has sores on her butt and her living area needs to be cleaned up."

The man nodded his head, muttered something about paying more attention and went back inside.

PHOTO: Tacoma Animal Control and Compliance Officer Pam Velder logs data after a investigating a complaint. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

PHOTO: A man looks out his window during a visit by Pam Velder, Tacoma Animal Control and Compliance Officer, to check on Star, a dog who had been living in less than desirable conditions. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

For five-and-a-half years Velder, a perfect portrait of customer service and knowledge of pets, has diligently worked to educate pet owners of their responsibilities, and monitor animal environments. Dealing mostly with dogs and cats, Velder has dealt with snakes and, on one occasion, an alligator.

"We educate; we stress public safety and animal protection; we push spaying and neutering," she said as we drove to the next call. "We're out here to help people, not to ticket them or take their pets away from them.

Control issues

Tacoma Animal Control cannot take your pet - even the animals you treat as less than garbage - away from you unless the animal is in imminent danger of dying or the officer has a search warrant to do so.

"Animals are property, and we must operate within the confines of the law," Velder added.

That said, animal compliance officers often find themselves in the crosshairs of public anger.

"We simply can't take away and give a pet to a deserving family like some of our citizens would like us to do."

When that doesn't happen, some folks get pissed at Velder.  It's common for folks to call the animal control center and read her the riot act.

"We only enforce compliance laws; we are not a rescue agency," Velder said.

During the summer months, Velder receives 50 to 60 calls daily during her eight-hour shifts. In the wintertime, she handles 10 to 15 calls per day. Calls to Tacoma's Animal Control Center are decreasing, according to Joe Hunt, lead animal control officer for Tacoma. The agency runs on a budget of $500,000 a year, which includes pet licensing.

The fear is if the budget is cut, the progress Animal Control has made will erode.

PHOTO: One of the problems facing Tacoma Animal Control and Compliance Officer Pam Velder is the feeding of feral cats. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

This is bad

The woman of the house, which sits behind an elementary school, is a crack head. The man of the house is, well, gone.  The front yard is a cluster of plastic ornaments, children's toys, assorted junk and weeds.

Why are some people allowed to own pets when they clearly can't take care of themselves, I wondered. 

Velder told me to stay back, out on the sidewalk. I wondered if she might need to use her Taser.

The reason for the visit centered on Joker, a malnourished-looking pit bull. Apparently the dog lives tangled in its chain, barking like hell, which in turn prompted neighbor complaints to the animal control center.

Velder had been to the house before to talk to the woman.

As the two women talked, I watched Joker climb over a fence and hang herself.

"What's he doing out there?!" the woman yelled at me as I watched the dog version of Hang 'Em High. "I'm not properly attired to be photographed!" Of the 12 comments she threw my way those were the only one not loaded with expletives.

I'm happy to report the dog survived and the owner received a citation.

"The next time, it will be a $250 fine," Velder said.

PHOTO: The Humane Society in Tacoma has a large number of dogs and cats up for adoption.  If not adopted, they die. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

Tacoma Humane Society

My last visit was to the Tacoma Humane Society, a big homeless shelter for stray animals. Most of the cages were filled with dogs and cats. Some of the pets had belonged to service members at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

"Some on the bases just leave their pets when they leave," Velder said as she stroked a dog's ear.

Apparently the mantra of leaving no soldier behind doesn't extend to some of the soldiers' pets.

My tour over, I thanked Velder for the work she provides in making Tacoma a better place to live.  She emphasized that the Animal Control Center had made significant progress in dealing with the animal control.

Perhaps the Tacoma City Council should keep this in mind as it contemplates budget cuts.

PHOTO: Tacoma Animal Control and Compliance Officer Pam Velder writes a warning.  If the warning is ignored, then the violator will face a $250 fine.  Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

For more information on the Animal Control Center, including the phone numbers to call for animal assistance, click here.

Filed under: Crime, Tacoma,

Comments for "Tacomans in the doghouse" (1)

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Sarah said on Dec. 20, 2011 at 9:15pm

You have to be an animal lover to have a job like that. It must be hard to walk away from those animals knowing the laws in place won't let you 'rescue' them.

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