By Lauren Cabral
Killeen Daily Herald
COPPERAS COVE - At 8 a.m. Friday, approximately one hour before Copperas Cove Animal Control opened to the public, its employees and a dedicated volunteer were already hard at work.
"This is one job where your day literally starts with poo," said Beau Brabbin, senior animal control officer, as he cleaned out litter boxes in the cat room.
Cleaning is done before morning coffee is served, and officers begin responding to calls early as well. But gone are the days, Brabbin said, of animal control officers being primarily dog-catchers.
Clearing out bat colonies and catching snakes are as much a part of the job as scraping up dead animals and bringing in strays. Officers respond to about 15 to 20 calls a day, and they're about to get even busier.
"Summer is our peak impound season," Brabbin said, noting wildlife is stirring and dogs are getting out of fences as neighborhood children are running from yard to yard.
A lot more comes with the territory as well, especially for Brabbin, whose office shelves are populated with law manuals, among other things. He must make sure codes and state laws are complied with, and when they aren't, he has to investigate.
"There's a whole lot of behind-the-scenes that people don't see that we do every day," he said.
Ups and downs
People also often miss the point of the city's Animal Control Department.
"Our primary concern and our primary responsibility is public safety," he said. "Animal welfare is second."
It's not a very distant second, he added, which is clear to see when watching the officers interact with the animals at the shelter.
"I've always loved animals," said Officer Howard Dixon.
"You have so many different kinds of animals, and every dog has its own character," said Tanja Allsbrook, who has been volunteering at the shelter regularly since January. "It's fun to work with the different characters."
The job does have its downsides, though.
"Putting dogs down, especially after we've become attached to them, is the hardest part," Dixon said.
Unfortunately, Brabbin said, it's a necessary evil. When the shelter gets full, it can turn away people volunteering their dogs for adoption, but it must always have room for strays.
In 2010, Animal Control impounded 984 dogs, 475 of which were adopted and 387 returned to their owners. Unfortunately, 333 dogs were euthanized.
The report for cats was even grimmer. A total of 800 cats were impounded, 149 adopted, 17 returned to their owners and 704 were euthanized.
Brabbin said he handles most of the euthanizations, because he doesn't want to make his staff go through the difficult process.
"I'm the guy who has to watch their eyes go lifeless," he said, noting he hates euthanizing animals. "That's the option none of us wants to see."
He added kill shelters (or non-no-kill shelters, as he likes to refer to them), are often shed in a bad light, especially when compared to no-kill shelters.
"We don't have the luxury of turning away animals," Brabbin said. "Support your non-no-kill shelters. Because without the community's support, where are these animals going to go?"
Prevention is key
Fortunately there are a number of things pet owners can do to keep the shelter's population down.
The biggest problem the officers face in Copperas Cove, according to Brabbin, is the same as in most places: People aren't responsible pet owners.
He urged people to keep their pets' tags on at all times, and keep them in their own yards.
Officer Jorge Oliveras said stray cats are a particularly prominent problem.
"Cats are not outdoor animals," he said, adding cats are not only in danger of being run over by cars and chased by dogs, but being trapped as well. He also urged people to spay or neuter their pets.
"We'll get sometimes three boxes a day of kittens. We just don't have the space to maintain that amount of animals," he said. "It's not a happy ending when they get to the shelter."
The officers also stressed the benefits of microchipping pets, but said the practice is useless if people don't keep their contact information up to date, a common mistake for the transient military population.
"We do get dogs in here from every state," Oliveras said. Nine times out of 10, he said, the telephone numbers on the animal's microchip are out of service.
"It's virtually impossible to track those people down."
Of course, communication with Animal Control is one of the best ways to handle lost and found issues. Dixon said too many people are unaware of animal-finding and animal-searching etiquette.
"Call the shelter first, that gives us a heads up," he said.
The officers said people often wait too long to call if their animal is missing. The shelter, or a person who finds a stray animal, can hold an animal for three business days until it goes up for adoption.
Animal Control offers adoption services for $15, and will microchip animals it adopts out, or dangerous animals, for $10.25, though the owner is responsible for registering the microchip.
The shelter is also a licensed quarantine facility, and provides euthanization services to people with suffering pets.
Oliveras said one way for people to avoid many of the problems associated with pets is to make sure they are prepared for the responsibilities of owning an animal.
He said he's had many experiences with people dumping or surrendering their animals when they have to move or when they get tired of them.
"Pets are a 10- to 15-year commitment, depending on the size of the animal. They're not disposable," he said. And when the shelter gets full, those abandoned animals do not meet a good fate.
"You can't save them all. We can't, it's just too many," he said.
They try, though. Brabbin told a story of a starved American Bulldog they picked up in a field weighing 45 pounds.
"We named him 'Flea,' because you could count the fleas in the tens of thousands on him," he said. "He was so starved he was on the verge of needing a blood transfusion."
After a year, Flea is in much better shape, thanks to both the shelter and his new owner. He weighs 130 pounds and is now named Diesel, and Brabbin said he's great with kids and has no behavioral problems.
"It really shows you what kind of animal you can have, what type of loyalty and devotion you can get," he said.
The officers and Allsbrook said watching animals improve their behavior is one of the best parts of working at the shelter.
"You work with them and you see them actually change," Allsbrook said.
"You show them love and they improve," Dixon said, adding his favorite part of the job is watching animals being adopted.
Brabbin said more volunteers are needed to socialize with the animals, not only to help with their maintenance but to help the officers determine the dog's behavior.
Allsbrook said she's loved helping out at the shelter, though Dixon's favorite part is one of the hardest for her.
"I always get attached to at least one of them," she said. "You can't help it."
The Copperas Cove Animal Shelter is at 408 Public Works Drive and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call (254) 547-5584 or go to http://www.petfinder.com/shelters/TX1063.html.
Contact Lauren Cabral at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7476.