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A modest proposal: Let’s lose “control”

I have a simple and modest proposal — one that would involve only a name change, a slightly new way of thinking, and maybe some new stationery.

It has long been in the back of my head, but was brought to the forefront by recent cellphone videos gone viral — one (it used to be above but was removed from YouTube) of a dog being dragged through the halls of an animal control department in California; one (below) of a police officer slapping and otherwise berating a homeless man in Florida.

Both are examples of what can go wrong — and often does — when you give one group power over others. Both are about control.

Seeking, seizing and holding “control,” necessary as it sometimes seem in a so-called civilized society, almost always leads to bad things, including most of the dog abuse that occurs in our country. We get a little too caught up in the whole idea of having control — over our fellow man, over other species, over other nations, over nature itself.

Those put in control, as today’s videos show, tend to lose control when they see their control being threatened.

Hence, I propose that we do away with the term “animal control” and rename all those county animal control offices “animal protection” departments — protection being what they are mostly about, or should be mostly about, in the first place.

I’m not suggesting doing away with regulating and enforcing in the dog world — only that those doing it go under a different moniker, which, just maybe, would allow them to be seen by the public, and see themselves, less as heavy-handed dictators, more as noble do-gooders.

And animal control offices do do good. They operate shelters, find dogs new homes, rescue strays from the streets and abusive situations. The new name would put an emphasis on that, and take it away from “control.”

The term “animal control” is archaic — not much better than the even more outdated “dog warden” — yet most counties continue to use it. Employees see it on the sign when they pull into the parking lot, when they walk through the front door, on their memos and their paychecks. It’s a constant reminder, even though most of their duties are aimed at helping dogs, that they are, above all, strict enforcers and inflexible bureaucrats.

A simple name change could help fix that.

I, for instance, would love working as an animal protection officer; I’m not sure I’d want to be an animal control officer — even though most of what they do is about protecting animals. The name change could attract job applicants who see the mission as helping dogs, and possibly help weed out those who see all dogs as nuisances, and control as paramount.

In addition to improving employee self-esteem, it could help change the negative public perceptions that come with being the agency that tickets dog owners for leash-less or unlicensed dogs, euthanizes dogs when their facilities get too crowded, and sends the “dog catcher” out on his daily rounds.

There’s no reason — assuming a stray dog is being captured humanely, and treated humanely in a shelter, and put up for adoption — that the “dog catcher,” traditionally portrayed as a villain, can’t become a dog savior in the public view.

Having “Animal Protection Department” written on the side of the truck, instead of “Animal Control Department,” would go a long way toward that.

A simple shift in emphasis, and in how some agencies present themselves to the public, is all I’m talking about. It wouldn’t be only a matter of spin, though. Being an animal protection department would require actually protecting animals — and seeing that as a primary mission.

It wouldn’t make the world a kinder place overnight, and it wouldn’t keep cranky police officers from slapping homeless people — like I said it’s a modest proposal — but it could be a start, at least in the dog world, to a new way of thinking both about and among the government employees we entrust those duties to (and pay the salaries of).

They would be more about helping and educating, less about controlling.

A handful of agencies have at least worked “animal protection,” or “animal care” into their names, but most can’t quite bring themselves to let go of the term “control.”

Thus you have, for instance, the Los Angeles Department of Animal Care and Control.

Maybe they think losing “control” would be a sign they are losing control.

The term “control” might be appropriate when it comes to those agencies dealing with things like disease and traffic.

But not for those dealing with our family members.

Comments

Comment from Sarahkate
Time February 26, 2015 at 11:48 am

While I sort of agree with you (as an old English major, old in every connotation and denotation), IMO, changing the label may have a positive effect but it would take years, decades, generations. The problem is that the vicious cycle was launched when these professions began to attract those with a thug mentality and not weed out those who carried that mentality to extremes.

Once Pandora’s box has opened, it is virtually impossible to call back the black shadows. And of those shadows, the two called “blood lust” and “power” are the most incorrigible.

Comment from Becky H
Time February 26, 2015 at 3:13 pm

I like your way of thinkin’.