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Nicole Montano’s job has taken her from a spider- infested culvert underneath a highway to a courtroom where she nervously awaited the outcome of a dogfighting trial. And in each place, she chalked up a victory.
Montano, 35, the lead animal protection officer for Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service (SCRAPS) in Washington state, says one of the most memorable rescues in her eight years on the job occurred when she had to retrieve a dog who had wandered into the culvert under I-90, a busy freeway. The opening was barely big enough for Montano to fit, but she crawled about 30 feet in—contending with some “very scary” spiders— and managed to get a control pole around the dog and slowly pull him out.
She experienced a different kind of triumph in 2008, when she helped secure the first felony dogfighting conviction in Washington state. The case began in 2007 with a call about a dog running at large, dragging a heavy chain. The dog was gone by the time Montano arrived, but she discovered an illegal kennel with eight adult dogs, exceeding the county limit of four. She got a search warrant; she and other investigators found a treadmill, bite sticks, and other dogfighting paraphernalia, as well as a suspect who had a dogfighting tattoo covering his back.
After a two-week trial, Montano awaited the jury’s verdict as her co-workers sat behind her, holding hands. “It was one of those kind of surreal moments,” she recalls. “… You kind of hold your breath and pray for the best, and then we got it.”
Montano, who has worked as a veterinary assistant and is completing a criminal justice degree, says her current job is nearly perfect, combining her passions for law enforcement and animal welfare.
In the edited interview that follows, she discusses her career with Animal Sheltering associate editor James Hettinger.
Animal Sheltering: What would you say is your favorite part of the job?
Nicole Montano: My favorite part would be the criminal investigations—taking the pieces of a puzzle and putting them together, and getting animals out of a bad situation while holding someone accountable for what happens.
In the years that you’ve been in the field, how would you say it’s changed?
For our department, I would say our animal cruelty investigations have become more structured, more organized. We are not tolerant of animal cruelty. In addition to that, where we once were the dogcatcher, we are now animal protection officers, or humane law enforcement, so the perception is also changing. We are really evolving in this industry.
If you could wave a magic wand, what aspect of animal welfare work would you most like to change?
Well, other than spay/neuters, I would say tethering laws. I think communities need to star t adopting anti-tethering laws, or have restrictions on the type of tethers that people use. We had two dogs die [last] summer that were both tethered in the middle of their yard— direct sun, no shade or shelter. One of the investigating officers took [one] DOA dog to the vet, and I was there for the necropsy part. It was probably about 20 minutes to a half hour from the time she removed the dog. And when [the veterinarian] cut into this dog, there was steam pouring out of this dog. This dog literally cooked from the inside out.
Does anything stand out for you as your proudest accomplishment?
I would say any time I am rescuing an animal from an abusive situation, or taking that animal out of a negative environment, that’s always a proud accomplishment for me. I think that’s what keeps me going, especially in this field, where it can be almost soul-draining, in a sense—the accomplishments that keep your passion there, and keep you wanting to do what you’re doing.