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It’s no secret that many humane societies these days are dropping their animal control contracts. So it may come as a surprise to hear that the National Animal Control Association (NACA) gave its 2013 Outstanding Animal Control Agency Award to the Nebraska Humane Society (NHS) in Omaha, recognizing the shelter for its work in 2012.
It’s the first time that a humane society has won the award, according to Jamie McAloon Lampman, director of Ingham County Animal Control and Shelter in Mason, Mich., who chairs NACA’s awards committee. “I’ve been doing it for four years now, and we haven’t even had a humane society apply for this category,” she says. “They’ve been the only one, so they had to do well to beat out the competition. I hope it inspires more humane societies.”
Judy Varner, president/CEO of NHS, is glad to be bucking the trend. Humane societies are where animal control should be, she says: “Once the animals become ours, then we want to set the standard for how animals should be cared for in our community, and as long as an animal is in our care … they’re going to receive the best care we can provide.”
The awards committee, McAloon Lampman says, was impressed by the size and scope of NHS’s animal control efforts. NHS provides animal control service for the Omaha metropolitan area, which consists of more than 600,000 people. In 2012, 18 animal control officers assigned to the shelter’s field department responded to more than 41,000 calls for service, while driving more than 300,000 miles and issuing more than 1,000 citations. The average response time for emergency-level calls was 15 minutes, in a patrol area of 300 square miles.
“We look at those kind of things, because we all do that [work], so we can relate. We know exactly what that means,” McAloon Lampman says.
NHS noted on its nomination form that its investigations unit consists of two investigators who wrote more than 50 warrants and impound orders for animal cruelty and dangerous animal cases in 2012. The unit obtained numerous felony convictions for animal cruelty. “They’re well-trained; they know what they’re doing when they get to court, because they’re getting the convictions,” says McAloon Lampman. “Their numbers indicated that they did an excellent job of following through all the way to the end.”
At shelters that serve both humane society and animal control functions, there can be tension between those roles, and Varner acknowledged that’s occasionally the case at NHS. Her shelter’s efforts to set up a program offering free sterilization for pit bull-type dogs has been complicated by the fact that NHS is also the agency enforcing all the ordinances pertaining to these dogs.
“I think people get nervous about coming to anything we do, for fear of somehow they’re going to get in trouble. And so if we were not providing enforcement, I think it would be a little easier. … I think if you are a standalone humane society, then you can always be the ‘good guy,’” she says.
But Varner doesn’t think her shelter’s animal control function conflicts with its mission as a humane society. In 2012, the shelter’s live-release rate was 85 percent for dogs, 61percent for cats, and 72 percent overall, according to Pam Wiese, vice president of public relations and marketing.
The award provided an infusion of energy for the animal control staff, says Mark Langan, vice president of field operations. “This is kind of a thankless job, being an animal control officer, and they catch a lot of flak in the field for things that they do. So the fact that NACA told us we’re the best … really made their day, and let them know that what they do is very important work.”