Animal Advocate: Stray Thoughts from a 30-Year Career

Jennifer Clarke
By Jennifer Clarke September 15, 2017 21:11

Jennifer ClarkeThirty years ago I entered Animal Control having no idea what to expect.

Growing up around family and friends who treated animals kindly, I believed this was the norm. So I was shocked to find there were people who neglected their pets – even though they knew this caused hunger, thirst, discomfort and isolation.

Worse yet are the despicable ones who inflict pain and suffering. My faith in humankind was tested regularly.


All animals should be treated humanely. Whether they are destined for the dinner plate, trained for work or kept as family members, the animals we take care of should be free from fear, pain and neglect.

But over the years I learned that many deem only a select few animals worthy of humane treatment. For some it is only dogs. For others it is anything kept as a pet. For a few it includes horses. All mammals and birds make some lists.

This emotional speciesism is hypocritical. It champions one type of animal at the expense of others.

I was once told that feral cats “deserve” to exist. What does this mean? Do the small native predators, such as foxes and owls, who compete with this introduced species deserve to exist? Do the cows and chickens used to make cat food deserve to exist?

Dead deer do not psychopaths make

We prioritize Animal Control calls. Cases that threaten life and property, such as loose livestock on a highway, rabid skunks and aggressive dogs are the most important. Taking care of the live animals in the shelter is also critical. So dead animal pick-up sometimes has to wait.

It is amazing how many people feel this should be our top priority.

Many insist “the dead deer must be picked up before the children see it!” They contend youngsters will be traumatized to the point of becoming anti-social by seeing a dead animal.

I counter that kids are resilient. A couple of generations ago, when most of us lived on or near farms, children routinely witnessed the slaughter of animals. They understood where food came from and knew death was an integral part of life.

If anything, children who see dead deer are likely to tell their parents to drive more carefully.

And it’s no emergency that vultures are eating a carcass. That is what these scavenging birds do – and why not let them benefit from a deer losing its life?

Myths and legends

Some people say things about Animal Control that are simply untrue. This is exacerbated by the internet and its Greek chorus of imbeciles compelled to comment on everything and anything. They quote nonexistent laws and exaggerate situations. They make personal attacks before investigations are complete (even about people who have been exonerated).

“You are not going to kill him, are you?” ask some who have turned in stray dogs – as if I were going to immediately insert a needle. For one thing, law requires that we hold all animals for at least three business days after the day of impound. More importantly, we at Animal Control are dedicated to finding homes for impounded animals. It is a sad fact, however, that some will be euthanized.

There is no such thing as a no-kill shelter. But there are shelters with this designation where entry is limited to highly adoptable dogs and cats, and others where animals are stored for years, living in tiny, filthy cages with no social interaction.

Municipal and county shelters are left with the heartbreaking task of euthanizing. The cruel irony here is that people who are dedicated to helping animals must at times put them to death. It is an emotional burden that requires the ability to see the big picture.

And please don’t tell Animal Control employees that you could not do their job because “you love animals too much.” In addition to caring for their own beloved pets, these dedicated workers provide care and justice for animals victimized by society.

Many who adopt animals from our shelter like to say they picked up their dog or cat “the day before it was to be euthanized.” This is a whopper. There is no deadline for adoption, and we would never use emotional blackmail to force it.

A few words on semantics: When someone says he or she has a “rescue” dog or cat, the focus is the person, the self-designated savior. But when I hear that a pet has been “adopted,” it is all about the animal. A new member has been added to the family.

Spay and neuter is the answer

My single most important takeaway from working at Animal Control is just how important it is to spay and neuter.

It does not matter how many organizations are devoted to adopting out animals. There are far more born than there will ever be homes for. All local animal welfare groups – the Humane Society of Tuolumne County, Friends of the Animal Community, Sonora Cat Rescue – have programs to assist with the cost of spay/neuter.

So if you really want to rescue dogs and cats, make sure your own do not reproduce.

Jennifer Clarke, former manager of Tuolumne County Animal Control, retired earlier this year. Read more of her columns online at

Copyright © 2017 Friends and Neighbors Magazine


Jennifer Clarke
By Jennifer Clarke September 15, 2017 21:11
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