Tina Updegrove’s first day as the Loess Hills Humane Society’s animal control officer was March 13.
But that was not the Red Oak native’s first day as an animal control officer. Updegrove brings with her a wealth of experience after 16 years in the field. For 13 years, Updegrove served as an animal control officer and animal cruelty investigator at the Nebraska Humane Society. For the two years prior to joining Loess Hills, she was working with the Animal Rescue League in Des Moines.
If her nearly 20 years of experience has taught her anything, she said, it’s that being an animal control officer is more than just controlling animals.
“It’s all about being able to deal with animals, their owners and the enforcement issues all together,” she said.
Updegrove is the shelter’s only full-time animal control officer. Shelter manager Kelly Nutter can handle animal calls if necessary when not running the day-to-day operations at the shelter, but Updegrove is typically “on call” 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
As the official animal control officer on the small staff – three part-timers work with Nutter and Updegrove at the shelter – she does it all, from going out on calls and cleaning cages to issuing citations and working with the public on nuisance complaints.
“I talk to people who might complain about their neighbor’s dog barking,” said Updegrove. “I go out there and have a discussion with the owner of the dog and we work on how to correct the behavior. It’s not always enforcement, a lot of times it’s just working with owners of animals so they have better knowledge of their animal.”
The 6,000 square-foot shelter is the only one of its kind in a three-county area opened in 2009, the same year the county first instituted mandatory dog licensing. Updegrove said convincing rural owners to license their dogs is a challenge faced by many rural shelters.
“They don’t like it,” said Updegrove of rural dog owners and licensing. “But they need to know it’s for the safety of their dogs. That’s what we try to get people to understand; not only is it the law, it’s for the protection of their animals. It’s the same with rabies vaccinations. Just because you live out in the country it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have it, actually living out in the country is a bigger reason to get the rabies vaccination.”
Updegrove, who comes from a law enforcement family – her father is a retired police officer and husband Tony is the former Montgomery County Sheriff – said it’s vital LHHS work closely with the Mills County Sheriff’s Office and the county’s various police departments on animal control issues. She serves as that conduit.
Recently, Updegrove assisted the sheriff’s office on a call concerning a dog left unattended in the back of a pick-up truck. After being called out, she was able to calm the dog while the owner returned, preventing a potentially dangerous situation for the animal and deputies.
“I’m trained to deal with the animal and they’re trained to deal with bad guys,” she said. “They know I will respond in those situations and back them up 110-percent.”
Prior to her arrival, LHHS assisted the sheriff’s office in the seizing of two dozen malnourished and neglected pit bulls in rural Pacific Junction. In that case, the owner of the pit bulls, Michael J. Simet of Omaha, was convicted of animal torture and neglect, with the assistance of the LHHS.
“We’re also working on some other investigations, but I’d rather not comment on those,” said Updegrove.
Strays picked up by LHHS are scanned for a microchip to determine their owner. If the dog is not identified, it is held for five days to give the owner time to reclaim their animal. If the owner of the stray does come in, the dog must be licensed and proof of vaccination must be provided before the animal is released. If no owner attempts to reclaim the dog after five days, it is evaluated for adoption.
As of April 1, reclaiming unlicensed dogs from LHHS will cost owners $50.
The cost to license a spayed or neutered dog is $10; unaltered dogs are $25. Failure to license dogs on time can cost owners from $15 all the way up to a possible $50 citation.