- Associated Press - Monday, October 15, 2018

GREENWOOD, S.C. (AP) - Owning eight dogs feels like a full-time job for him, but Greenwood County Animal Control officer Joseph Brooks said he wouldn’t trade it for the world.

He grew up around animals. His family always had dogs growing up, and relatives of his had a farm and kept horses.

“High school employment for me was at the Snead farm up in Hodges,” he said. “Mom and others always said I was destined to work with animals.”

Brooks has this connection with dogs and other animals he can’t explain - a sort of sixth sense that seems to soothe dogs even his fellow animal control officer William Cogburn has trouble with.

When Brooks was first hired at the Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office in 2007, he worked in the jail. Two years later he was given the chance to go to the state Criminal Justice Academy and became a road deputy, but by 2013 he had the job he had been reaching for in animal control.

“I requested it. I wasn’t put in there,” he said. “I wanted it when I first got put out of the jail, but I didn’t want to miss my chance to go to the police academy.”

Together with deputy Cogburn, the two animal control officers are responsible for about 4,000-5,000 animal-related calls a year, along with litter control duties on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

“I wish we had a lot more people to do it - right now we get stretched,” Brooks said. “There’s two of us. If we’re not here, uniform patrol responds if they can. If they can’t, they call us in.”

Even the title of “animal control officer” seems a misnomer to Karen Pettay, executive director of the Humane Society of Greenwood. She said Brooks goes beyond what’s expected of him to educate pet owners and himself.

“In each situation, he looks at what’s going to be the best result for everybody involved,” she said.

There’s not often a lot of training available for animal control officers, but Brooks said he and Cogburn jump at any chance to take a class. With only three county ordinances dealing with animals, Brooks said they’re left to learn and closely follow any changes in state law.

“When you come into a job like this, there’s not really a set standard for a lot of cases like these,” he said. “You know how to work a domestic violence case - there’s a lot of case law about it. There isn’t a lot of case law to follow when it comes to animal issues.”

For Brooks, explaining the law can be one of the most challenging parts of the job. Though he hates the idea, the law sees animals as property, and people are allowed to own property with very few restrictions. Animal control officers need to see specific conditions before they can seize a pet for its own protection. They look to make sure the animal has food, water and shelter.

“Our first thing is to make contact with the animal owner,” Brooks said. “I don’t like taking people’s animals, but if you ain’t treating that baby the way they need to be treated, it’s going to come with me.”

The officer will then file for a hearing before a judge, where the pet owner can petition to get their animal back. A judge can order the animal back, but can also place stipulations on its return, Brooks said. Overall, he said Greenwood’s been heading in a good direction and that pet owners are doing more and trying harder to take good care of their animals, along with the new county animal shelter guiding people to be more responsible and educated pet owners.

“He’s a great collaborator in our efforts as a Humane Society,” Pettay said. “He goes out of his way. He tries to avoid bringing animals to the shelter and tries to work with people.”

Earlier jobs in Brooks‘ life never could appeal to him like this job does. He said he needs to be outside and with animals; it’s what makes him happy at the end of the day.

“This is my first job in law enforcement and, honestly, hopefully my last,” he said with a laugh.


Information from: The Index-Journal, http://www.indexjournal.com

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