RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Today marked the official beginning of a grassroots effort to redefine animal control in Virginia. Right now, animal control is governed under the Department of Agriculture, and a lot of people feel that is not the right fit.
A major component of animal control is welfare, and it is officers like these that you will see responding to help with stray or rabid animals. But there's another, more dangerous side, you might not always think about. Animal control officers detect and fight against serious felony crimes like dog-fighting and animal cruelty.
"Animal control officers enforce laws, they arrest people, they put people in jail," said Hanover County Animal Control Officer Sgt. Kevin Kilgore, who is the President of the Virginia Animal Control Association.
He says animal control officers provide an important service to the community, a big part of which has a law-enforcement component. Crimes against animals often lead to other violence like child or spousal abuse and drugs.
Right now though, animal control officers do not have the same standing as police officers or sheriff's deputies. For example, if an animal control officer was shot on duty, that would not be considered a capital crime. That's why many believe the first step is to be governed by an agency other than the Department of Agriculture.
"We are looking for more protection, more safety for our officers, more training, record keeping," Kilgore said. "Animal control is an evolving profession and we want to be sure our standards continue to improve."
While these officers aren't exactly sure where and when they can be governed differently, they'll continue to work towards that goal.
"We are attempting to find where we can go, whether that is under another agency or whether we have to be our own agency," he said.