Animal Studies Bibliography

Palmer, C. Eddie. 1978. Dog catchers: A descriptive study. Qualitative Sociology 1(1): 79-107.

Animal control programs have a long history, dating back to ancient Greece and the Middle East. Modern American animal control programs were first created to protect horses, necessary for their labor, from dog attacks. The programs often began on a free-lance basis in which people killed dogs or other bothersome animals for a bounty. Urbanization and pet overpopulation have produced greater needs for controlling strays and dealing with unwanted or dead pets, and thus animal control has become a separate occupation. Animals may need dealing with for several reasons. As offenders, animals might be disturbers of the peace (by barking, howling, etc.), a health hazard (spreading disease; bringing other animals that spread disease, for example by encouraging the spread of rats by tipping over garbage cans; contaminating food if let into production areas; causing car and bike accidents), a trespasser (roaming freely, not appropriately leashed or controlled by its owner); a property damager; an assaulter of people or other animals; or offender of collective and individual sensibility (e.g. people's sense of humaneness upset by seeing a dead carcass or hungry stray dogs). Since animals are granted certain rights to humane treatment by law, they may be victims of abuse, neglect, or use in illegal activities like cockfighting. Third, animals are a great financial burden, and families often let animals loose when they can no longer pay for them. All of these types of bothersome animals must be rounded up and dealt with, which is the job of the dog catcher. Participant observation with 11 workers in one city's dog catching institution revealed the work dog catchers due as well as their low social status and how they deal with it. The dog catcher's work involves driving around looking for strays, finding and disposing of animal carcasses, and responding to citizen calls dispatched to them. They often refer to their activities by the code number they use on the radio with the dispatcher who relays citizen calls to them (e.g. Boy, did I ever get a 95 today!). Stray dogs are sometimes very easy to catch and at other times impossible, leading the catchers on a useless chase. Often when the catchers are alone they do not even try to catch strays because they know their tactics probably won't work. Some dogs will run back to their homes, and the catcher must talk to the owner, who is often surprised that the dog was loose. When owners are not home, no one claims the dog, or the offense is habitual, the dog is brought back to the pound where the owner may come and bail it out and pay court fines for any citations issued. Catchers have an unofficial daily quota, and if they have not met it one day they would go to areas known to have strays. For example, in one poor area neighborhood kids rounded up dogs and kept them for the catcher, who noted that richer people drop unwanted pets off in poor neighborhoods, and the animals are then menaces, spreading around garbage and threatening children at play. Catchers also clean up animal carcasses from the streets. They often play a game of one-upmanship in exchanging stories about the goriness of the carcasses they found, and sometimes get back at the unappreciative public by leaving their dead boxes open so people driving behind them can see and smell the carcasses, or by driving their trucks into fast food parking lots for a similar effect. Catchers respond to citizen calls about dogs as well as any other animal problem that people aren't sure how to deal with. Their general perspective on people is that they are often crazy when it comes to animals (93). Calls are sometimes extremely trivial (e.g. a woman calling hysterically because a dog she didn't even see defecated on her lawn) or impossible to follow up on (e.g. a dog snapping at someone on the street, which is likely long gone to somewhere else by the time the call is even made). Catchers also respond to give aways, calls to pick up unwanted healthy animals from people. People likely use this service because since the pound has an adoption program, they don't have to face the fact that they are probably sending their animal to its death. Give aways may also include people who catch strays and keep them for the catchers. Catchers have an image of themselves as tough and as experienced dog handlers, and image tarnished when they have trouble dealing with or get bitten by a small animal. Their use of dog handler or animal control officer rather than dog catcher is a practice common to most occupations, in which people carefully choose the most prestigious-sounding name for their work. The public has a very negative attitude about dog catchers, and the catchers are aware of it. The high turnover rate in the job might be partly attributable to this stigma. Catchers get little support from the community, and are often harassed, receiving booing, spitting, and stone-throwing, having people refuse to talk to them or ignore them, place fake calls with the dispatcher, or release the animals the catchers had already caught. The Chief Animal Warden in this city has tried to improve their public image and their image of themselves by having uniforms, emphasizing cleanliness, and a Dog Catchers' Ball. Nonetheless, he describes the workers as poorly educated, unintelligent, often criminal or weird people working as catchers because they have no other options. Such workers are difficult to give a positive image. The marginal status of the legal offenses dog catchers deal with also gives them low status within the law enforcement community. They also have low status because the job involves almost no training, and what training there is is on-the-job and informal. Dog catchers, similar to other types of workers, have a hierarchy of types of cases they're dealing with, valuing more highly the more interesting cases that are more like real law enforcement (e.g. people who dog-nap in order to get the rewards owners advertise). Their lowest-status work is picking up carcasses and bringing them to the dump, and even at the dump they are looked down upon. As the animal problem grows, so will the need for dog catchers, so further study of their work should be done. As an occupation, using Hughes' (1958) license and mandate concepts, they currently have license to do their work but not mandate, as evidenced by their low status and the shabby treatment they receive.


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