EVANSVILLE, Ind. | Kelly Yarde describes his work as an animal control officer as "a job, a passion and a love."
He figures that if those latter two feelings ever fade away, it will be time to leave and do something else. But the 46-year-old Army veteran is a long way from that point. Even on a cold, windy day, Yarde arrives at work motivated to take on whatever lies ahead.
Specific tasks differ from day to day, but Yarde and his cohorts know countless animals of various species are in distress and need their help — or anyone's help. Many of those animals are shivering during this unrelenting winter season.
"Animals act differently when it's cold," Yarde said as he pulled out of animal control's parking lot to go on a series of calls. "Those that are afraid of you, it seems the colder it is, they're that much more afraid of you. Even though you're there to help them, they don't realize it. Their willingness to give into you is less likely because of it."
Yarde is one of six animal control officers at the joint Evansville and Vanderburgh County government agency (there's one soon-to-be-filled vacancy). The agency has officers on the street every day and night of the year, including holidays. Officers enforce city and county ordinances and state laws regarding animal regulations, including gut-wrenching cases of animal cruelty.
Yarde pulled up to a residence on Olive Street, where a complaint had been filed of multiple cats — as many as 30 — in the home. He noted only five cats inside, spoke briefly to the homeowner and left. Local ordinances require animal owners to provide consistent shelter, water and bedding. Animals must be fed, but ordinances don't require food to be in front of them constantly.
At the Olive Street home, Yarde saw nothing on which he could base a citation.
"My goal is not to cite people, my goal is to get people in compliance," Yarde said. "(The ordinance) is a tool when needed. If we have repeat offenders, that tool is being abused, so we do go into citation mode."
Yarde's military service took him to Bosnia, Iraq and elsewhere. In the same way Yarde viewed military service as being part of a team, he said taking care of four-legged friends in Evansville and Vanderburgh County requires teamwork also, from animal control, the Vanderburgh Humane Society, adoption agencies and residents.
"If one link in the chain is weak, it falls apart," Yarde said. " ... I've talked with other animal control personnel throughout the country, and some of them treat the people like they're above them. We're not above the people. We're a community, and getting that respect from the community is just as important as getting respect from fellow law-enforcement officers."
Collecting roadkill is part of Animal Control's job, too. Yarde retrieved a deer carcass on Diamond Avenue and a dead rat from behind a store on Diamond.
"At least it's not having to pick up somebody's pet," Yarde said.
He and other animal control officers scoff at the term "dogcatcher" because it doesn't come close to describing what their work entails. Cases involving birds are common, including chasing them from homes. Animal control recently collected a beaver at First Avenue and Allen Lane. There are occasional calls about snakes.
Yarde said there's never a shortage of business. Yarde and other local animal protection professionals constantly encourage residents to spay and neuter their pets, to have microchips placed and to adopt from area shelters.
But they still see cases involving animals that are troubling, and Yarde said their emotions must be kept in check on such occasions.
He noted that local and state codes mandate pet owners to provide minimum living conditions for pets.
"They don't require you to love your pets. As long as they provide the bare minimum necessities, there's nothing we can do."
Information from: Evansville Courier & Press,