When Camp Verde Marshal’s Office Marshal Nancy Gardner began her tenure five-and-a-half years ago, she discovered that 90 percent of the animals captured by CVMO Animal Control were euthanized.
The year prior to her taking command, the department put down 354 dogs and cats.
“We had a freezer full of dead cats and dogs,” Gardner said, adding that her analysis of Animal Control’s procedures — which were not only costing CVMO a lot of money but leading to the deaths of many animals that could be adopted — led her to the conclusion that something needed to change.
“It was a shock, how we were operating,” she said. “It wasn’t only a financial thing. The whole system was broken [and] our rate of adoption wasn’t working.”
Gardner ditched the shelter concept and spearheaded the construction of a $16,000, five-enclosure impound facility on CVMO grounds. Meanwhile, she worked on turning the enforcement-centered department into one that sought more to educate the public and less to punish it.
Gardner called Animal Control’s new program Helping Paws and began distributing brochures that outline ordinances, provide educational resources and establish the program’s goals in partnership with the community:
- Reduce homeless and unwanted pets by spaying and neutering.
- Reduce the roaming pet population by building fences and using leashes.
- Reduce nuisances to neighbors by being aware of bothersome animal noise.
- Encourage licensing practices for dogs so they can be returned to their owners.
“What we’re working to do is create a community of responsible pet owners,” Gardner said, adding that Animal Control typically responds to the first incident of a dog on the loose with a warning, and perhaps a few pointers, rather than with a dog at large citation.
Generally, CVMO doesn’t even send Animal Control to find a dog on the loose unless it’s a danger or is itself in danger: Instead, CVMO reaches out to its greatest asset, the community, in an effort to locate the dog and contact the owner.
“Our goal is not to go and hunt for hours for a dog we’re never going to catch,” Gardner said, especially, she added, when that dog will likely find its way back home. Once an animal, generally a dog, makes its way to the impound facility, CVMO puts out a notice via Facebook to locate the owner.
Should that fail, three Animal Control volunteers begin the process of finding the animal a home.
The results, compared to the years prior to Gardner becoming marshal, are impressive. In 2016, 97 dogs were impounded, 44 of which were returned to their owners. 30 dogs were sent to Verde Valley Humane Society, while 21 were sent to rescues. Two dogs were euthanized, one due to a neurological condition and another to cancer.
“Since I’ve taken over, we’ve rarely euthanized more than one dog a year,” Gardner said.
Although CVMO typically doesn’t take cats into its impound, in 2016 four cats were euthanized by Animal Control, three after being hit by cars and one who was experiencing seizures.
“Our goal is to return the pet to the owner,” Gardner said, adding that if this isn’t possible, Animal Control makes every effort to find the animal a home. “It seems like as time goes on we have more luck placing animals .... [Our volunteers] have a genuine love for these animals.”
CVMO is looking for a second Animal Control position. The position, Gardner said, is broad in scope and responsibility. Animal Control has recently dealt with an emu on the loose, a pig who’d slipped its pen, guinea fowl running afoul and a sheep on the lam.
Coupled with educating the public about responsible pet ownership, it’s a big job with clear rewards, especially for the community-minded animal lover.
“It’s an enforcement position that’s actually enjoyable,” Gardner said. “You get to go out and talk to the public."