Editorial: Training is a matter of money, priorities

Oregon law does not now require animal control officers to receive special training about the animals and people they deal with on a daily basis. That would change if a Hillsboro man, Marlin D. Starr, whose dog lost an eye in a confrontation with a policeman, has his way.

Starr and friends have formed a political action committee and hope to put a measure on the ballot in 2016 that would require training for police personnel who deal with animals. His proposal would also outlaw the use of “bite sticks,” often collapsible batons that are designed to give an aggressive dog something to chew on besides a human arm.

But while the measure sounds good on the surface, it could prove troublesome for the government agencies it’s aimed at.

Bend’s Crea Lancaster, one of the city’s community service officers who takes on animal control duties, says bite sticks can be invaluable and a variety of items can be used by police officers and others. Umbrellas, he notes, are particularly good for the general public because they can be opened, providing a wide barrier between dog and human. Used correctly, the sticks protect both dogs and humans.

Animal control work is no picnic. Too often, officers, city police or county sheriff’s deputies are faced with either aggressive animals or owners who feel their pet ownership rights are being interfered with. The potential for injury is real. Training can help reduce the potential.

Training is available. Technicians in Bend and in Deschutes County receive some, and Lancaster is certified by the National Animal Control Academy and is a member of the Oregon Animal Control Council. The Bend department, meanwhile, conducts in-house training for animal control officers.

But requiring training for all who do animal control work could be expensive, and police agencies are often strapped for cash, with more demands on money than there is money to meet them. Those in charge must decide where limited cash will go, and the public’s safety is their prime responsibility. They should be free to decide where that money is to be spent, whether on animal control training or something else deemed more critical at the time.