Sunday, July 13, 2014

Help Wanted!

As I said last month, things have been hectic around here. But things are slowly getting better. For starters, I'm getting a new partner tomorrow. Being that this will be the fourth animal control officer I've trained in five years, I'm mildly cautious. I sat in on the interviews this time. New Girl seems nice, appears to be competent, and has some animal/ government experience. But then again, so did the other three. I listened to the Chief honestly tell her about the crappy schedule and she said that it was fine. But then again, so did the last three. I also heard him tell her half-truths and flat out lies. I wish I had been able to talk to her, to tell her the whole truth, before she made her decision about taking the job. I would have told her:
  • To do this job you need a strong stomach and a thick skin. You also need a sense of humor and great friends who will give you a safe place to vent. Wine and brownies don't hurt either.
  • When Chief said "No, you don't have to work Christmas" he meant "You don't have to work Christmas if it's not your regularly scheduled day." If Christmas falls on a Tuesday and you work Tuesdays, he expects you to be patrolling the beach for dogs off leash. I've worked 5 out of the last 7 Christmases. New Year's too. And I write tickets on the beach every Christmas (because I'm a "female dog" when I have to work on Christmas.)
  • When Chief said "The schedule varies depending on the season" he wasn't kidding. You will work four 10 hour days, but in the summer some days will start at 6 AM and others will end at 8 PM -- in the same week. It will wreak havoc on your eating and sleeping patterns. It'll screw up your dogs too. But when he said "The schedule is posted a month in advance" he was lying. I'm happy to know two weeks out. Some days I'm just making it up as I go.
  • Uniforms are ordered through catalogs and will take 2-3 months to get here. Shoes too. You will not get to try them on first. And they're men's sizes. Don't expect them to fit well. I could probably smuggle a litter of kittens in my shirt and nobody would notice.
  • The town is less than three square miles. For better or worse, you will get to know most of the residents by sight, if not by name. And they will all know you.
  • Become paranoid. Everybody really is watching you. They call the police department -- or the Mayor -- for every infraction, real or perceived. People have complained that I didn't make a complete stop at a stop sign, I didn't wave back as I drove by, and once I was laughing while sitting in my truck. A City Commissioner complained last week that I didn't patrol the beach in a straight line. (Apparently zig-zagging around people, property and holes wastes gas.)
  • This town wrote the book on making mountains out of mole hills. Yes, it's ridiculous. It's easier if you just play along.
  • Unlike the big city, in a small town all calls have to be answered, even the stupid ones. For example, this call from last month: "There is a tortoise in front of my house and I'm afraid of it." I drove to her house and moved the tortoise, though I'm sure she could have outrun it if necessary.
  • You're an Angel when you help somebody, and an Asshole when you write that same person a citation weeks later. Some people may substitute the words Genius and Idiot, but you get the gist.
  • You will be referred to as synonyms for "a female dog" and "a female body" part on a regular basis. Hold your tongue and hit record on your body mic.
  • Every sick animal is rabid. Every raccoon out in the daylight is rabid. Every stray dog is rabid. Every feral cat is rabid. You can tell them otherwise, but nobody believes you.
  • The word "Animal" is written on your uniform in 3-inch letters. Therefore the public expects you to know everything about every animal God has ever created (for slightly over minimum wage.) They will yell at you when you don't.
  • Keep an extra shirt in your car. Put it on before running errands after work, else you will be hounded by "Can I ask you a question?" and "Do you have a minute?" people. If you say "No" -- no matter how politely -- they will call your boss and complain that you are rude.
  • Most cops have no clue about dogs. They know even less about cats. They will call you constantly.
  • Learn to turn off your phone before bedtime, else the night shift guys will call and wake you up for stupid reasons. This is an actual call I got after midnight: "Ms. X removed a rat from her cat's mouth and the rat bit her. What should we do with the rat?" By the way, you do not get paid for that call, or the hour of sleep you lost.
  • Learn rules and policies quickly because they will be held against you. But don't become too comfortable with them, as they change constantly. The same goes for the leadership.
  • Learn the buzz words as soon as possible. Chief is a numbers guy. Talk to him using statistics. Words like "public perception" and "liability" go far. Don't say "I." Truth is, he couldn't care less about you.
  • Take all the training you can get, and not just in animal related things. Think about computer classes, interpersonal communication, first aid/CPR, report writing -- not only are they relevant to this job, they're transferrable to other jobs.
  • Learn to network. You can't save them all, but if you know enough of the right people, you can save most.
  • Take up a hobby that has nothing to do with animals/work. Do it at least once a week.
  • The apathy and cruelty of others takes it's toll on your soul. Some days it takes everything you have not to slap people. Or hit them with your truck.
  • Keep your resume current. One day you're going to wake up and say "that's enough." It's OK. You may as well be prepared.
I wish my last three partners knew this stuff. Would they have taken the job? First one, yes. She was here two years before a better opportunity came up. She and I are still friends and she keeps me sane. Love you D! Second one, probably not. She was here less than a year and left when the first opportunity came along. I think the pettiness of this place broke her spirit, and a bad relationship finished her off. She's left animal control for good -- after doing it 16 years. *sigh* Miss you F! And the last guy? I knew his was ready to bolt before his 60 day evaluation. I think he may have used the terms "Ass-Backward" and "Mayberry" in his exit interview. He was here less than eight months and left with two days notice. How about New Girl? Anyone want to take bets?

Wow, I don't mean to be such a wet blanket. Maybe my new meds aren't working after all! Seriously, sometimes writing things down helps me sort them out. I can't tell you how many posts I've written and then deleted. I'm leaving this one up though, hoping New Girl stumbles upon it. (I've promised my boss that I would be kind and cheery -- gag! -- for the next month and that I wouldn't taint her opinion of the department.) Even better, maybe New Girl can show this post to my replacement, because I'm checking out Help Wanted signs myself. Anyone looking for a slightly irregular, college educated, sarcastic (ex)animal control officer/wife/mother/dog lover/active member of the community trying -- albeit poorly -- to juggle it all?

I'll bring brownies! -- K