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Animal control unit captures and protects

By By ANNA M. LEE Assistant Editor
For six years, the Escambia County Sheriff's Office has had dedicated officers to handle animal control issues in rural parts of the county.
Animal control officers must be trained in handling animals, dealing with aggressive animals, using control poles and controlling the animals in a way that is safe for the officer and the animal.
The sheriff's office hired two new animal control officers, Justin Taylor and Marcus Floyd, in October, and they were trained by Leggett, who has worked with animal control for more than three years. The new officers will also undergo animal control training at Auburn University's Montgomery campus.
The Animal Control Unit has the use of two trucks for making calls within the county, and Major Mike Murphy with the sheriff's office says that the two officers are adequately handling Escambia County's animal control needs.
Before the unit was created, Murphy said, "patrol deputies were consumed with animal control calls."
Also, in some cases, the animal control officers are called to pick up abandoned animals at veterinary clinics in the county.
Officers will pick up animals or set live traps, also known as humane traps, which are wire cages with a pressure plate and a door that closes to trap the animal without harming it.
Captured animals are taken to animal shelters run by the cities of Atmore or Brewton. These shelters try to hold animals as long as possible so they can be adopted, Leggett said.
Though the Alabama Department of Public Health is responsible for rabies vaccination enforcement, when the animal control unit was created, the county agreed to give it the responsibility.
The officers enforce rabies vaccination requirements by surveying homes in the area when they go on a call, Leggett said.
They use an Animal Rabies Vaccination Survey which asks how many pets the person has and whether they are vaccinated. If there is a violation, the officer will give a verbal warning and allow 10 days for the person to comply.
If the animals are not vaccinated by then, a written warning is given and another 10 days to comply.
If at that point, compliance is not made officers can make an arrest or issue a warrant, but Leggett says he has never had to do that.
Rabies vaccinations are very important, Leggett said, because people don't realize that a cat scratch is just as likely to transmit rabies as a bite because it is transmitted through saliva rather than blood.
In rural areas, vaccinations are of heightened importance because pets come into contact with animals carrying rabies in the wild.
In addition to capturing stray animals, animal control officers respond to calls reporting neglected and abused animals.
In the summer time, they are often called to capture snakes. Poisonous snakes are usually killed, while non-poisonous snakes are released in the wild, Leggett said.
Other animals the animal control unit has been called to handle include raccoons, foxes, coyotes, horses and cows.
In the case of loose horses and cows, officers will try to find the owner to contain the livestock.
One of the animal control unit trucks is equipped with a mosquito sprayer to be used during mosquito season. The Brewton Police Department also has an animal control unit to deal with animals within the city limits.