It’s Wednesday morning. Officer Brian Wammack, a field services officer with Multnomah County Animal Services (MCAS), begins his work week at 7:45 a.m. He sifts through the stack of papers in his Troutdale office inbox that detail the calls that came into dispatch overnight. Then, he heads out in his truck.
“Our office is our truck,” he says in a pragmatic tone.
Wammack’s work mostly involves domestic animals like dogs, cats and rabbits. But sometimes it covers wildlife, like coyotes and livestock. Lately, calls into his district, east of 181st Avenue and into Gresham, Troutdale and unincorporated Multnomah County, have been cruelty-related.
“Now that the weather is getting your cold, we see a significant increase in cruelty calls. Those calls are starting to triple and quadruple,” the seven-year MCAS veteran says.
Wammack is one of 14 people in Multnomah County’s Investigations and Field Services Division. The division is responsible for animal rescue and protection; public health and safety; neighborhood livability; and much more throughout incorporated and unincorporated Multnomah County.
The team includes seven field services officers, two dispatchers, two field aides who help pick up stray or injured animals, and a program specialist who coordinates hearings and other duties tied to appeals, tickets or public records requests.
“We’re like code enforcement because we inspect facilities. We’re also like law enforcement and emergency responders because we rescue animals from fires or storms,” he continues.
“Sometimes we act as mediators to help settle disputes between neighbors. Then we even have miscellaneous calls like animals in distress: ducks falling through sewer crates or a possum stuck on a barbed-wire fence.”
Wammack remembers the call last April when a woman in Gresham reported horses with very little food on a neighbor’s rural property. There, he discovered three horses on a barn on the property, ankle deep in mud and with visible ribs and hips.
“Significant fat depletion,” he explains. “They had hay on the ground and dirty buckets of water, and that was it. They likely shivered away fat stores, which is common in such a brutally cold winter.”
The owner, an elderly woman who struggled with dementia, could not recall the last time the horses had been fed or received medical assistance, Wammack says. And her teenage grandchildren were tasked with taking care of the animals.
“It wasn’t life-threatening but it was a situation that needed to be addressed, especially considering the animals had been subject to the extreme winter.”
In situations like these, Wammack, favors education over enforcement, especially considering the family’s circumstances and financial constraints. He contacted a partnering equine specialist or horse expert, to provide medical treatment free of charge. He also provided information on the proper conditions for the animals and how to supplement the horses’ diet.
“I generally try to help people help themselves,” he says. “If they don’t help themselves then we start to apply enforcement actions to make sure they are in compliance with the law or provide the animal the health and living conditions they deserve.”
Over the next several weeks, the horses’ conditions improved. The owner decided to rehome the pets with someone who could take better care of them. “I checked on them weekly to make sure they were complying. I regularly worked with them to ensure they got the weight back on.”
But for every positive outcome, others are more challenging. The job comes with difficult and downright disturbing investigations. The Investigations and Field Services Division receives more than 9,000 reports per year and conducts more than 1,300 abuse and neglect investigations.
Wammack estimates 60 percent of his calls are bite or cruelty investigations.
Some investigations result in infractions for pet owners in hopes they’ll improve the health and condition of their animals or take steps to protect the public from animals that have shown a propensity for aggression. Others lead to criminal charges and impounded pets.
The field officers and staff make critical decisions about people and their pets - a sensitive subject. They are on the front lines of neighbor disputes such as barking or noise complaints.
Education and mediation are the first steps.
“It’s working to try to prevent further incidents and protecting any one or anything in the future from being seriously injured,” Wammack says. It’s very common and very heated. Neighbor against neighbor,” Wammack says, “We try to provide expertise, resources and suggestions to mitigate ongoing problems.”
“It’s not an easy job and the job often doesn’t get the recognition it deserves,” explains Jackie Rose, Multnomah County Animal Services Director. “We have a dedicated staff who’s willing to go out day after day to protect the people and pets and their County. That speaks volumes to their character and the job.”
For Wammack, the decision to become a field officer came from a strong desire to make a difference in the lives of animals and the community.
“It’s just different. It’s not boring, absolutely positively something different every day. You never know what you’re going to get when you knock on that stranger’s door. It really is protecting pets and people. It’s as much about protecting the people as it is the pet - the health, safety and welfare of people and pets.”
For more information on Multnomah County Animal Services Field Services click here