HOLTS SUMMIT, Mo. — Holts Summit Animal Control officer Kevin Ward wears many hats.
"I do animal control, code enforcement, I'm (taking classes) to do crime scene photography and I run the (police department) evidence room," he said. "But my satisfaction comes out of the animal control part."
Specifically, he loves that his job lets him rescue animals from difficult situations and find them better homes.
Hanging out with him in the office Tuesday was a young, male bully mix. The dog often leaned against Ward's legs, showing a charming doggy grin and wagging his tail. Bony hips showed under the dog's blue merle patterns, and his nose was pink from a recently healed injury.
Ward said while he couldn't discuss details of the dog's life due to a pending court case, the dog's future looks much brighter than his past.
"I've gotten clearance from the judge to adopt (the dog) out," Ward said.
There's already a home waiting for the dog — which Ward hasn't named, for fear he'd get even more attached — and the pooch will be going there as soon as he's been neutered.
Christmas is a busy time of year for many shelters, with potential adopters seeking pets to give as presents. However, Ward advises against surprising someone with an animal.
"I'd want to pick out my own pets, because of the personalities," he said. "Is the dog more active or more laid back? Does it always have its nose to the ground?"
Additionally, taking care of a pet can be expensive — the kind of expense some people can't afford without advance planning.
Shelters welcome adoptions by prepared and eager pet parents, however. And Ward is skilled at making matches between adopters and pets. In fact, in the two years he's worked for animal control, he's only had to have one dog put down, he said.
Ward said many folks have misunderstandings about how animal control operates. In fact, that's one of the reasons he doesn't live in town — along with his position as code enforcer.
"My line of work doesn't make me very many friends," he admitted.
One source of tension in town are the feral cats living around trailer parks. Ward receives frequent messages from concerned residents asking why animal control can't go and round them all up.
There are several reasons, he said. For one, many feral cats are almost impossible to tame and end up being destroyed. While some communities combat feral cat colonies with a trap-neuter-release program, local statutes forbid animal control from re-releasing animals.
Also, some area residents feed and offer shelter to feral cats. By law, Ward said, if you feed and harbor an animal, it's yours. And if he's called out to collect a fed feral cat, there are ordinances he must enforce.
"So if a feral cat is running loose, it's an animal at large — $100 fine. No rabies shot? That's a $100 fine. No tags? Another fine," he said. "I don't want to penalize people for having a good heart."
Ward knows of one trailer park owner who works with a Columbia-based TNR group, which he said is a great idea.
Despite the occasional conflicts and difficulties that arise, Ward loves his job. He encourages people to keep an eye on the Holts Summit Animal Control Facebook page for adoptable animals.