OGDEN -- It's Ogden city's Division of Animal "Services," not Animal "Control."
Division staff members want to shake the image of the local dogcatcher and become a source of education to help the owners of Ogden's furry residents.
Lt. Mark Acker heads up the division that, a little more than a year ago, moved to the jurisdiction of the Ogden Police Department. Members of the team are animal lovers and, like any police officer, protect and serve Ogden's pooches and felines.
"Our goal is to get people a license (for their pet), not to just give out tickets," Officer Stefanie Butte said.
Acker said many people are not aware they have to get their pets registered, let alone get the license renewed every year, so a large part of what the division does is education.
John Harvey, deputy director of support services, said that when he first looked up the number of people who needed to renew last year, it was about 550 residents.
Out in the field, officers will check the license status of nearly every animal they encounter.
During one call, Butte discovered that a dog was unregistered, but that the owner was clearly in the low-income bracket. Instead of writing a citation, she just gave the owner information on how to register.
"Me giving her an $85 fine is not going to get her to register," Butte said.
Fines are usually reserved for repeat offenders, she said.
A majority of the calls the division gets are for stray animals and bites. Butte said the division is not in the business of snatching up every animal they see, although many people get that impression when they see the officers come around.
"We do everything we can to contact the owner before taking an animal to the shelter," she said.
Butte was recently called to a report of a mobile home that appeared abandoned with a dog left inside.
"Unless the animal is in immediate danger, we won't take it,and we'll leave a notice stating that the owner must contact us within 24 hours," Butte said.
Using a device that records the temperature inside vehicles, Butte determined the dog was not in danger from the heat.
Another situation Animal Service officers get used to is getting in the middle of neighborhood disputes in which pets are often the center of arguments between neighbors.
Officer Samara Jackson was recently called to a dispute between residents whose yards were not separated by a fence, allowing both neighbors' dogs to travel freely between them. One neighbor was annoyed by the constant barking coming from his own front yard.
Jackson said it's disputes like these that require Animal Service officers to be moderators and problem-solvers. After heated words from both parties, she determined that the animals must be restrained until a fence is constructed.
The division was recently reformed and moved from under Ogden city code enforcement to the police department. With the change comes a new way of doing things and more responsibilities.
Along with checking the registrations of animals, the officer will also check people's IDs, opening up the possibility of running into somebody with an arrest warrant. Although the division's officers are civilians and cannot perform arrests, they are still a set of eyes and ears for the police and will call for assistance in such matters.
Harvey said that when responding to a complaint of a dog bite, Lt. Acker noticed the address was one associated with gang activity and had several warrants tied to it.
When an officer arrived to deal with the bite complaint, they identified an individual wanted by police and called in the Metro Gang Unit for assistance.
An arrest was made that night as a result of the Animal Service officer's vigilance, Harvey said.
Along with changing administrations, the division's staff was practically rebuilt from scratch. Acker was a former lieutenant with Ogden Police who came out of retirement to oversee the new division. The rest of the staff are all women who come from a variety of backgrounds, including a former pet shop owner, a veterinary graduate, an animal shelter worker and a veteran animal services officer.
"Sometimes it's a learn-as-you-go job," Jackson said.
Although the lineup is fairly new, Butte said, the woman have really improved and have grown into the job over the year.
The division is rolling out more ways to educate people and get pets registered.
Harvey said the city is in the final stages of releasing a website that will allow pet owners to register and renew their licenses online. The website will also serve as a resource of city ordinances and a network for pet owners to connect with each other in an online forum.
Harvey said the division is also working to get veterinarians the ability to register pets when they are brought in to get their shots.
Contact reporter Andreas Rivera at 801-625-4227 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SE_Andreas.