Dogcatchers have been around for a very long time.
They are often portrayed in movies as heartless fiends who take poor, unsuspecting dogs from their houses in the dead of night. Cartoons often portray them as simple-minded folks who are outwitted by extraordinarily cunning dogs. Certainly neither portrayal is accurate. But why are dogcatchers so demonized?
There have been dogcatchers in the United States since the 18th century; perhaps even earlier. One of their functions was to pick up dogs that appeared to be rabid or vicious. The public appreciated that role, but it was a difficult and often dangerous one for the dogcatcher.
Fees and Dishonesty
In many cities dog owners were required to pay a fee, and dogcatchers soon began to pick up dogs without appropriate verification of being licensed. The owners would have to pay to get their dogs back and the dogcatchers got a percentage of these fees. These dogs were much easier to get and the dogcatchers began to focus more on rounding up those dogs instead. Dogcatchers weren't well paid, and as with any other profession, some were unscrupulous. They would take dogs from the stoops of their homes and sometimes even out of open windows, just like the cartoons portrayed.
Evolution of the Dogcatcher
As the 20th century rolled in and the United States became more urban, it became less accepted for dogs to have free run of cities. At this point dogcatchers began picking up any dogs that were running loose. They were taken to the pound where they were euthanized if not picked up within a prescribed number of days. As more and more pets were picked up and taken to the pound, dogcatchers became less popular. Even the term dogcatcher is nowhere near as prevalent as it once was.
The people who perform this function now have a much more descriptive and honored name: Animal Control Officers. These are the people who rescue abandoned, abused, and neglected animals. They work in shelters that help care for, rehabilitate, and find homes for the animals they bring in.
More Than Just Dogs and Cats
They remove the alligator from your drainage ditch, the snake from your basement, or the skunk from your shed. They deal with raccoons, bats, and other unwanted animals. These people nurse injured eagles, owls, and other birds until they're able to soar our skies again. They risk their lives to get bears, mountain lions, and other dangerous animals out of populated areas and back into forests and wildlife refuges where people and animals will be safe. These are the people who have the thankless and at times disturbing job of removing dead animals from roadways.
And yes, Animal Control Officers do still pick up loose and stray dogs from time to time. They do it to protect people, to protect the animals, but also for a better chance of reuniting a lost pet with its owner. These officers should be commended for the fine work they do—the demon dogcatcher who snatches your dog in the night is merely a relic of folklore from the past.
Pam Hair is a pet industry copywriter with Fuzzy Friends Writer, where she combines her three passions: a love of animals, a strong desire to help other people, and the joy of writing. She has been a pet parent over the years to dogs, cats, and a variety of rodents. Currently she and her husband share their home with two guinea pigs.