Lynchburg, VA - Right now, Lynchburg's animal control department is running at half staff.
Two officers have had to leave in the last year because they were either diagnosed with cancer or had to care for a loved one diagnosed with cancer, said Chief Todd Jones.
Adding to that problem, Virginia is one of a few states that doesn't require animal control officers be sworn police officers. Jones explains that often means they get less pay than a typical police officer and have a more difficult time retaining staff.Lynchburg's animal control currently has openings for two part-time officers and one full time, more than doubling its staff. But the chief says they could use at least one more.
As it stands, Chief Todd Jones and Rhonda Svoboda, whose name translates to "freedom," are the only two employees of the department. They answer an average of 4,500 calls per year.
"Finding someone that will fit in for the pay that they're offering, it can be difficult," explained Jones.
On this call, they're following up on a pitbull that reportedly attacked a neighbor, forcing them to be hospitalized. The owners haven't been able to provide proof of rabies shots, so the officers write them a summons.
"Obviously our service to the public has suffered a little bit because we're so short-staffed. But, we're doing the best we can," Jones said.
On the way to the next call, Svoboda explains the city of Lynchburg is so overrun by pitbulls, breeders are having a hard time giving them away.
In 2012, animal control officers discovered 17 pitbulls living in an abandoned house on Race Street.
"Feces [was] all over the house. The smell was hideous," Jones recalled.
By the time they got there, two of the dogs were already dead and a puppy ended up dying of Parvovirus. But Jones says the rest of the dogs have has since been adopted.
The owner was charged with several counts of animal cruelty and animal neglect and is forbidden from owning any more animals in the city of Lynchburg.
"Our ultimate goal is to curb a behavior. To get in there and stop something before it gets too bad. And to educate people on keeping animals. These days they're kind of like kids," Jones added.
Animal control officers aren't just responsible for answering calls. They issue hunting permits for the city's deer bow hunting program and pick up dead animals off of roadways.
But the final call of the day is on McCausland Street. Officers say it's the seventh time they've been called to this address since December, responding to complaints from neighbors that a pitbull is running free in the street.
After a few minutes of talking to the dog's owner, he agrees to surrender it to the Humane Society, giving it a second chance and the neighborhood some peace.
"It ended up being a pretty good ending to the story," Jones said.