Fewer animal cruelty complaints reported in Dover

Dover Police Department animal control officer Ryan Knowlesstands at police headquarters. (Delaware State News /Dave Chambers)

Dover Police Department animal control officer Ryan Knowlesstands at police headquarters. (Delaware State News /Dave Chambers)

DOVER — He has his own dog at home and deals with many more on the job.

Ryan Knowles likes the regular 9 to 5 Monday through Friday hours involved with being the Dover Police Department’s animal control officer, and the opportunity to assist the public.

He’s not a member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals but is tasked with responding to reports of abuse and neglect involving critters.

A typical month involves checking on 60 to 70 cases that are first reported by the public or located when Mr. Knowles patrols in a van while looking for possible violations.

Most investigations involve dogs and cruelty reported by concerned citizens, Mr. Knowles said. The potential violations are regularly found to be unfounded because “people aren’t familiar with the laws and what constitutes a violation.”

over Police Department’s animal control officer Ryan Knowles checks the cages in back of his truck before starting out from police headquarters.

over Police Department’s animal control officer Ryan Knowles checks the cages in back of his truck before starting out from police headquarters.

When there’s a clear indication of animal cruelty, Mr. Knowles said it’s his discretion on how to proceed, and he often gives the owner 48 hours to correct the problem.

“Probably 90 percent of them do that,” he said.

Those who don’t face a potential $100 city fine if the abuse is ongoing upon the officer’s return.

Among the most prevalent cruelty issues are dogs left outside with no shelter, improperly tied to a tree, no available water and a heavier than allowed chain to keep them from roaming.

Dogfighting was a problem in Dover a couple years ago, but Mr. Knowles said it has “moved out of the city.”

According to Mr. Knowles, the number of animal cruelty complaints within Dover is dropping.

“The trend is that people are becoming more aware of (treating animals properly) and heeding the rules of the city,” he said.

Also on the to-do list is responding to Delaware Division of Public Health reports of dogs biting humans, which involves checking that rabies vaccinations are current.

When rabies issues arise, Mr. Knowles is dispatched to protect the public, and a .12-gauge shotgun is available for the worst situations that can’t be managed any other way than using lethal firepower.

“In all cases every effort is made to seize an animal and not execute it,” he said.
Longtime position

Dover Police Administrative Division Commander Capt. Tim Stump said the city has deployed an animal control officer since at least 1990 when he arrived with the agency.

“We have always put a lot of emphasis on animal control in the city because if you fail to stay on top of it, it can quickly become a quality of life issue,” Capt. Stump said.

“I know that Ryan stays very busy and is pretty much a one man show. He does a great job for us and we are lucky to have him.”

Never bitten while on duty, Mr. Knowles said using a 6-foot long aluminum control stick with a noose on the end is the preferred method of apprehension. Once the noose is around the canine’s neck, control is assured.

Upon seizure, Mr. Knowles takes the dog to the First State Animal Center-SPCA in Camden for sheltering.
FSAC-SPCA leadership has discussed dropping its animal sheltering option to the city of Dover, and police officials said they believe a contingency plan can be enacted without any distress.

Dover pays approximately $60,000 to $65,000 in an average year for animal control services.

“Ryan Knowles is an experienced officer who is always available to assist us with our mission of public and animal safety,” FSAC-SPCA Executive Director Kevin Usilton said.

“He serves the residents of Dover with animal control, and we care for the animals and assist owners with finding their lost pets. The city has a high incident of owners claiming their lost pets.”

FSAC-SPCA in Camden is paid $20,781 a year, the officer receives a $38,438 annual salary and there are equipment, firearms and vehicle costs, Capt. Stump said.

A recent new vehicle purchase for approximately $20,000 should provide transportation for several years, he said, and the city provides health care coverage for the officer.

Dover Police patrol officers monitor animal control when Mr. Knowles, classified on the city’s payroll as a civilian, is not on duty.

Mr. Knowles is part of the department’s Special Enforcement Unit, and assists the motorcycle and community policing units daily, along with assisting in traffic control, parking and other violations within the city. He also handles arrest warrants at times.

The lifelong Delawarean said he took the animal control position in 2012 for a “change” in his work; he was previously a Dover Police dispatcher, coming on in 2007 after 10 years in the same position with the Milford Police Department.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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