Rick Smith Brings His Love Of Animals To Shelter

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Posted: Thursday, May 22, 2008 12:00 pm | Updated: 3:39 pm, Fri May 18, 2012.

Rick Smith remembers his first dog. It was a poodle named Pogo that his family had when he was 7 years old.

Pogo was family.

"That dog was with us all the time, everywhere we went," he said. "She was like one of us kids," he said. Mr. Smith remembered the day Pogo died. It was a somber day for the family, like losing one of their own. It would be a while before they would need or even want to buy another chew toy.

"We didn't have a pet for quite awhile after that," Mr. Smith said. "I think it was probably like losing a child. "The next child is not going to take its place, it's not going to be the same."

Some 70,000 deaths later, you'd think Mr. Smith would get used to death. That's his estimate of how many dogs and cats have been euthanized at the St. Joseph animal shelter since he started working there about 30 years ago. You get used to it, but then you don't, either.

"We basically have destroyed an animal for every person who lives in this community," he said.

It's a horrible death for a good friend nobody wants. No tears. No home. No loving family saying goodbye.

When Mr. Smith started in 1979, animals were euthanized in a high altitude decompression chamber. The animals were placed in a cage inside the chamber and sealed. When the oxygen was pumped out, the animals suffocated.

By 1984 that was considered inhumane. Carbon monoxide was used. Then about 10 years ago lethal injection came into use. And that's what is used today at St. Joseph Animal Control and Rescue offices, where anywhere from seven to eight animals are euthanized on a daily basis.

"If the community could understand what this consists of I think we could change attitudes about allowing animals to breed at will and the overpopulation problem," Mr. Smith said. "Over the years it's been kept kind of a secret."

Mr. Smith hasn't been on the street since he took the job as manager of Animal Control and Rescue in 1984. But to some, he's the face of the dogcatcher. A face that's perpetually tanned from an admitted addiction to tanning booths. An addiction that became life threatening a few years ago when he developed melanoma. Doctors cut a big chunk out of his back but they believe they got it all.

"Sad part about of it is I cut back on it but I still tan periodically. I also realize God is in control of my life, and when he decides it's my time to go, that's when I'm going to go," he said.

He has the face of the guy who picks up stray dogs and issues tickets for breaking animal control ordinances. The face of the guy in the cartoons with the evil mustache and big net who scoops up all the cute little animals off the street. Not only that, he kills dogs, too.

But there's a flip side. Like the time he had to take 97 cats out of one house. Or the times he got called to pick up a dog on a leash that's been dead so long it had started to decay. Or the times he's seen dogs that looked like walking skeletons from starvation.

"I look at it from the perception people may think I'm the bad guy, but I still look at things from the perspective of what's fair," Mr. Smith said. "If you violated the law and don't do what you're supposed to do, you brought it on yourself. We're just doing our job. Part of the bad guy thing comes along with the nature of the job."

Steve Norman is one of seven animal control officers working the streets. He's worked for Mr. Smith for six years and describes his boss as strict but fair. He describes his job as an adventure.

"Every day is exciting, every day is different," he said. "We have a lot of routine stuff we do but you don't know you may see an unusual animal ..."

Last week Mr. Norman found himself in a basement crawl space trying to rescue a couple of baby kittens and in a lady's garden capturing a raccoon - all in one day.

"This time of year we get a lot of wildlife complaints," he said.

Mr. Smith's first week on the job didn't involve wildlife, but was wild nonetheless.

"I was supposed to be off over the weekend but we had a hog fall off a transport truck out on I-29 highway so they called me in on Saturday to help out with that situation," he said.

Today he works inside a bright office with grandkids' photos and artwork on the walls, dog event posters and several sticky notes on the windowsill. Every conversation, every phone call is accompanied by the sound of barking dogs.

On the other end of the line sometimes is a complaint about a stray or loud dogs. Or somebody wanting to dispute a fine. It might be someone calling who wants a horse for transportation. The small replica of the Ten Commandments sitting on one file cabinet helps keep everything in perspective.

"I put that there as a reminder. I believe in the Ten Commandments, but I'm also of this world," he said. "Having that set there reminds me these are the rules you need to follow. I put them there as a reminder."

For visitors to his office who asks how he deals with the Sixth Commandment." The one that says "Thou Shalt not Kill," he has a ready answer.

"I have to look at it from the perspective of my motto of humane life or humane death. Just putting animals out there to fend for themselves, knowing they're going to die a horrible death to me is completely inhumane," he said. "Giving them a painless injection is, to me, more humane. I guess in my own mind I had to weigh that out in regards to I don't want to see anybody or anything suffer."

Today Mr. Smith and his wife, Cynthia, have a Border Collie named Cricket. She's just 5 months old and already is a part of the family. He's looking forward to the day in the not too near future when he can spend more time with his family.

Animal Control isn't a 9-to-5 job but it has its good moments.

"When people adopt from us and tell us how blessed they are by this little animal they've adopted from the shelter and how it's part of the family," he said. "That's the rewarding part."

Alonzo Weston can be reached at alonzow@npgco.com.

© 2015 St. Joseph News-Press and FOX 26 KNPN. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Welcome to the discussion.

1 comment:

  • CarlP posted at 5:04 pm on Wed, Mar 13, 2013.

    CarlP Posts: 1

    Dear Mr. Weston.

    I was recently provided with a copy of the correspondence you forwarded to Mr. Tom Worthan, in response to your attention reportedly being drawn to the article above that you authored in 2008. I particularly found interesting your assertion that the article you wrote in 2008 was being taken out of context.

    First let me stay that it is admirable that you would come to the defense of your friend of forty years; however, you obviously have more than a few of your facts confused in your correspondence with Mr. Worthan. Apparently the information you were provided lacked accuracy and truthfulness as to attributes credited to me specifically. You apparently failed to verify the veracity of the information you were provided before responding to it and making your own assertions representative of what you were told that I reportedly had said about your article of 2008.

    For the record, there is no article of February 8th 2013 in the Douglas County Sentinel attributable to me where I am either referenced or quoted concerning your article of 2008. A cursory search of the Douglas County Sentinel’s online search engine will satisfy the truth and integrity of that statement. As will a cursory search of their website which will also verify that the attributes you cited in your letter to Tom Worthan concerning me, are not present in any other Douglas County Sentinel articles where I am referenced or quoted.

    As it concerns the article published in 2008 in the St. Joseph News Press and your assertions that the article was merely a profile piece on Mr. Smith and how his job was made harder by others…….I believe that representation is a bit disingenuous at best Mr. Weston. The article you wrote in 2008 was obviously more than just a profile piece on Mr. Smith. The article I and others have read on line above, was obviously aimed at casting Mr. Smith in the best possible light concerning his job as the then head of St. Joseph animal control. Nothing wrong with that in the least; particularly from a journalist who is an admitted life long friend. However, your choice of descriptive analogy concerning the statistic in question, leads the reader both then and now to a conclusion that is purposely obvious. Therefore, the context in question? Was placed in the article by both you and Mr. Smith in the 2008 interview.

    I reference specifically your quote in the article that seems to be the focus of your contention that the article was taken out of context. Specifically this quotation: “Some 70,000 deaths later, you'd think Mr. Smith would get used to death. That's his estimate of how many dogs and cats have been euthanized at the St. Joseph animal shelter since he started working there about 30 years ago. You get used to it, but then you don't, either.”

    As a reader Mr. Weston, I recognize those words as your words, but more importantly, I also recognize the origin of the statement and the figures represented to the reader. The figure of 70,000 deaths was something that was obviously provided to you by Mr. Smith during your interview for the article. Immediately after your summation of those statistics and his career, you say: “you’d think Mr. Smith would get used to death” After which, you quote him directly. "We basically have destroyed an animal for every person who lives in this community," he said.

    The obvious intent of those lines in the article and the quoted references, was an intent to draw empathy with the reader concerning how hard it must be to do the job because of all of the killing involved. Therefore, there is no context other than the represented context that you and Mr. Smith provided. The context represented to you at the time by Mr. Smith and the context that you rather obviously represented to your readers in the article, was that Mr. Rick Smith had been associated with over 70,000 deaths of shelter animals over the course of his (then) thirty year career.

    The fact that his and your statements in the article and the record of his career in St. Joseph has recently been called into question by the residents of Douglas county Georgia, is more than relevant Mr. Weston. As it is also more than relevant concerning Douglas county citizens and their interest in Mr. Smith’s career and record while in St. Joseph.

    In closing Mr. Weston, the fact that Mr. Smith is now seeking to parse and obscure the record that he freely and openly discussed with you in 2008, does not change the reality of what was represented in your article of 2008 or the intended representations that both you and he put forth in the article at the time you published it.

    I am saddened that your correspondence is now being utilized as a supportive reference by Douglas county Georgia commissioners, in their ongoing attempts to assuage my integrity with the citizens of Douglas county.

    Carl Pyrdum
    Douglasville Georgia


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