By Joel Hall
From sun up to sun down, Ron Cook looks over the cats and dogs - and occasionally fish, goats, horses and chickens - Clayton County residents have neglected.
Cook is the kennel master of the Clayton County Animal Control department. The 23-year veteran officer was recently honored by the Clayton County Police Department as its 2008 Animal Control Officer of the Year.
Cook, 56, joined the department in 1985, a time in which the county was rural and jobs were scarce. He said as the county has grown, the job of animal control officer has changed from primarily rounding up stray animals.
"The stuff you deal with now is totally different than 23 years ago," said Cook. "Now you are dealing with a lot more animal cruelty, dog fighting, neglect.
"The officers who work the road have a very high call volume," he said. "Recently, in the last few years, there have been a lot of evictions. We have had cases where people move off and leave their animals."
For the last 10 years, rather than working the road, Cook has overseen the operation of the kennel, making sure its more than 60 cats and dogs are well fed and receive necessary veterinary care. There are holding cages on the property for larger animals, too.
The animals that come into Cook's care come in all sizes, from large pit bulls, Akitas, chows, and Shar-Peis, to small cats. Regardless of animals he receives, however, after three business days, undocumented animals can become candidates to be euthanized. Animal Control Director Captain Mark Thompson, who nominated Cook for the animal control officer award, said Cook makes sure animals that can be rescued, or adopted, are brought to his attention.
"He shows genuine compassion for the animals," said Thompson. "It takes a unique individual to work with animals all day and have limited human contact. The kennel master at any shelter facility plays a vital role in the success of that facility.
"He also has to oversee the euthanizations. It takes a severe emotional toll, so he considers it a huge responsibility," said Thompson.
Cook said he occasionally has to deal with an irate caller upset about a citation, or an animal that has been seized. He said he tries to make others understand animal control is necessary to keep animals and humans safe.
"The whole object is to get the problem solved," said Cook, who has two cats of his own. "You have to remember that these people are citizens of the county and that you are working for them."