Animal Control may be the answer to finding your lost pet

One thing people spend a lot of time and money on are their pets. Many of us have at least one pet in our home that we consider part of the family.

Imagine having 25,000-30,000 dogs to keep track of. That is what the Humboldt County Animal Control Division has to do with only three officers, with one currently on maternity leave. Humboldt County Lt. Steve Knight and Sgt. Ernie Stewart attended the Garberville Rotary Club to talk about this daunting task.

Stewart said most of their time is dedicated to the north part of the county because that is where the population numbers are. He said he tries to get down to Southern Humboldt as often as possible. If there is a call made to animal control, the regular deputies can respond and either transport the animal to the animal shelter or wait for an officer to come down to pick it up.

Stewart, who currently runs the animal shelter, was raised in Gualala and is a graduate of the College of the Redwoods Law Enforcement Academy. He was the resident deputy in Petrolia and worked in Garberville before transferring to Eureka and eventually to the animal shelter in 2013.

Knight, who was originally in charge of Humboldt’s Animal Control, was instrumental in pushing for the construction of the state-of-the-art shelter located next to the Arcata airport in McKinleyville. Before its construction in 2004, the Ag Department handled all animal control calls and it was costing the county $30,000 a year to house the abandoned and stray animals at a local shelter.

Knight said compared to other counties our shelter is like a luxury hotel. It is very modern, clean and as welcoming as it can be. The facility is designed to house 56 dogs and 90 cats but routinely exceeds that number.

One huge drawback to working in an animal shelter is dealing with employee burnout. It was very hard to come to work every day knowing you may have to euthanize someone’s pet. Knight said law enforcement officers are trained to deal with all kinds of things like burglaries, homicides, and other law-related incidences, but they are not trained to deal with this kind of thing. Fortunately the method has improved over the years with the use of a very fast-acting tranquilizer before the animal is actually is euthanized. He said the animal is in no pain and literally just goes to sleep.

Knight said, "Our euthanization rates are the lowest in California. We have evolved into an almost no-kill shelter. Some of the dogs have been there for up to two years. The longest tenured cat, Matilda, has been there for nine months."

He said, "Matilda is very shy and maybe that’s why she hasn’t found a home." But he has faith that the right person will come through that door and give her a home.

Stewart said they depend heavily on volunteers and welcome anyone who might be interested in helping at the shelter. They need people to help walk dogs and socialize them. He said there are no set hours and whatever people can do is very much appreciated.

Dog intakes have stayed steady and the number of cats has declined due to the assistance of area rescue organizations. Knight said without them, the number of euthanized animals would be much, much higher. The county cannot put an animal up for adoption if they display certain behavioral problems or aggression. These rescue groups will often take a difficult animal and work with them to see if they can be rehabilitated. They also foster animals with varying medical problems and work to find them suitable homes.

Stewart said when people get involved with their animals, emotions run high. This can create tension between the owners and law enforcement. He said it is important to remain calm during tense situations both for the animal and the people involved.

Animal hoarding is a real problem because the animals are usually not socialized and many are diseased. Knight said it is very hard to find homes for animals in this kind of situation. One person had over 30 cats in a very small apartment. Another person had a U-Haul truck full of animals.

Knight said they do not take self-surrendered animals because they have their hands full with strays and abandoned animals. He said they have taken in chickens, snakes, iguanas, goats, pigs and even a cow. A young calf fell off the back off a truck and was brought to the shelter where he was named Stormin’ Norman.

He said those who need to find a home for their animal, for whatever reason, should contact one of the local rescue organizations.

He said it is very easy to adopt an animal from the shelter. All it takes is a good home and payment of a few processing fees. They will be spayed or neutered, given all their vaccinations and will be micro-chipped.

When asked if transient and/or homeless people receive any kind of financial compensation from the county for having a dog, Knight said, no. Those rumors are not true.

He said they are required just like everyone else to vaccinate and license their animals. Humboldt County is a rabies endemic county. People are issued citations if they are not in compliance. Of course the DA’s office does not have the manpower or funding to prosecute these people if they don’t follow through.

He said, "We don’t have enough room in the jail for those who are breaking into your homes, no less someone who doesn’t have their dog licensed or vaccinated."

Low-cost clinics are held on a regular basis throughout the county. Garberville-Redway Veterinary holds one every other month on a Saturday.

When asked what happens when an animal is picked up, Knight said they are all scanned for microchips. Unfortunately if the annual fees have not been paid the information may not be current, which makes it harder to find the owner.

Knight told a story about a dog that they had picked up who was very shy and could not be handled by the staff. After being evaluated the very difficult decision was made to euthanize him. The dog was given the very fast-acting tranquilizer and at the last minute Knight said, "Wait, let’s see if he has a chip."

The owners were located down in Diamond Bar in Southern California and were there the next day to get their dog. He had been missing for two years. The minute they walked in the dog’s personality changed and his tail started wagging. Knight said, "These are the kind of outcomes you like to see."

It is so important to have your dogs licensed with the county. According to California Health and Safety Code Section 121690(a) and County Ordinance Section 541-32(a), dogs shall be vaccinated for rabies and licensed at the age of 4 months or 10 days after the arrival of the dog in the unincorporated areas of Humboldt County. When your dog receives their rabies vaccination, your veterinarian is required to report it to the county.

It makes no difference whether the dog is an indoor dog, never gets out of the yard or house, or the dog’s home is in the country. All dogs must be licensed in the incorporated city or county in which they live. Licenses are due yearly on the anniversary date of the rabies vaccination. Prior to the expiration date of the license, courtesy renewal notices are sent on each dog.

The costs for dogs that are not spayed or neutered are $50 per year and $15 for those who are. Senior citizens (62 and older) pay only $10 a year. There is a $15 penalty if the license is 30 days overdue. Replacement tags are $5 each.

The owner is responsible for renewing the license on or before the expiration date even if the renewal notice is not received. Tags are used for the life of the dog, however, if new tags are needed the charge is $5 each.

In the event the owner changes mailing and/or physical addresses, the Animal Control Office must be contacted with the new information within 30 days. If the dog is sold or ownership transferred, the transferring owner must notify the Animal Control office of the name, address and phone number of the new owner.

Special licenses for breeders and kennels are available at reduced rates. Please call for details.

You may contact the Humboldt County Animal Control Division at 707-840-9132 or via email:

photo captions:


1. Humboldt County sheriff’s department Lt. Steve Knight, left, Animal Control Sgt. Ernie Stewart, center, and Garberville Rotary Club president Brian Harper.

2. 2013 Dog Outcomes: Purple = Transfer (sent to rescue organizations); Green = RTO (returned to owner); Dark blue = Adoption ( adopted to new owner); Red = Euth (euthanized); Light blue = Other

3. 2013 Cat Outcomes : Purple = Transfer (sent to rescue organizations); Green = RTO (returned to owner); Dark blue = Adoption ( adopted to new owner); Red = Euth (euthanized); Light blue = Other