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Dogs vs. Cows

While the battles of small animal welfare are never ending, they’re very rarely life threatening. Of the thousands of sick dogs and cats I’ve picked up, I almost never have to tell people that they should be worried about getting sick.

Folks dealing with large animals have things a little different. They still see the same owners mistreating their animals, but they also see the potential for an infected food supply, and therefore a hugely impacted public. No, the diseases they see won’t necessarily transmit directly to humans (though a few can). But they can wipe out a herd of cattle, and that can raise panic in the public and havoc in the economy.

Why am I writing about cows? Because for the past two weeks, I’ve been interning with the Arizona State Department of Agriculture’s Animal Services Division. Under the guidance of the State Veterinarian, I’ve learned about livestock issues and regulations. And what I’ve learned has both impressed me and worried me, because this department is in charge of securing our food supply, and they’re woefully under-equipped to do it. But despite their daunting task and limited resources, these folks remain cheerful and upbeat, reminding me that attitude really does impact productivity.

While the Animal Services Division is charged with the health and safety of some very big animals, their real battle is against microscopic ones. Viruses and bacteria—those little buggers keep trying to take over the planet. The fact that they don’t succeed is because of the combined efforts of a handful of inspectors, investigators, doctors, and scientists.

Controlling the chaos of impending disease requires the cooperation of so many agencies it made my head spin. The idea that government was not designed to be efficient was brought home to me again and again. And though it felt overwhelming, when I sat back and thought about it, I couldn’t come up with a way to make things more streamlined. After all, it’s not just cow safety here. It’s people safety too. Which means involving human health agencies, local and state law enforcement, veterinarians, doctors, laboratories, the press… It’s really an impressive conglomerate. More impressive is the way in which all these agencies work so well together to get everything done. Got a rabies scare? No worries—six government departments will have it solved in no time. I’ve never been a fan of technology for technology’s sake, but I have to say, thank God for email.

At the end of my two weeks, I was pleasantly surprised that despite keeping up with all the regulations and disease control, the people of the Animal Services Division haven’t forgotten that at the heart of their work are living creatures. I saw care and compassion from every person there. I saw a genuine interest in the health and wellbeing of cows, pigs, sheep, goats, and horses. And I saw a wealth of knowledge about them all.

I was also pleased to discover that whether you’re working with dogs or with cows, some things don’t change. You have to be able to read the animal you’re looking at, to know if it’s going to charge you. You have to be able to get creative with your budget, because no matter how much our society says they love animals of all sizes, they’re not quite willing to fund the agencies to the full extent. And you have to be able to connect with people in order to improve the lives of their animals.

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