Ian Daugherty’s life has been shaped by animals, so it’s only fitting that he now returns the favor to animals wild and not-so-wild in the streets and backyards of La Habra.
Daugherty has been an animal control officer for La Habra PD since 1993, and the first thing he’ll tell you about the job is, surprisingly, “You have to be a people person.”
It can be delicate dealing with people and their pets, or somebody else’s pet or even a coyote in their backyard.
“You learn when people are irate about something,” Daugherty says, “not to take it personally.”
Each work day, Daugherty circulates between police headquarters, the veterinarian’s office, patrol and the animal shelter, dealing with sometimes as many as 14 calls a day, mixing interactions with animals about as much as animal owners, good and bad. He might not take what people say personally, but he does care a lot about the animals he encounters.
Daugherty spent his early childhood on a farm in Nebraska. There was no TV but plenty of chores, and growing up on a farm meant he had to deal with the livestock on a daily basis.
His family moved to Orange County when he started middle school, and his mom began fostering animals. Daugherty helped. While at Villa Park High School, his counselor asked him to join a job-training class that took place at the old Lion Country Safari in Irvine in 1982.
He started with mostly custodial duties, and eventually became a guardian of animals and the public alike, working at one of the guard towers. Lion Country Safari, for those who didn’t grow up in Orange County in the 1970s and 1980s, allowed visitors to slowly drive through and stop their cars in open compounds of wild animals, including large predators like lions.
“We had a rhino that didn’t like yellow cars for some reason,” he says. And in a time when a lot more cars were yellow, it did create problems, but mostly his job was “just to keep an eye out that nobody did anything stupid.”
Daugherty stayed with Lion Country Safari until it closed in 1984. After years of construction work, he applied for a job as an animal control officer for the La Habra PD when he was 30.
He was quickly hired. “The goal was a job. I was pretty confident from living on a farm and training dogs I could handle the animal side of the job, but the law enforcement side, I had no clue what to expect.”
He picked up the codes and laws pretty easily and a year into the job, he decided he would stay. Now, 24 years later, he’s probably seen it all.
All of his previous experience has made it an easy fit for him.
“In this job, knowing behavior is the biggest thing,” he says. “It’s the little stuff you can’t explain…like which dog is going to bite you.”
He says his worst days are anytime he has to euthanize an animal. But he knows when he does, it’s the last option. His best days are those when he finds a dog and is able to quickly return the dog to the owner. He says the help he gets from various local rescue groups as well as La Habra police officers keeps a lot of dogs from the shelter.
Unfortunately, it’s still a struggle to find every lost animal a good home.
“It’s become a disposable society,” he says. For every dog or cat that goes to the shelter, “he’s one of hundreds. There’s a lot more pets than people. I can’t figure out how to solve that one.”
Daugherty says getting pets microchipped and registered is essential to getting pets returned to their homes.
“Accidents happen, gates get left open,” he says. But because of microchips, “we’ve returned far more pets than we’ve taken to the shelter, and that’s great.”
Daugherty says he often finds himself in the position of educating pet owners, turning them from bad to good pet owners in just a conversation. Though people might mean well, not knowing about the proper care of a pet can bring Daugherty to your home. But passing on some facts and tips is usually better than prosecution.
Daugherty wishes all dog and cat owners got their pets spayed or neutered, but would be happy simply if an appreciation and understanding of animals started younger for kids, they would make better pet owners when they’re adults.
“But if someone says thank you, I’ve done my job,” he says. “I know when I get a thank you it’s for the animal. For me, when you see an animal in a bad situation and you can make it better, that’s why I do this.”