Michael Northrup, who works for Pasco County Animal Services, has been named Animal Control Officer of the Year by the Florida Animal Control Association.
A nomination submitted on Northrup’s behalf said, in part, that during 2019 Northrup displayed “compassion, dedication, expertise, awareness and incredible decision-making.”
The nomination noted that Northrup responded to more than 1,000 animal control calls that year.
And, while he’s an animal control officer, he’s also provided help that goes beyond the call of duty, to Pasco residents.
For example, the nomination notes, that on Aug. 9, as Northrup was driving home from work on the Suncoast Parkway he noticed cars veering around another vehicle.
As he got closer, he realized the vehicle was on fire — and, as it pulled out onto the grass, the grass caught fire, too.
Northrup pulled over, radioed Pasco Fire Rescue and the Sheriff’s Office for assistance, then he used a fire extinguisher to put out the fire.
Less than a week later, Northrup and Animal Control Officer Stephanie Martin responded to a call about loose dogs.
While there, an elderly woman told Northrup that her caregiver had been physically harming her, had moved relatives into her home and had been letting her animals run loose.
While Officer Martin talked to the caregiver, Northrup called the Florida Abuse Hotline, Pasco Fire Rescue and the Pasco Sheriff’s Office.
As a result, the elderly woman’s family moved her into assisted living, where she can get the care she needs, the nomination says.
In another case, Northrup noticed a woman was running in a dangerous intersection, yelling for someone to hit her with their car.
Northrup called to get the woman help, then waited for it to arrive.
He also helped Animal Services’ return to owner rate by 25% in one year, by reuniting more than a dozen animals to their owners in the field, without the animals having to be impounded.
Winning the award was an honor, Northrup said, but he wasn’t especially enthused about being in the spotlight.
He likes keeping a low profile and doing his job.
To be honest, he said: “I don’t like awards. I don’t like interviews. I don’t like recognition.”
When he went to work as an animal control officer, he thought the vast majority of his work would involve interacting with animals.
As it turns out, though, much of the work involves helping to mediate disputes between people regarding animals.
Calls can range from a claim that a neighbor’s dog barks too much to a report of a pack of dogs mauling someone.
“People call in crazy stuff,” he said, noting he doesn’t take complaints at face value.
“A lot of the times I find it to be more of a people problem, than an animal problem.
“A lot of times, it’s an ongoing dispute, with either one of their neighbors and they want someone to intervene — to use some type of enforcement action to alter their behavior in some way, shape or form,” he said.
“I look at every call, if I were in their shoes, how would I want that to be handled?” he said.
Frequently he finds himself telling people something they don’t want to hear.
“You may not like what the person is doing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing something wrong,” he said.
In other words, what seems objectionable to someone might not be a violation of a Florida Statute or a county ordinance.
“You have the right to call. We have the right to decide what we’re going to do,” he said.
“I’ve always treated everyone with firmness, fairness and dignity. Everyone deserves that,” he added.
He believes in using a straight-forward approach.
“Direct is my way of life. I usually don’t beat around the bush,” he said.
Published May 20, 2020