PET PROTECTOR

posted January 15th, 2010 by
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STORY BY NANCY GALLIMORE WERHAN

What is your mental image of a guardian angel? Flowing blonde hair? Gossamer wings?

Well, for hundreds and hundreds of animals in Tulsa and surrounding areas, a guardian angel comes in the form of a tall man with broad shoulders, gentle eyes and an incredibly softspoken, calm demeanor.

The angel in question is Wade Farnan, the cruelty investigator for the Tulsa Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (TSPCA). Though he would likely be humble if asked about his work, Farnan’s services are in great demand and he is very dedicated in his mission to protect animals-a job that is not easy, emotionally or physically.

This career path in animal welfare started somewhat by chance for Farnan when he visited the TSPCA shelter two years ago to see about adopting a dog. D’Ann Berson, TSPCA operations director, happened to notice that Farnan had listed “retired from the county sheriff’s department” on the occupation line of his adoption application.

“We had been working to fill the cruelty investigator position and when I saw his background it seemed like a perfect fit,” said Berson. “I told him that I knew he was there to adopt a dog, but asked if he would like to consider a job as well.”

That day Farnan was indeed approved to adopt a new best friend-a black Belgian shepherd-mix-and yes, three days later, he returned to start a new job.

Both the dog and the job have been perfect matches for Farnan. His background, which spans 23 years with the sheriff’s departments in Tulsa, Osage and Mayes counties, has prepared him well for a career as Tulsa’s own version of the popular Animal Planet show, Animal Precinct. So much for enjoying a well-deserved retirement; in 2008 alone Farnan responded to more than 1100 calls and at the time this article was written, 2009 was on track to exceed that number.

With only 365 days in a year, the math seems overwhelming, if not impossible, but Farnan seems to take it all in stride. The most common calls are neglect cases, concerned citizens reporting animals lacking proper shelter, water and food. Farnan says most of those cases are a simple matter of lack of education.

“You’d like to think you don’t have to tell someone that being able to crawl underneath a car does not equal proper shelter for a dog, but sometimes you do,” said the amazingly patient Farnan. “Usually, in cases where a dog doesn’t have proper shelter, I just have to issue a warning and when I revisit the situation, there will be a dog house, with appropriate food and water available.” Perhaps this type of routine admonishment is all in a day’s work for Farnan, but it represents a vast improvement in the lives of the animals he watches over.

Increasingly typical calls surround pet abandonment cases; likely a direct reflection of the struggling economy. According to TSPCA statistics, in 2008 they received an average of two to four calls a week reporting pets abandoned in apartments or at vacant houses by negligent owners. Now that number has sadly jumped as high as 20 or more calls a week. In those cases, Farnan will remove the animal once it is confirmed that it is truly abandoned and in danger. These animals, often in dire condition due to dehydration and malnutrition, are transported to the TSPCA shelter for evaluation and medical treatment.

While neglect and abandonment cases make up the bulk of the calls Farnan receives, he has also had his share of more startling calls. One case that stands out in his memory was when he received a tip about pit bulls being trained to fight, a felony in the state of Oklahoma. In cases like this, Farnan calls in the Sheriff’s department to provide back-up to ensure a safe rescue for humans and dogs alike.

“When we got there, two men had a couple of male pit bulls fighting in a training match,” said Farnan. “The dogs’ ears had been bitten off, their eyes were swollen shut and they had punctures and gashes all over their bodies-it was just terrible.” The sheriff’s department arrested the men and Farnan focused on caring for the dogs.

“Both dogs were incredibly sweet to me. They were in a great deal of pain, but didn’t even growl when I lifted them into my car to transport them to the TSPCA veterinary clinic.” Sadly, due to profound injuries, both dogs were humanely euthanized. The death of the dogs was clearly not just “part of the job” to Farnan as he looked down at the table and quietly repeated what sweet dogs they really were.
Talk with Farnan for just a few minutes and you’ll likely find that he truly has seen it all when it comes to animals in need.
He has rescued dogs from methamphetamine labs. He has helped save dogs that have been shot and abused. He has responded to reports of starving livestock.
He has helped shut down puppy mills.

In one recent high profile case, he removed numerous small breed dogs from an elderly woman in Sperry, Oklahoma.
She had the dogs housed in muddy pens in a wooded area with no water or proper food. It was the second time this particular woman had been cited for operating a puppy mill and Farnan will be keeping a close eye on her. “If she tries to get more dogs, I’ll be back,” he says with an air of assurance.

One of Farnan’s regular trips is to the weekend flea markets. Breeders often try to sell puppies at these venues, but without a proper breeder’s license, it is illegal in Tulsa county. Farnan has become a routine, if not always popular, visitor and the breeders now recognize him. “They’ll see my car pull up in the parking lot and many of them will pack up their puppies and head out before I even get inside the building.”

Those who don’t leave will be asked to show their license, and when they can’t produce one-and apparently none of them ever do-Farnan asks them to leave or face fines.

In talking about one specific case, Farnan gets a sly grin on his face. One breeder at the Admiral flea market heard that the TSPCA investigator was on site.
When approached, he simply told Farnan he was not selling the puppies, but rather giving them away to good homes.

At that point, Farnan describes how he turned to a young girl who was looking at the puppies with her father. Farnan asked her which puppy she liked and handed her the one she indicated.

“I told her the puppies were free and that if it was ok with her father, she could just take the one she liked.” Father and daughter were apparently delighted. The breeder of the puppies was not so happy and closed shop for the day. Justice, even in an often taxing line of work, is apparently not without an occasional dose of humor.

Farnan’s territory is centered in Tulsa county, but is really not limited to a specific area and he has worked cases in neighboring counties with the cooperation of local authorities. He is legally authorized to take animals that he considers to be suffering or in danger of death and can have abusers arrested and prosecuted.

“On a cruelty case, a big part of the job is in documenting the abuse, taking photos and filing the proper reports.” When asked his success rate, Farnan states that in a dozen prosecutions, he has never lost a case.

In true Andy Taylor/Mayberry-style, the officer carries out his duties in a calm, good-natured manner. He says that most people he deals with will listen to reason and comply with his instructions. Those who don’t comply face an unflappable man who is well aware of the laws concerning animal welfare and is not afraid to enforce them.

When asked to talk about his favorite part of the job, Farnan is quick to reply. “I like seeing the animals heal. I like seeing bad situations turn around. I like knowing that the animals I am called to investigate are going to get help.”

“I actually like this work better than my career with the sheriff’s department because I like dealing with dogs more than dealing with people,” he adds with a laugh.

So how long can the TSPCA expect a man who has already retired from one long and successful career to keep working?

“I’ll keep doing this job until they find someone else who wants to do it,” said Farnan, to which Berson quickly replied,
“We’re not looking for anyone.”

“I hope not,” Farnan bantered back, “I love this job.”

The job loves you too, Wade Farnan. As demonstrated by many wagging tails and hopeful eyes, it loves you too.

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