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Fort St. John bylaw officer looks to set nation-wide standards

Animal control officers across Canada could soon be learning the trade from a course developed in Fort St. John.
Bonnie Isenberg, supervisor of the city’s bylaw enforcement department, was publicly lauded in city council on Monday for creating the first accredited Animal Control Officer Program in Canada.

Animal control officers across Canada could soon be learning the trade from a course developed in Fort St. John. 

Bonnie Isenberg, a supervisor with the city's bylaw enforcement department, is being credited with almost single-handedly launching Canada's first accredited Animal Control Officer Program.

Isenberg has been developing a course to teach Animal Control officers for nearly two years. The first run of her course will hit classrooms at Langara College in Vancouver next month.

“This is a dream of mine, to help people get educated. I love teaching and love interacting with different people, the public and other officers, helping them out,” she said in an interview with the Alaska Highway News.

Isenberg has been working with animals for almost 20 years—a career that spans the SPCA, pet stores, safaris and zoos.

“I was an animal control officer and an animal cruelty investigator back in Ontario, and then I worked for different municipali-ties working as animal control … so this is my niche,” she said.

“I was able to take all my knowledge and experience and put it together. This is the first program like this in B.C., and as far as we know in all of Canada, to become a certified animal control officer.”

Isenberg wrote the content for the seven-module program and developed the lesson plans. Lawyers and staff at Langara College have reviewed the curriculum.

The fact that there is no training or educational requirement to become an animal control officer results in “a lot” of bylaw enforcement officials coming into the field with no experience, Isenberg said.

The only training option, prior to the launch of her new course at Langara College, was to get bylaw certification through the Justice Institute of British Columbia, but that’s not animal control-related.

Isenberg saw a dire need for a specialized, accredited program.

“When you’re dealing with animals, you need to get special training on animal behaviour, animal welfare, transportation, biohazard, cleaning and reading the animal, how to interact with the animal properly,” she said.

“There’s nobody that offers that. There are private companies that will fly in from all over Canada to offer that, but there’s no certification and actual training.”

The course covers everything from animal welfare to officer safety. It will also cover working with animals, with the general public, conflict resolution, interview skills, and how to conduct an investigation.

“If you’re out in a small community and you’re by yourself, you need to be able to have some different techniques and knowledge and skills so you can keep yourself safe,” Isenberg said.

Isenberg believes that having the animal control certificate will give graduates a leg up over their competitors vying for the same positions.

“An employer might lean more towards you because now you have the fundamental training of keeping yourself safe and keeping animals safe,” she said.

Isenberg is the northern zone representative with the Licence Inspector’s and Bylaw Officer’s Association of B.C. (LIBOA), and she hopes that, along with Langara College, they can set a standard for training that other places will look to emulate.

Inder Litt, president of LIBOA, was impressed by Isenberg’s work.

“There is no training right now for any officer other than, they get the job and then they’re learning, which is not the best way sometimes – especially when you’re dealing with animals, there’s a lot of people that get bit and stuff due to the lack of training,” he said.

“We’re just happy that Bonnie took this on and that now there’s a program that staff or up-and-coming members of the bylaw enforcement (profession) have an opportunity to learn this skill prior to getting on the job, which is nice.”

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