It was a typical house call for Pat Lovette.
He drove up to a stranger's house in El Cajon, jumped out of his car and bellowed, "Hello!" When no one came out, he walked to the backyard and began checking around for the whereabouts of his latest assignment.
Lovette was looking for a cocker spaniel that had been reported as abandoned, and as one of seven state humane officers in San Diego County, it was his job to find the pooch in question and take the proper action.
"We protect animals from people," Lovette said. "(The County Department of) Animal Control protects people from animals."
Each week Lovette makes dozens of these house calls in his job to enforce county, state and federal law protecting small domestic animals. He and the other humane officers can arrest errant pet owners and make reports that lead to court cases, although they are employed by the San Diego County Humane Society, which is supported by private funding.
Round of Visits
Anonymous callers phone in their reports about dogs that are left in the rain or pooches otherwise neglected, and Lovette makes a full-day round of visits to the areas he is assigned to--Lakeside, El Cajon, East San Diego and Spring Valley.
On this morning, Lovette found his man--er, dog: a small, lonely blond cocker spaniel standing on a balcony.
When he approached the cocker spaniel, it backed up in fright. When he reached out to the dog, it approached him, crouching low and whimpering, looking as if it just might lick his hand.
But instead it snapped, barely missing his fingers.
"Cockers are deceiving," he said. "They look so friendly but they can turn on you in an instant."
After finding the dog in no apparent danger, he left a "notice of possible abandonment" on the front door.
Doesn't Write Tickets
Lovette doesn't cruise the city streets picking up stray dogs and cats. Nor does he write tickets.
The violation notices he issues are advisory, notifying "suspects" of what he found wrong with the animal care, and what the society expects to be corrected when it makes a follow-up call.
"We try to negotiate solutions with the person, and tell them we'll be back to look for change in the environment," he said. "Our victims can't speak for themselves on what caused their situation."
If they could speak, Lovette said he would probably be shocked at some of the things they would have to say about how their owners treat them.
"Perhaps people don't realize how badly appearing their dog is to them," he said. "I've seen mothers and kids that look so forlorn and bedraggled, that to them, their animal's condition may not look distressed. That conceptualization is not there. That doesn't necessarily bespeak criminality."
Lovette said that although 95 percent of his house calls are educational in nature, prospective violators do not necessarily welcome him with a red carpet. People most often want to know which one of their neighbors reported them to the humane society in the first place.
"Right away the hair goes up on the backs of their necks," he said rather slyly. But, he assures them of his desire to "prove the anonymous caller's report wrong."
The 40-year-old agent retired three years ago as chief of police aboard a Navy ship, experience that gives him a strong sense of command and lets people know immediately who's in charge.
Originally from New York City, Lovette looks and acts like a California Highway Patrol officer in uniform.
El Cajon police have mistaken him for a trooper. Residents appear threatened by the badge, his gun and baton.
If they noticed his bulletproof vest, steel-toed shoes or the loaded rifle in his car, chances are they'd be even more threatened.
Lovette said he carries the gun in case he encounters an animal in distress that needs to be put to death because of severe injuries, or in case he needs to protect himself from a person who might be violent.
"I could come up on someone cooking crack, someone who just committed a robbery, or someone could come out drunk and screaming," he said. "You can't dwell on it, or let it escape you. I've gotten the edge--the ability to be aware to tailor response to what is happening."
Lovette said he's never had to use his gun on a person, but he once had a 6-year-old turn a gun on him. Luckily, it turned out to be a battery-operated squirt gun.
Ironically, Lovette said he does not have any particular type of animal training, nor does he have a strong history of liking pets.
"The only family dog I've been around was one my ex-wife owned, and it took two months to warm up to me," he said. "A lot of the other officers have owned dogs for years."
He enjoys a good day on the job "when I don't get hurt, when I communicate with people effectively without damaging their pride or abridging their needs, when it's not too wet or muddy."
Sometimes, pet owners are not the only ones upset about his house calls.
"I've had dogs reach up and rip up the violation notices, so I try to place them on the doors above the reach of the average munchkin."