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Law enforcement: For top deputy it’s all about people – even when it’s about dogs

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Sgt. Henry C. Betts was on Fifth Avenue near St. Patrick’s Cathedral in full dress uniform as part of an NYPD escort detail for President Bush. A man walked up to him. “You’re Hank Betts,” he said.

Betts only used the name Hank at work. “I thought, uh, oh, this isn’t good.”

“You saved my life,” the man said.

Betts remembered. The man was on a bridge threatening suicide. Betts, a transit police officer at the time, had talked him down.

After 28 years in law enforcement, the job’s still about people, although now Betts is an animal control officer for the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office. He was named the Deputy of the Year for 2013.

“I was shocked,” said Betts. At 6-foot-4, 285 pounds, the 54-year-old doesn’t look like a man who shocks easily. “I’ve been doing this a long time. You don’t do it for recognition.”

In Georgetown County animal control means dogs. Cats are considered free-roaming so they are only dealt with if injured. Wild animals are handled by the state Department of Natural Resources. There are really only three rules that apply: dogs have to be on the owner’s property; they have to be on a leash when off the property; they have to be fed and watered.

The two animal control officers at the sheriff’s office pick up an average of 700 dogs a year. They are taken to the St. Frances Animal Center. The biggest part of the job, Betts said, is educating owners about the law and how to care for their dogs.

“It’s the very simple things they’re doing wrong,” he said. Those include putting their dog in an enclosure that isn’t suited to the breed. “The dog is a determined animal,” Betts said.

In his six years with the sheriff’s office, he has learned that “Labrador retrievers love getting shocked by electric fences.”

Most of the calls on Waccamaw Neck are for lost dogs and complaints about neighbors’ dogs. The lost dogs often belong to visitors. Betts recently had a call from a couple on the south end of Pawleys Island whose dog swam Pawleys Creek to Prince George then couldn’t get back.

“People will call me frantic about their lost dog,” Betts said. “It’s almost like a lost kid.”

People who find strays also call, so returning dogs to their owner makes everybody happy. “It’s pretty rewarding,” Betts said. “It shows the police aren’t bad guys.”

Betts is a New York native who started his career with the New York City Transit Police. He was promoted to sergeant at the same time as Mike Fanning, who is now chief of police on Pawleys Island. The transit police merged with NYPD and Betts moved into the city’s highway patrol unit. It’s responsible for traffic as well as providing escorts for dignitaries.

He retired in 2002 and he and his wife moved to Murrells Inlet in 2007. “It’s got everything we want,” he said. “I’m into fishing and outdoor-type stuff. I can’t stay indoors.”

Betts has two German shepherds. He’s also had Labs and a malamute, but favors the German shepherd for its loyalty. Along with his pair, he keeps a shepherd for his son Kevin when his son’s on duty. He started with the sheriff’s office as a patrol deputy last year.

The animal control officers are part of the community service division in the sheriff’s office. Along with animal calls, they provide support to the patrol deputies and work at community events. Since his pickup got lettering that reads “Animal Control,” Betts has noticed a change in the attitude of people who see the truck on patrol. They’ll check the whereabouts of their dogs, which tells Betts they have some notion of the county leash law.

That suits him. The notion of animal control as dogcatchers with nets is out of date. “It’s not like ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians,” Betts said.

Complaints about dogs that come in from neighbors often have their roots other issues. “Everybody loves my dog,” is a common response from owners when Betts responds to a complaint. “I’m brutally honest. ‘No, everybody doesn’t love your dog,’ ” he said.

He tries to address problems with education. In most cases it works. “Problem solved. Dog’s happy. Neighbor’s happy. They’re happy,” Betts said.

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