Meet the new animal control director

OKEECHOBEE — Amy Fisher has been promoted from within the ranks of animal control and is now director. Although she has worked for animal control for the last three years, she said she was not involved in and knew nothing about the Bobby Travis horse fiasco until after Arlene Durbin resigned. Prior to her promotion, her job consisted of making sure the bills were paid, intake of animals, vaccinations, making sure the facility ran smoothly.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/OCSO
Recently, the children in Mrs. Peterson’s first grade class at Everglades Elementary School received a visit from Animal Control Director Amy Fisher. She spoke to the children about pet adoption and the responsibility that comes with it.

Ms. Fisher believes she will do well in her new position because she is a team player. She is not one of those who says, “I’m the boss and you will do as I say.” She values the opinions of the people she works with. “We’ve all got specific things we can bring to the agency that will make us that much better,” she said. Ms. Fisher worked for a local veterinarian before going to work for the sheriff’s office. She worked in administration for about seven years but missed working with animals and went back to the vet’s office. When a position opened up at animal control three years ago, she took it, and has been there ever since. “Sheriff Stephen said he particularly wanted her in animal control because of her knowledge of the care of animals. “Just between us, I like animals more than people most of the time,” said Ms. Fisher. “I’m their voice.”

They have instituted some changes in animal control to try to ensure nothing like the recent Travis horse case ever happens again. Calls will still come in through animal control services, and their officers will still respond, but if there is something that needs further investigation or if they have questions, the Ag deputies will be called, and they will work together on that case.

When all of this first exploded back in September, the entire department took it like a punch to the throat, said Ms. Fisher. They were all catching the flack for what had transpired, but now things are looking up, because they have the support of the sheriff and the whole sheriff’s office. Because they are part of a team, they feel boosted, she said. “We have a job to do, and we are starting with a clean slate. From here on out, it’s going to be nothing but positive.” They realize they are not going to please everyone, but plan to do their best.

“We identified some shortfalls that this brought out,” said Sheriff Noel E. Stephen. “We realized we had a shortfall between my civil staff dealing with my certified staff and getting criminal investigations a little better expedited, getting them involved sooner,” Those are some of the things he is taking away from the unfortunate situation and using to make positive changes in the department, he said. “I want to make it better moving forward,” he said. “Sadly, social media wants to make innuendos and give half truths. I won’t say they are lies, but they are not fully giving all the facts surrounding them, and people are basing their opinions on a quarter of the information in the case… I’m proud of my staff at animal control and the direction we are moving toward in the future.”

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/OCSO
“I would like to make it known that this Gibson Yates horse was not seized. He asked us for help. He was unable to feed the horse and ended up giving it away NOT to a family member as social media keeps suggesting, unless it is a family member so distant we are not aware of the connection. The horse was scored a three by a vet in Sept. and has grain, feed and grass and is seen by a vet weekly, yet constantly on social media his picture is posted as if he is not being cared for,” said Sheriff Stephen. “Pictures being posted online are several years old and are portrayed as recent. There is discussion of a dead pony, but it was from before we even took over animal control.”

Ms. Fisher said, when it comes to social media, animal control can’t do anything right, but she has a job to do and does not get wrapped up in what they say online. She does not follow it unless the sheriff calls her and tells her to check on something in particular, she said. “Unless you pick up that phone or come see me face to face, we can’t talk,” she said.
“We are confident that ALL the animals that have been in question … are under direction and care of vets and have been looked at. They are all better today than they were yesterday and will be better tomorrow. Some of them have a hard road to hoe … but they are all progressing,” said Sheriff Stephen.

“That’s what people don’t understand, too,” said Ms. Fisher. “A horse is not going to get fat overnight. It’s not going to happen. You couldn’t pay me to own a horse. To me they are a high-maintenance luxury, unless it is a working horse. If they get cut, it takes forever to heal, and if they drop weight, it takes a year or more to get it back on there, and they get colic on a dime. It’s not like a dog. I had a dog that was in pretty bad shape, and I got him from 33 pounds to 60 pounds in six weeks. It’s the species, but a lot of people don’t understand that, and I’m just not going to hash it out with them on social media.”

Ms. Fisher said animal control has been painted as the worst place for an animal to be, and that is not the worst place for an animal to be. Those dogs and cats are “fat, sassy and happy.”

When asked about the internal investigation into the situation with the Travis horses, Sheriff Stephen said the investigation began on the Monday after he was notified about what was going on but ceased when Sgt. Arlene Durbin resigned. When Sheriff Stephen granted her request to rescind her resignation, the investigation was re-commenced. The investigation should be completed soon. He does not anticipate any further consequences for Ms. Durbin as she has already been demoted to transportation deputy in the detention center and took a pay cut of almost $11,000 per year. Prior to this incident, she had a 20-year unblemished record with the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office and was even employee of the year several years ago. “She has held numerous positions in the sheriff’s office and was promoted to those positions, contrary to social media’s belief and posting, she has been absolutely awesome in every position,” Sheriff Stephen said. “We are all human, and we make mistakes. She feels terrible about this — understanding apologies do not bring back that horse. It’s my decision to retain her in another position, and I’m good with that.”

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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