Cofounded National Animal Control Association
Mike Burgwin, 87, founding president of the National Animal Control Association, died on March 23, 2016 at his home in Hoodsport, Washington, “after complications from surgery several weeks earlier,” former NACA president Eric Blow told ANIMALS 24-7.
Elaborated Burgwin’s granddaughters Kahlen and Chelsea on a GoFundMe memorial page, “On February 19, 2016, our grandpa Mike went into Overlake Hospital, in Bellevue, Washington, to have his cancerous bladder removed. Due to complications a second surgery was performed,” but the operation was unsuccessful.
“He made the long journey from Overlake Hospital to Hoodsport under heavy sedation,” Kahlen and Chelsea recounted.
“Once he was set up at home, he came to long enough to nod when our Uncle Dave adjusted his pillow and asked if he was comfortable. Shortly thereafter his eyes took on that far away look and his breathing became shallow.
“’I just want to go home,’” was his constant refrain the last few days, and once he realized he had made it, he left.
“He died surrounded by family: Lorna, his loving wife of 38 years, her children Ken and Kim, his sons Michael and David, and David’s wife Denise––and he went peacefully.
“Our grandpa died with the knowledge that many people loved and supported him in his final days.”
“What’s it really all about?”
The NACA publication Animal Control Officer Voice honored Burgwin by reprinting his speech and article “The animal control business––what’s it really all about?”, delivered on many occasions in only slightly varying form,
Burgwin began by listing many of the duties that animal control officers perform most often: “Impounding. Killing. Adopting. Returning the lost. Assisting the injured. Citing to court. Controlling rabies. Picking up the dead. Restraining the vicious.
“Are these the reasons we exist,” Burgwin asked, typically in the thundering voice of a tent circuit evangelist, “or is there a deeper meaning to our actions?
“I grant you the activities above are enough to keep anyone busy, let alone finding time to delve into the motives of irresponsible pet owners,” Burgwin continued. “We’ve all heard, ‘They just don’t care.’
“I submit they do care,” Burgwin emphasized. “They just care about other things than society in general cares about.
“What do they care about? They are obsessed with having complete freedom. Therefore, the rule of the majority is only okay if they happen to agree with it,” Burgwin assessed.
“They do not believe in democracy”
“Or, more accurately, only if the majority happens to agree with them. ‘I’ll let my dog run at large if I want. After all, I didn’t write any law to the contrary. And no one else can tell me what to do.’
“In other words,” Burgwin stressed, “they do not believe in democracy.
“See what you’re fighting? The causes can run very deep. It may seem to be just a leash law or barking dog violation, but it may very well be rooted much deeper. You are really fighting for the right of society to govern itself. Heavy stuff when you are out trying to capture a loose dog. But think about it. You’ll find it easier to shed verbal abuse,” Burgwin assured fellow animal control officers, “when you understand the importance of your profession.”
Grant’s Pass Cavemen
Warren Cox, an animal care and control and humane worker for sixty years, 1952-2012, and a friend and colleague of Burgwin for nearly 40 years, recalled to ANIMALS 24-7 that Burgwin graduated from high school in Grant’s Pass, Oregon in 1949, “and came home to find his suitcase packed on the porch. His father had told him that as soon as he was out of high school, he would be on his own, and that’s how it was.”
Burgwin had already experienced steep ups and downs. On December 4, 1948 he helped the Grants Pass Cavemen win the Oregon six-man football state championship, in a 6-0 victory over a hometown Portland team in Multnomah Civic Stadium, used for professional sports since 1926 and still in service.
Wreck & fire
The Cavemen headed home the next morning to a planned city reception.
Six miles from Grant’s Pass, however, descending through the mountains into the city, the bus skidded, overturned, and caught fire.
Halfback Al Newman and end Sterling Heater burned to death, Heater after rescuing student manager Ray Alpeter, who suffered a broken leg. Four other Cavemen were seriously injured.
Burgwin was among the 28 players, coaches, and rooters who escaped through the windows of the bus, as the doors were jammed.
U.S. Marine Corps
Burgwin after high school served a year in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Recalled Phil Arkow, a cofounder of NACA, “At a NACA board of directors meeting in the early 1980s he shared with me a personal secret: during his military career he had accidentally shot and killed a man. Though it was ruled friendly fire and he was exonerated, I think the guilt haunted him his entire life and may have helped fuel his desire to help animals.”
Other old friends confirmed the story.
Released from the Marine Corps just before the outbreak of the Korean War, Burgwin became a police officer in Martinez, California, earning an associate’s degree in law enforcement from Diablo Valley College in nearby Pleasant Hill, while gradually rising in rank to sergeant and then lieutenant.
Burgwin at least twice in his police career, in 1954 and 1958, was among the first responders to car fires that must have reminded him of the 1948 bus fire. Burgwin made arrests each time, of two teenagers he caught trying to siphon gas in an unrelated incident at the scene of the first car fire, and of the 21-year-old sailor whose car burned in the second fire.
The sailor had tried to drive on a flat tire, which overheated, then abandoned the car in a location that jeopardized an occupied building.
Busted boxer for drugs
Burgwin’s most noteworthy action as a police officer, however, came in November 1955, when he assisted federal narcotics agents in arresting former lightweight boxing contender Jesse Flores, Flores’ wife Carmen, and 21 other suspected drug dealers.
Flores had fallen on hard times after being knocked out by Ike Williams in a September 1948 lightweight title fight in Yankee Stadium, New York, and had previously been arrested for alleged drug trafficking, also with his wife Carmen, in February 1953.
Wore many hats
Temporarily leaving police work in 1960, Burgwin from 1961 to 1964 managed the municipal water company at Donner Lake, California; bought and for two years ran a cocktail lounge in nearby Incline Village, Nevada; and returned to Oregon in 1966, managing a paint store in Portland for four years before taking a job in 1970 as a construction foreman during the first phase of the oil boom on the North Slope of Alaska.
Burgwin returned to police work, after 11 years, as a deputy sheriff for Multnomah County, Oregon, including Portland and several suburbs, but within another year transferred to Multnomah County Animal Control, where he served first as assistant manager and then general manager, after the Oregon Humane Society gave up the county animal control contract.
Built Multnomah shelter
Burgwin’s early duties included helping to design and build the current Multnomah County Animal Shelter.
“He’s the one who hired me,” recalled Mary Strachan Scriver, a Multnomah County animal control officer from 1973 to 1978, who later became a Unitarian Universalist minister. “Management did not want to hire a woman, didn’t think a woman could handle the job, and would not stick. When I finally went out into the field alone in a radio truck, they called me every hour or so to see if I were still alive. Of course, in those days Portland was a port where rats still came down mooring lines into the city and there were two parts of town where the cops went in pairs.
“After I was a few years in the field,” Scriver recounted, “we thought up the idea of education coordinator, a job included taking photos, keeping statistics, writing a textbook,” a forerunner to the National Animal Control Association training manual, “designing a formal training class for new hires, interfacing with the Oregon National Primate Research Center, the zoo veterinarian, and keeping the peace with the Oregon Humane Society. Also, dealing with Graziella Boucher, a tiny ancient tyrant” who headed the local Animal Defenders League and from 1964 to 1979 frequently clashed with Multnomah County law enforcement agencies, first over the use of pepper spray by mail carriers to deter aggressive dogs, later flamboyantly accusing a police officer of abusing his dog.
Burgwin ran into trouble with Boucher in May 1974, after suggesting to media that the community might respond to an alleged population explosion of opossums by declaring an “opossum clunking day,” when as the Portland Oregonian summarized, “all citizens would be asked to go out and kill all the opossums they find in a certain area.”
Boucher was apparently not mollified that Burgwin also argued at length that the best approach would be to just leave the opossums alone, as they tend to be harmless, despite fierce-looking teeth, and no wild opossum on record––then or now––has ever proved to be rabid.
Learning from the conflict, Burgwin went on to personally lead a nuisance wildlife response team whose mostly non-lethal solutions to human conflicts with urban wildlife were decades ahead of the approaches in most of the rest of North America.
Boucher was only one of Burgwin’s vehement public critics. Another, Joan Meisenholder Dahlberg, sought abolition of the decompression chamber then used by Multnomah County Animal Control, and by most major animal shelters, to kill animals who were not either adopted or reclaimed within a five-day holding period.
Her criticisms were amplified by the late Roger Troen, a local job printer who in January 1988 was convicted of burglary, theft, and conspiracy for receiving 135 animals stolen from the University of Oregon in Eugene during an October 1986 raid by the Animal Liberation Front.
Again Burgwin learned from the conflict. In 1977 Multnomah County became only the fourth major U.S. animal control jurisdiction to stop decompressing animals and go to use of pentobarbital injection, following Berkeley, California (1972) and San Francisco (1976).
The movement to abolish decompression spread rapidly thereafter, accelerated after 1980 by peer pressure from within the National Control Association. The last U.S. cities to use it, Houston and Austin, Texas, decommissioned their decompression chambers in 1985.
“We needed a new animal control ordinance,” recalled Scriver, “so Mike pulled together a panel of people with the able guidance of Francis Smith, a local lawyer who raised beagles. I attended all meetings and did a lot of original research of laws, news stories, and so on. The ordinance was fine, but struggling through the issues was game-changing.
“After I left for seminary,” Scriver continued, “people pounded on Mike because his reforms were against their interests. Finally, the shelter supervisor was caught selling the drugs that were used to kill the animals because the needle was supposed to be more humane than the high-altitude [decompression] chamber.”
The supervisor “was gregarious and friendly enough that people named their adopted dogs for him,” Scriver remembered. He lost his job, but so did Mike, as the person who ‘should have known.’”
“He never minced words”
E-mailed Doug Fakkema, who at the time was executive director at the Benton Humane Society in Corvallis, Oregon, and was just beginning to build his reputation as a teacher of pentobarbital euthanasia technique, “In late September 1979 Mike recruited me to work for him as shelter operations supervisor. After his ‘pitch’ I gave 30 days notice to my board of directors. As I was preparing to move to Portland, Mike called one morning and said he’d just been fired––he never minced words––and was about to be escorted out of the building. So we never got to work together.”
But Burgwin landed on his feet, serving from 1980 to 1985 as animal control manager in Seattle, Washington.
Burgwin had by 1980 already been working for two years to establish NACA, now the leading source of advanced training for animal control personnel worldwide, with knockoff organizations in several other nations.
“Frustrated by the lack of a source for information on animal control,” according to the official NACA history, Burgwin “felt as though he was forever reinventing the wheel.”
“Biggest single mistake”
As Scriver put it, both the American Humane Association and the Humane Society of the U.S. offered information and training conferences for animal shelter management, but “The single biggest mistake of outsiders is mistaking the shelter for the whole program.”
To rectify that oversight, Burgwin and Warren Cox in 1974 formed the Oregon Animal Control Council.
“I first met Mike at a meeting of the Oregon Animal Control Council,” recalled Fakkema. “I was immediately struck by the force of his personality. Mike smoked these long black skinny cigarettes. One day he up and quit and as far as I know, never smoked again. This exemplified Mike’s strength of character. And he loved a good margarita. I used to make them at my home in Corvallis when Mike visited. I can still hear the distinctive staccato of his laugh; it often punctuated his wise and slightly cynical law enforcement and animal control stories.”
By 1978 the Oregon Animal Control Council had become a success. Cox had become director of animal protection for the American Humane Association, and had begun pushing against an AHA bylaw then in effect that excluded animal control agencies from membership.
Burgwin and Cox decided it was time to roll out the idea of a national association representing animal control.
Burgwin wrote a letter, mailed by Cox, to leading animal control directors in all fifty states, calling a first meeting for September 27-29, 1978 in a hotel room in Denver, Colorado.
“Forty-nine people, representing twenty-four states, showed up and voted to form the National Animal Control Association,” states the NACA official history. “Mike Burgwin was elected chair. His first responsibility was to write the NACA bylaws.”
“Larger than life”
Among the attendees were Fakkema and Phil Arkow, then a shelter director in Colorado, now the longtime coordinator of The National Link Coalition/The National Resource Center on The Link Between Animal Abuse and Human Violence.
Arkow recalls meeting “this larger-than-life character” who turned out to be Burgwin, with whom he would collaborate on NACA projects for decades.
Eric Blow remembers
Eric Blow, then just named director of Louisville Metro Animal Services, a position he held until his retirement in 2005, “first met Mike at a Texas Animal Control Personnel Development meeting at Texas A & M University,” in November 1979.
“A large number of attendees had come to this meeting in anticipation of the formation of a national organization,” Blow wrote for Animal Control Officer Voice. One of those was Henry Davis, then director of the Lexington Humane Society,” in Kentucky.
An attorney, who later served for five years on the National Animal Control Association board and for 10 years as NACA legal counsel, “Hank had met Mike the previous year at an American Humane Association meeting in Florida. Hank was not easily impressed, but their meeting in Florida had a lifelong impact on him. He told me of this guy from Oregon,” Blow remembered, “who could work with the police and humane groups equally and effectively. He could tell you the ‘down time’ on various makes of vehicles. It seemed that he knew everything.
“Father of modern animal care & control”
“Mike would be the first to tell you that he didn’t, but he certainly knew how to get us all thinking. The following year, 1980, we held the first NACA Training Conference in Portland, Oregon and we were off to the races!
“Mike was not only NACA’s founder and first president,” continued Blow, who was himself NACA president in 1984-1986, “he is considered the father of modern animal care and control. He was the first to start leading us out of failed and antiquated ways. In those early days of the late 1970s, he believed that effective professional animal control was not mutually exclusive with modern and humane sheltering and proactive programs.
“He promoted professionalism at a time where there was very little. He created training opportunities when they were very few and far between. He created camaraderie within the field that stretched across the United States and Canada. Whatever successes any of us may have had were built, at least partially, on the shoulders of this big man. He was important to people, animals and our profession. He should be remembered that way,” Blow finished.
Johnny Mays testifies
Burgwin in 1983 repeated his Oregon success by forming the Washington Animal Control Association.
Then, from 1985 to 1994, Burgwin served as first executive director of NACA, which was at the time headquartered at the Burgwin family home in Indianola, Washington.
“I first met Mike in New Orleans in 1986,” recalled Johnny Mays, his successor as NACA executive director, who retired in 2013. “He and his wonderful wife Lorna opened their home many times, not only for me, but for countless others involved in the profession. He and Lorna were gracious hosts. However, I do recall several instances in which I traded work for food,” an arrangement later reversed when Burgwin stayed with the Mays family.
“With the growth of the association and the addition of paid staff, working out of a family home became crowded and unsustainable,” explained Mays. “In September 1995, NACA purchased its first property, located in Olathe, Kansas,” near Kansas City. After the purchase was completed, Mike was the first to volunteer to help with the renovation. Utilizing his superior contractor skills, he singlehandedly built our first conference room, enclosing an old carport and pouring the concrete floor. It was tight, but we could fit the entire board in that room. It was unofficially dedicated as “Mike’s Room.” Sadly, the first NACA property has since been torn down,” as NACA has repeatedly relocated to larger facilities.
The Tyke case
Burgwin finished his career in animal care and control with a two-year stint in 1994-1995 as chief of law enforcement for the Hawaii Humane Society. In that capacity Burgwin became lead investigator in perhaps his most unusual and most lastingly influential case.
John Cuneo, of Richmond, Illinois, had started the Hawthorn Corporation as a traveling circus in 1957, but discovered a more profitable business niche in leasing animals to other circuses and boarding exotic animals.
Among the animals Cuneo leased was an elephant named Tyke. While waiting to perform in a Circus International show on August 20, 1994 in Honolulu, Hawaii, Tyke attacked a handler and fatally injured trainer Allen Campbell, 37, when Campbell intervened.
Police shot Tyke moments later when he bolted out of the building where the performance was to have occurred. The entire episode was captured on video.
Tyke had history
Recounted Performing Animal Welfare Society founder Pat Derby, who died in 2013, “Tyke was an elephant with a history of problems related to the stress of traveling and training. Tyke had been disciplined in public as early as 1988, and complaints had been lodged with the USDA about her treatment. No action was taken by the USDA then, and the elephant continued to travel and perform, creating problems in other cities.”
Cuneo neither admitted nor denied violating Animal Welfare Act regulations in connection with the Tyke case, but agreed to pay a civil penalty of $12,500, the USDA summarized in announcing the 1997 fine.
Elevated the circus elephant issue
Similar incidents had occurred often in the preceding 188 years of circus elephant exhibition around the U.S., beginning when Jacob Crowninshield brought the first elephant seen in the Americas since the ice ages to New York City on April 13, 1796. Customs inspector Nataniel Hathorne, father of author Nathaniel Hawthorne (who spelled his name differently), logged the arrival.
Animal advocates had campaigned against elephant use in circuses at least since 1866, when Henry Bergh founded the American SPCA and, within the same year, personally took up the cause with Barnum & Bailey Circus cofounder P.T. Barnum.
But the Tyke case, perhaps because it was caught on video, uniquely elevated the treatment of circus elephants to a priority issue with the public.
Cuneo fined, forced to divest elephants
Under close scrutiny thereafter, Cuneo in 1996 was caught exhibiting elephants who were suffering from tuberculosis, and in 2004, after years of litigation, agreed to divest of his remaining 16 elephants and pay a civil penalty of $200,000.
This was the first time that the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service had ordered a circus to cease exhibiting elephants, and was the beginning of the end for elephant use in U.S. circuses.
The Clyde Beatty/Cole Brothers Circus, formed in 1884, once exhibiting as many as 80 elephants, on the same day in 2004 announced that it would cease elephant exhibitions, and would retire the last two elephants it had.
The Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus, the last major circus elephant exhibitor in the U.S., in January 2016 announced that it would end using elephants in performances in May 2016.
Nicky Ratliff says
Mike was a good guy who made a real difference in the field of animal control. I first met him at a NACA conference in the mid to late 1980s in New Orleans at the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street. At that conference we symbolically buried “the dog catcher” and had his funeral. It was apparent to me that Mike was going to lead NACA to new heights. RIP Mike, it was a real privilege to have known you. My most sincere condolences to your family and friends. Nicky Ratliff – Maryland
Dave Pauli says
Mike was definitely a visionary in getting NACA off the ground! I attended many of the first NACA conferences and later wrote a chapter for their national training guide. NACA was/is an efficient trade group for bringing professional standards, training and equipment to animal control. Rest in peace Mike!
Mary Scriver says
This is terrific! There were a few stories I didn’t know and a few that I didn’t know anyone else knew. The Marine incident for example. He did indeed go over and over it.
His theory of management was to keep things in a day-tight compartment. Before leaving, he took his big arm and swept everything off his desk into the “round file.” If there was something that really had to be done, he stayed and finished it even if it took until 2AM.
The woman who had the hardest job, he always said, was “Little Bea” who filed all the dog license records alphabetically. If they got mixed up or left out, it might mean a little kid had to have the shots — the series in the belly in those days. She never let up, never complained, but by the end of the week she was exhausted. “Big Bea” was Mike’s secretary who had a different kind of challenges. (You can imagine.) So on Friday at lunch time the two Bea’s went to a restaurant for lunch and had a little wine with their meal. That let enough tension out of them that they could finish the week. With a lot of laughter.
When Mike made that pitch about thinking about the deeper meanings of our job, I listened. When I left it was to enroll in seminary and I spent the next ten years in the ministry. My sermons were full of animal stories as entry point for some pretty serious moral issues.
Mike had to let a shelter attendant go once. She had Tourette’s Syndrome and made funny noises all the time. In his usual blunt way, he called her “Froggy,” but not to her face. The management above him said she had to go. He cried. Not to her face.