Rolling up in a white Ford Explorer, Mitchell Battle scopes out a two-story house on 55th Street NE. He glides the SUV through an open set of wrought iron gates, then swivels his head several times, trying to spot lurking dangers.

In all the years he’s been on the job as an animal cop, he’s never been gnarled by a dog. It’s always the cats that get him. Still, there’s no reason to take chances. Battle knows this house has two full-grown German Shepherds, one gentle, one aggressive.

He hopes the aggressive one, the one that hurls itself against the front door in a bloodthirsty rage each time Battle approaches, isn’t loose in the front yard today. Stopping his vehicle in the middle of the driveway, Battle spots neither of the  dogs, at first. Then there’s a bark. His eyes pick up copper-colored fur. The dog he’s come to check on, the friendly Shepherd—Battle has reason to believe it’s being neglected—is standing on a short wall marked with iron fence posts.  As the pooch barks and whines, its brown eyes fix congenially on Battle. “I kind of like this dog. I kind of come by and see it every once in a while,” he says as he pops his seatbelt. Battle exits the Ford and lopes towards the pet, but then stops short. Something’s wrong. The dog is stuck.

A D.C. native whose mother owned nine Pugs at one point (and took in every injured animal that came across her door to boot), Battle knows critters. Being familiar with the four-legged, he uses a combination of training and instincts in these situations.

About eight years ago he started work as a Humane Law Enforcement officer for the Washington Humane Society. Back then, being an animal cop was about chasing down dog fighters. Battle remembers talking with one dog fighter who gave him a heads up on what would later become the world’s most well-known dog fighting scandal: “I’ve been selling dogs to Michael Vick‘s brother,” the guy confided.

“We used to get two or three calls a day about dog fights,” explains Battle. But, working with the Metropolitan Police Department, he and other animal cops busted up D.C.’s three maindog fighting rings years ago, he says. That means that these days, patrolling the city for animal cruelty is more about the kind of problem he finds on 55th: “If you’re not able to keep a dog properly, don’t own a dog,” grumbles Battle.

The Shepherd is bound by the neck by a red cord someone thought would make a good outdoor leash. When the unmonitored animal hopped onto the fenced wall, however, the cord got tangled in the fence. Battle shakes his head as he snaps pictures of the dangerous situation. There’s no one home. The dog could easily end up strangling herself.

Evidence gathered, the cop gets ready for the hard part. He goes over to the Ford and fishes through the trunk, emerging with a blue slip-leash. Though the dog is friendly under normal circumstances, Battle doesn’t know how she’ll react to him today, since she’s in distress. “Let’s see how she does,” Battle says, taking measured steps toward her.

A minute later, it’s done: The dog is safely in a carrier. Battle writes up an impound notice and tacks it to the owner’s door. Inside the house, he can hear the aggressive Shepherd snarling.

Tonight, D.C.’s Humane Society officers will be honored here.

Photos by Rend Smith