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Life changes: Ditching the desk job to become an animal cop

Filed by KOSU News in Public Insight Network.
December 29, 2012

Editor’s Note:  We’ve asked a lot of questions in 2012. And you’ve shared a lot of stories with us. So many of them are about change, of one sort or another. So we’re marking the shifting of the years with stories of people actively making changes in their lives that affect their physical, emotional or communal health. This is one of those stories, told by Public Insight Network source William Campbell

Campbell, 48, of Los Angeles, was one of the three-quarters of Americans who count work as a significant source of stress. Unlike most of us, though, he decided to do something about it. Here’s his story of a radical career move that, as it happens, has also put him in the best physical shape of his life. (Read all of our stories of change here.)

William Campbell participates in firearms training at the Rio Hondo College Police Academy Firing Range. (Photo submitted by William Campbell)

William Campbell participates in firearms training at the Rio Hondo College Police Academy’s firing range. (Photo shared by William Campbell)

The major change I’m in the midst of this year is a post-mid-life career change. After 20-plus years in a variety of forms of journalism, I decided to stop bouncing from one unfulfilling editing job to another and become — of all things — an animal cop, otherwise known as a California humane law enforcement officer.

Why animals? Because I’m a lifelong animal lover and protector, but not just the soft, furry and cute ones most of us consider pets. I’m a firm believer in respecting the order and purpose and place of ALL creatures. That includes insects, reptiles, birds and certainly the local fauna that can be regularly encountered in Southern California: skunks, raccoons, rats, mice, opossums and coyotes. An example of how I can take it to an extreme: Most people would grab a fly swatter or bug spray, but I’m known to go to the trouble of catching and releasing houseflies, spiders and centipedes.

Because of that foundation of respect for all creatures, I would say I’m best suited to take this passion I have for animals of all sizes and shapes and connect it to a law enforcement opportunity where I can best serve and protect them.

To do that I am putting myself through the Rio Hondo College Police Academy, where I’ve completed two of the three steps to graduation. The last and longest learning module begins in January — and upon my successful completion of that, I will apply to spcaLA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles) in hopes of joining its law enforcement division.

I have a long way to go, but I’ve also come a long way. When I got into journalism more than 20 years ago, I had high hopes. But the positions I’ve held over the years as the publishing industry has contracted have all brought with them one thing in common: a lack of fulfillment.

So, with 96 percent determination and about 4 percent luck, I may very well become one of the oldest graduating cadets from Rio Hondo Police Academy, and hopefully not too long after that, one of the oldest rookie cops out there. It would mean a new job and a steady income that, to me, will be far more invigorating, challenging and fulfilling than any I’ve had in journalism these past 20 years.

For now, I’m in the best internal and external shape of my life as a result of focusing on the fitness level required. I won’t break any land speed records, but I can run 1.5 miles in under 12 minutes, a feat I haven’t accomplished since high school. I’m currently at 200 pounds, which is a weight I also haven’t been since then.

Of course as good as I’m feeling physically and mentally, the positives are tempered by the obstacles I have to overcome. In the short term, this final module of the academy that begins in January will be the most difficult to complete. And then there are the longer-term challenges of getting hired and sworn in as an authorized officer of the law.

It’s also put my wife and me in a bit of a financial hole, as I’m devoting myself to my education almost full time, and we’re now essentially a single-income household.

But beyond the unknowns I face and the trepidation they bring, I feel tremendously confident in the choice I’ve made to seek out such a new career.

I’m certainly aware enough to know that there are going to be aspects of a career in humane law enforcement that are far less than fulfilling. Regardless of how hard I work, there are going to be bad guys who get away with crimes, and there are going to be animals I encounter who’ve endured horrible abuse and neglect. But that won’t stop me from putting on a badge and doing a job I feel I was born to do — however late I might be getting to do it.

The negatives I encounter will simply make me work harder, knowing that every day I’m out there I can help make my part of the world a better place for the creatures with which we share it.

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