Lafler leaves with 34 years of dog tales

Loujane Johns
Henry and Mary Jane Lafler

In cartoons and movies “the dog catcher” is portrayed as a pretty mean character —dreaded by “mutts” and their owners. 

Henry Lafler doesn’t fit this description at all.  For 34 years the calm, quiet man has been picking up dogs all over the Yates County in the gentlest way possible.   He’s finally decided it’s time to quit since he is not as quick as he used to be.

Lafler had served on the Potter Town Board for a few years, when Ward Emerson told him a county job was coming up he might be interested in.  Sheriff George Spike approached him saying,   “You’re a sheepman and dogs are sheep killers.  I think you would be good at the job.”  Lafler was sworn-in that January.  The dogs were brought to his farm on State Route 364 where eight kennels were built.

Lafler’s wife of 55 years, Mary Jane, has played a big role in the operation over the years.  It is Mary Jane who has kept the books and records all these years.  She also often rides along to assist with the animals and help Henry find the right address. 

“Most of the dogs haven’t done anything to anybody,” Lafler said.  In his long career he said he has only been bitten three times.  His wife quickly corrected, “three bad bites, Henry, but you have had many smaller bites.”  Henry replied, “They don’t count.” 

His worst bite was inflicted by a Doberman.  The dog jumped up and latched on to his lower jaw, pulling out his front teeth.  Lafler still jokes, “it’s the cheapest dental work I ever had done.”

On a call in Dundee he had a tough time with a German shepherd.  The dog had bitten a little girl and Lafler was determined to catch and hold the dog for rabies testing, so the child would not have to undergo needless rabies shots.  “At that time the shots were given in the stomach,” he said.  The dog wouldn’t get in the back of the truck, so Lafler put him in the front seat.  “I had to have stitches all over my arms.”  But he still didn’t blame the dog.  “He had never seen me before, so when you take hold of the collar, they object.” 

Lafler still insists he has never met a dog he didn’t like.  The very worst call he remembers was near Dundee several years ago.  One house had 65-70 dogs.  Two pot-bellied pigs were in the cellar without easy access. Lafler and deputies had to crawl to get the pigs. “It smelled so bad, I burned my clothes when I got home.”   The dogs were loaded into cattle trailers.  Many had to be “put down” because of disease.  Police agencies stood by all night while the dogs were removed he said.

Lafler gave the law enforcement agencies lots of praise.  He thanked them for assisting in difficult situations over the years.  Sheriff Ron Spike had lots of good things to say about Lafler.  “I can’t thank him enough for his unselfish commitment.  He has touched a lot of lives in his career.”

Spike said he remembers when his father hired Lafler, saying he was well suited for the job.  Over the years Spike said Lafler’s title has evolved from “peace officer,” to “dog control,” and finally “animal control.”  The job now requires a test.

“Over the years, Henry has provided humane care in picking up injured and abused animals and taking them to the vet,” Spike said. 

The sheriff remembers one time Lafler approached a growling dog with only a leash.  Someone asked him if he wasn’t going to use a “loop.”  He said the loop has a long stick and he was sure the dog had been beaten.  “Let’s try it this way first.”  And he was successful by approaching the dog slowly and talking calmly.  The dog just sat down. Spike added, “He has done his duty and done it well.  I have admiration and respect for him.”

Mary Jane said he is good with animals, “He has a way with them.” When he first started as a “peace officer,” Lafler wore a sheriff’s department uniform with a badge. 

He said, “that stuff scared the dogs.”  He also said he has only used pepper spray on a few occasions.  “I figure they have been through enough.” The secret seems to be in his voice.  Those who have observed Lafler say the animals are aggressive when he comes, then they calm down. He is almost like a “dog whisperer.”

State law requires the dogs  to be held 10 days before they are euthanized.  This is the hardest part of his job.  He holds the dogs, while the vet gives the shot.  Then he uses his bulldozer to dig a hole in the on-site pet cemetery. 

Over the years he has kept a few dogs he couldn’t part with. 

Many of the dogs have not been properly fed, so the Laflers make sure they have enough food.  When there is a full house, the dogs eat about three and a half 40 lb. bags in a week. 

The county supplies the food and bedding.  The owners must pay $20 to retrieve their dogs, but Lafler said very few are picked up by their owners.  Sometimes Lafler gets calls to pickup “a stray” which he knows belongs to the caller.  “They just don’t want the dog, or can’t take care of it, but you can’t call them liars.” 

Occasionally people think the Lafler’s house is a shelter.  “Someone came from Canandaigua one time with a whole box of puppies.  We told him we couldn’t take them.  Off they went and later we found the box with the puppies in our barn.”

The Lafler’s have never ventured far from home.  Henry grew up just across the road.  When his grandmother died she left her house on the north side of State Route 364 to Henry and Mary Jane.  They have lived there over 50 years and have only taken a few overnight trips.  Even now, without the dogs, they still have 20 head of cattle, 400 sheep, two Belgium horses and 700 acres of hay, pasture and wood land to tend. 

The Laflers raised three children, Harold and Linda were followed by Roger 15 years later.  Roger died from an accidental shooting at age 23.  Pictures of Roger and the John Deere memorabilia he loved are displayed throughout the house. The couple had hoped Roger would take over the farm someday. The Laflers also have four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Lafler said he will miss two things — the dogs and his truck.  “I love that truck (supplied by the county).”  He said he has even had calls from Mennonites saying they are sorry he is leaving.  Now he looks forward to running his bulldozer to work the land, not bury dogs. 

As Lafler finishes reminiscing, his wife reminds him that they have three more dogs to pickup before nightfall.