Records Request

We have entered a period in our society in which people want to second guess government decisions.  In an effort to peek into our decision making processes, people will make requests for information under the freedom of information act (FOIA).  Many requests that are made are overkill and such government has the right to charge the appropriate fees when responding to such requests.  Many times, when government provides an estimate, the requester will either refine their request or claim that the information is for the “public good” and ask that the information be provided at no charge.

FOIA requests give us opportunity to review how our information is stored.  Most requests are for emails on certain topics.  Many large government organizations backup the email server nightly and email requests can be handled through the IT Department.  Organizations need to be constantly reminded that retention of documents must be adhered to.

Some government organization prohibit texting and social media because the information is usually not archived and thus unsearchable.  If you cannot search records that are used in your government employment, you should not use that method of communication.  It becomes critical that your staff does not delete messages, text, or social media posts if they are used to conduct government business.  The more methods that you use to conduct your business, the more searching you have to do when responding to a FOIS request.  Anyone who works for an organization that records telephone calls will understand the difficulty in searching audio files that have been requested.

When updating your local laws, it might be a good idea to see how your client records are protected.  I have had FOIA requests for licensing data of pet owners.  Your database is a good source of data that someone can use to target the pet owners of your community.  Although FOIA states that you must give the information in the form that it is maintained, electronic data becomes problematic and it might be a smart move to offer the data in printed form… maybe a mailing label, so that data is used only once.  If you are considering protecting your data from vendors, you should consider protecting the data that comes from your veterinarians when administering rabies vaccinations, since licensing requires that information.  By protecting the information from veterinarians, your licensing data will also be protected.

It is  common for someone to request adoption information.  The request is usually by the owner of a pet who failed to timely reclaim their pet and wants to use the information to bully the person who adopted their pet.  I would suggest that you find a way to protect that data as well.  There are two ways to do that: the first way is to protect the data by ordinance, the other is to put a check mark on  the adoption contract in which the adopter can ask for confidentiality.  It would force the old dog owner to take you to court for the information; then you can explain to the judge that the previous owner has no legal right to the animal and providing the information may place the adoption family at risk.

FOIA requests have become so common that you might consider having a person specifically responsible for handling them.  Time limits are set and it is important not to violate a person’s right to information.  When working on a FOIA request, you’ll need to track the length of time to conduct the search and wages of the people involved.  You should calculate the cost of paper and the ware and tear of your copier or printer.  Many organizations just simplify the process and charge per page.  Some database request would resort in thousand of pages, so to save paper, you might consider converting the files to PDF and provide them via email.  Make sure you collect your fees first.

FOIA is a necessary service for the public to see how their government is working, but it frequently is used to bog an organization down in work to punish  the organization for performing an action that a person dislikes.  It is important that you are meticulous in performing this function; many times the person knows that there is a specific file they are looking for and if you fail to find it or fail to provide it, you will have some difficult questions that you may have to answer.

Identifying Dog Breeds

When I first started working in animal welfare, you could easily identify 99 percent of the dogs coming through your shelter with a good dog breed book.  Over the years dogs have been interbreeding to the point that I’ve been unable to identify the primary breed.  It is common to identify two distinct breeds, but eventually we began to see breed combinations that are no longer readily identifiable.

When I first stated in this business, I worked on an animal shelter management software tool.  The most common request that our users asked was to allow for them to distinguish the primary breed as unknown.  I recognized the problem of doing that when lazy shelter employees would identify all of the animals in the shelter as “unknown” breed.  It would have made record keeping impossible.

As time passes, I began to experience the same problem of identifying the various breeds contained in a dog.  For a long time, pitbull dogs were misidentified and many people took on the task of teaching staff how to correctly identify the breed.  Some shelters recognized the problem of calling a dog a pitbull and began calling them by other breeds, such as an “American Dog”.  I always believed in the integrity of my data.

The most common complaint from people was that most dogs were identified as a “pitbull mix.”  It wasn’t that we could not identify the breed, the fact was that pitpulls were being intentionally bred with other dogs.  My daughter just announced to me that she adopted a pitbull/poodle mix that was seized from a breeder in her community.  I don’t know if I should be critical of using a pitbull or using a poodle.

The fact that breed identification was so difficult, shelter staff is constantly asked to change a dog’s breed description so as to get the animal adopted.  I explained that it is pretty embarrassing for the owner of an adopted  pitbull puppy to be confronted by their landlord or veterinarian with the truth about their dog’s breed.  I have always insisted on the integrity of my organization.

I had a group of volunteers trying to convince me that a pitbull (American Staffordshire Terrier (I know, some people will claim that this isn’t a pitbull, but it falls into the group of dog breed groups that we call “pitbull”))  Under the pressure of this group, I started to see some Great Dane characterizes in the dog.  I could see myself caving on this issue.  My staff thought I was nuts.  I guess as you get older, you either try to compromise more or you begin to lose your vision.  I suggested that we send the dog’s DNA off for testing.  The dog came back 100 percent American Staffordshire Terrier.  I was proof that the longer that you stare at a pitbul the more it begins to look like another breed.

Animal Shelters are a constant battleground as to breed identification.  I fondly look back to the days when breeds would be readily identified.  When it came to animal identification, those were the good old days.  It is okay to step back from a dog and shake your head and say, “I don’t know what it is.”

Woke

Our politics and the animal welfare profession is driven by the fringe.  The fringe is so fervent in their beliefs that they are prone to violence; that is why the rest of us stay quietly in the middle.

In human politics, we encounter self proclaimed individuals who are over sensitive on every issue who claim that we cannot be woke unless we believe exactly like them.  This past week, they went way past the line of reason.  Their longtime solution is to erase history, so that we cannot celebrate our past.  American is great because we have done some wonderful things and have learned from our mistakes.

With the fringe driving the animal welfare movement, they would have us put animals before people.  This “Animals First” movement has led to animal shelter staff and volunteers lying about animals to get them adopted.  But, our mission is not to get an animal into every home, it is to get them into the right home.

For pet owners, if your dog is chained in your backyard, you are definitely not woke.

Being woke is being sensitive to the plight of others.  Unfortunately, the determination of being woke is in the hands of over sensitive people; they find issues where no issue exists.

Cowboy Justice

One of the most common ways for judges to deal with aggressive dogs is to vanquish the dog from the jurisdiction.  This means of administering justice is similar to dog owners hiding their dog following an incident in which the dog has injured someone.

The judges don’t want to make the decision to destroy the dog and the pet owner is unwilling to accept responsibility for the actions of their dog.  Neither have any concern about throwing out an aggressive dog from one jurisdiction makes the dog a risk to another jurisdiction.  As long as the dog doesn’t pose a threat to our community, they are okay.  When it comes to pet ownership, as a society, we have never thought globally.

The reason that so many people are attacked by aggressive dogs is that neither the community nor the owners take their responsibility seriously and the children seem to take the brunt of these folks failing to accept their civic responsibility.

Anytime I heard about a “get out of town free” order, I would determine where the dog was going and call the animal control officers of that jurisdiction to make them aware that an aggressive dog was moving into their neighborhood.  I figure that if all we do is push our problems off on another community, they can prepare to deal with it in their community.   This kind of thinking has forced many neighborhoods to take protection with them as they go out on their daily walk; some of them even carry guns.

The Evolution of the “Running at Large” Ordinance

In the beginning, dogs were considered running at large if the dog was not under the “control of the owner”, while off the property of the owner.  There seemed to be a discrepancy between what the owner consider under control and what Animal Control Officers consider under control.  It became obvious that voice control proved to provide inadequate control under most (every)circumstances.

Ordinances migrated to requiring dogs to be kept under physical control.  Eventually the ordinance evolved to requiring maximum leash length and the leash had to be held by an adult with the capacity to “physically” control the dog while off the property of the owner.

Soon the laws required dogs to be physically confined to the property.  It was a time when the Invisible Fence folks tried to convince the law makers that their device should be viewed as physical confinement; we didn’t buy it.  We had enough experience to know that a headstrong dog would suffer the brief pain to breach the fence and then would be punished every time the dog tried getting back into the yard.

People too cheap to fence their yards would start chaining their pet in the yard.  After a few years we discovered the chaining caused dogs to become more aggressive and it was inhumane to chain the dogs for long periods of time.  We then began to create tethering laws; that created a whole new world of pet owners trying to interpret the law.

It wasn’t long that cats got into the act.  I think we received more complaints about cats than we did dogs.  Cat owners, like the dog owners before them could not understand how they could be breaking the law while their cat was just sitting on the porch.  Most people did not understand the concept of their pet having the potential to leave the property because the animal was not physically confined to the property.  Not a single pet owner convinced us that they had an infallible honor system with their pet that was never broken.

be We constantly were told that “My pet never leaves the yard.”  In all my years in animal control, I found only two dogs that could not be coaxed from their yard.  They were two Shelties living on a corner lot in Pullman Washington.  Those animals have passed on, so I am convinced that there are now no animals to my knowledge that will not breach the boundary of their yard.

Cats became more of an issue because cat owners exercised loose ownership of their cats.  People treated their pets as passing strays in the neighborhood.  For that reason, we then had to define the term of owner.  It seems that the more laws that we created to make people responsible pet owners and good neighbors were creating a culture of absentee pet owners.  The thinking is that if I pretend that I don’t own the animal, then maybe I can convince someone else that I really don’t own the animal.

Cat Licensing

I believe that cats should be indoor animals; however, I have lived with numerous cats who disagree with me.  Cats are easy to train to be indoor animals, until they experience the outdoors and all that training goes out the door (or window).  Having experienced the outdoors, the cat is compelled to be an outdoor animal.   When this event occurs, it is time to double check that you cat is still wearing its collar with pet license and other identification.

Why should you cat have multiple identification?    If your local jurisdiction requires licenses, the only phone number on the license tag is one to your animal shelter or city/county clerk.  These offices are not always open.  Someone finding your cat, even if you don’t think it is lost, will have no one to call in the middle of the night.  Putting a tag on your pet with your phone number may save you a trip to your local shelter to reclaim your pet and save you the cost of reclaiming your pet.

Cat licensing ordinances are the most difficult ordinances to pass.  Many people don’t believe it is possible to own a cat and city councils and county commissions often agree.  People see licensing as a pet tax, which it is; but, it also indicates that the animal that bit or scratched you may be vaccinated for rabies.  I said, “may be” because people frequently place licenses ontheir pets that are not registered for that pet.

I believe in pet taxes because pet owners are the ones who benefit most from animal control services.  These are the folks that pick up your pet from a frustrated neighbor when your pet is digging or pooping in their yard.  If these folks didn’t have someone to call, who knows how they might take out their frustrations.

Most cat owners are too lazy to put (and keep) a collar and tag on their cat.  They claim that the collar endangered the cat by getting the cat hung up on a tree branch.  I have spent a lifetime rescuing cats and have yet to rescue a cat from its collar.  Don’t make excuses, just admit that you are too lazy.

Differential licensing is setting a lower license fee for animals who have been spayed or neutered.  People think this is unfair to charge more for a fertile animal; but the fact is that fertile animals and the cause of the pet overpopulation crisis that many animal shelters face.  If you are not smart enough to immediately recognize the benefit of spayed or neutered pets, then you should pay a higher tax so that animal shelter has the funds to take care of your poor judgement.

I believe that pet license expirations should coincide with the expiration of the rabies vaccination.  The initial vaccination is good for one year and most revaccinations are good for three years.  Many veterinarians  may only vaccinate for one year, so as to force you to come back each year for an office visit.  I support the notion to visit your veterinarian annually, but I oppose over vaccinating a pet.  If your veterinarian insists on giving your pet an annual rabies vaccination, it is time to look for a new veterinarian.

The main reason for putting identification on your cat is that less an 7 percent of lost cats are ever returned to their owner.  The fact is that people don’t search for their lost cat.  The main reason (not laziness (but that figures in)) is that cats are not the most loyal of creatures and might have a history of moving in with a neighbor from time to time.  Even with the longest holding times, cat owners usually don’t begin the search for their cat until the holding period has long run out.

Neighborhoods are full of frustrated people who spend their time trapping the cats that come in their yard.  It is their response to the callousness of cat owners who believe they don’t have a responsibility to keep their cats confined.  Many cities have programs for catching stray (loose) cats.  I have lived in places in which we had to keep ordering more and more traps because of the high demand.  Most of the cats that are trapped have no identification; the cats that do have identification are frequently returned within minutes of being trapped.

For the people who have not figured out how to keep a collar on their cat, you might think that microchipping is the answer.  As I have always said, microchips are a poor form of secondary identification… it is better than nothing, but not much better.  It is very hard to scan a cat in a live trap.  The cat is so freaked out, that many times the cat acts feral and for the safety of the staff, the cat is not immediately scanned for a microchip.  A collar and tag can immediately identify the cat as having an owner.  Keep a cat indoors spares the cat from the experience of being trapped.

Research Projects

When I was working near a college, I learned of an anthropology professor who was studying the life of cavemen.  On his off time, he hunted Bigfoot in the forests of Washington State.  Students claimed that part of his research was to spear live goats and cut them up with stone knives.  Somehow, be believed that he was furthering the plight of civilized mankind.  I am convinced that any animal research committee today would deny his research

In my senior year in college, I attended a class that introduced the students to real life experiences in our field of wildlife resources.  I gave a talk on how wildlife managers should deal with animal rights activists; the talk would have earned me points with the activists.  On one occasion, a researcher came in to talk to us about his research on Whitetail Deer populations.  He was darting the animals from a helicopter.  Since I had learned the use of chemical immobilization from the head of anesthesiology, I asked him what drug he was using.  He said he was using succinylcholine chloride.   Hearing  that, I became very upset; this drug is not a tranquilizer but a paralyzing drug.  It administers the worst kind of death when an animal is overdosed.  I asked him what is death rate was and he claimed that half of the animals die from his research.  I told them that if he was killing half of his test subjects he was engaged in bastard research.  The rest of the class agreed with me.

The anthropologist and the wildlife researcher were so focused on the outcome of their research, that they overlooked the pain and suffering they caused in the performance of their research.  This is why colleges should engage in constant monitoring to see that no animal is needless harmed in their care.  The world is changing.  In the old days, third and forth year veterinary students would perform three surgeries on an animal and following the third surgery the animal would be euthanized.  Now, instead of euthanizing the animal, veterinary students are talking the animals home as pets.

There continues to be a lot of useless research being conducted and it is up to us to force researchers into being humane.

Facing Impossible Tasks

One of the duties I had in Fairfax County Virginia was finding a way to manage the deer population in the County.  The County was entirely urban, without sufficient open space to provide for safe hunting.  The greatest predator of deer were automobiles.

I’ve always believed that intervention by humans always made a mess; however, clearly the deer population exceeded the carrying capacity of the area.  The deer had eaten all of the  vegetation within their reach and citizens were reporting that the deer were trying to eat plastic plants in their yards.  It was clear that the deer population was slowly starving.

At the time, chemical sterilants were not practical for free ranging animals.  Implanting IUDs was not being done and still might be considered impractical for a large free ranging species.  With our current technology, it came down to a kill option.

The local bow hunters had decided that the only option available to me was creating a group of bow hunters to walk through the neighborhoods and kill the deer.  For some reason they came to believe that I supported such an option.  Even an outdoor magazine printed an article about our plight and my support for bow hunters to come to the rescue.  I don’t know what I feared most, starving deer or deer walking through neighborhoods with arrows sticking out of them.

I knew that presenting a kill option would have the humane groups running me out of town; but, to present no option was not an option.  I was friendly with the Editor of the Fairfax Journal, who asked me how I could deal with a no win option.  He later quoted my answer a few months later: “When given a no win option, always have another job waiting.”

Much to my dismay, I suggested that we establish feeding sites that would draw deer into neighborhood parks and have police sharpshooters exercise “population control” from tree stands, so as to prevent overshot into neighboring houses.   A group, Hunters for the Hungry, would dress the deer to be given to people in the homeless shelters.  As you can imagine, that recommendation was hated by humane groups and sportsmen alike.  My solution made everyone angry.

It wasn’t until a local school teacher was killed in a deer/auto collision that the County Commissioners moved forward to their own plan of driving police sharpshooter through parks at night to shoot deer from the roadway.   Although effective, I worried about the officers seeing a safe backdrop in the dark.

Fairfax County still wrestles with deer population control.  Although technology has improved over time, lethal solutions have become the primary means of control wild populations.  Dealing with wildlife is a large part of providing animal control services to communities.  To avoid dealing with wildlife, many organizations place the word “domestic” in their name to show that they do not want to deal with wild species.

Breaking Up Dog Fights

One of the greatest risks to employee safety is breaking up two dogs fighting.  Dog fights are most likely to occur in the shelter, but recent designs to animal control vehicles place employees at risk while transporting animals.  In order to accommodate various size dogs, animal control vehicle box designers have created removeable walls to adjust the size of the cage compartments.  Those walls are an extremely weak point in the design in which an aggressive dog can breach the wall and attack a dog an adjacent cage.

I have found that the most effect way to break up a dog fight is to use a CO2 fire extinguisher.  The blast from the fire extinguisher is sufficient to shock the dogs from fighting briefly.  One used, the extinguishers can be recharged to be used again.  The extinguishers should be in every animal control vehicle and placed throughout the animal shelter.

Police and EMT might consider using the extinguishers to access an injured person who is being guarded by the person’s dogs.  Although tasers are effective, they may be unnecessary  if emergency personnel prepare in advance for such incidents.

My Dream Job

Sometimes it is easier to remember the downside of a job and we need to be reminded that many jobs have a upside.   My favorite job was working for the ASPCA redesigning an animal shelter management tool called, PetWhere.

During the redesign of PetWhere, we spent much of our time helping the folks who were using the older version of the software.  PetWhere had some interesting quirks that would imbed data from other programs into the database, if it crashed.  So, if you were working on a Word document while using PetWhere, it would insert parts of the Word document into PetWhere’s database.  This quirk forced us to spend a lot of time helping animal shelters clean up their database.

I enjoyed playing the role of saving the day.  One of the nice feature of PetWhere was the ability to open the software data files in a spreadsheet program and you could scroll through the data and easily find the corrupt data.  It felt good to recover the data when the shelter staff believed that their data was lost for good.

I would have loved to spend my entire career digging through data, but funding for the redesign was exhausted because we tried to fix too many things in the first version.  Sometimes it is just better to stay with baby steps.