PETA

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) gained their early notoriety  with shock and awe tactics.  Their campaigns to end the use of animal pelts as articles of clothing revealed the naked bodies of many of their volunteers at public and private functions.  Obviously  it was an organization that you can get behind.

My first encounter with PETA was early in my profession when one our community’s pets mauled a young girl.  As the decision was being made as to what to do with the dog, I got a phone call advising me that if any harm came to the dog, I would be killed.  The caller identified himself as being from PETA.

I notified the local press, because I wanted to discredit the mentality of that caller so as to prevent any further foothold of people in my community to stand behind an aggressive dog over the life of a child.  The newspaper called PETA for their response.

I have  to admire Ingrid Newkirk for her response that PETA values all life and it is inconsistent with their mission to harm a human.  She advised the reporter that her organization has many volunteers who fail to follow strictly their organizational values.  In the years that followed, her words were a prophecy that I witnessed over and over with my own volunteers.

Over the years PETA has been criticized for their tactics that seemed inconsistent with their mission of doing no harm to animals.  Recently, I caught a CNN article claiming that they wanted to eliminate the term “pet.”

The Oxford Dictionary already includes animal in their definition of PETA’s new word for pet: “companion”.   PETA has declared the word “pet” as being derogatory.  Anyone who has ever cared for a dog will know that a dog isn’t debased by the term “pet”.  Cats, on the other hand, view humans as servants and being called a “pet” by our cat would be the closest thing to a kind word ever offered by a cat.  Lovers often call one another by pet names.

I understand where PETA is coming from; we live in a “woke” world and words have new meanings.  We have become a society in which words are used to declare our awareness of the plight of the world.  But the people who chain up thier dog in their backyards are no where near being the woke people who PETA hopes that they are.

Hard Lessons

It isn’t necessary to learn lessons the hard way, you can prevent yourself from harm by watching some other damn fool do it the wrong way. Here is a list of things that can make your animal welfare life easier:

Cats:

Feral cats can chew or claw their way through almost any material. If the animal handling gloves, that you have purchased, claim they are safe for cats, don’t believe them.

When a cat gets loose, they always believe that elevation is it way to escape. This is when you discover that ceiling tiles are generally insufficient for containing a cat. If you use a specific room for moving a cat from a cat carrier or trap to a feral box or cage, secure your ceiling tile with weight or screens to keep them from breaching the room. In Florida, we seem to always have a cat roaming above our ceiling tiles most of the time. It is a bad place for staff who have to deal with the urine (from above) or have a cat falling through the tile on top of them.

Fishing nets are a good method to catch a loose cat. Make sure the netting material is deep enough that you can flip closed the netting to keep the cat from escaping a second time. When releasing a cat from a net, keep in mind that it is going to be VERY angry; protect all of your body parts.

If you are able, you should keep a cat in the same cage for the duration of its care at your shelter. If the cat comes in with a disease, each time you move the animal, the larger the contamination area becomes. I know that this is an impossible task, but try to stop the people who like to touch the nose of each cat that they pass. Visitors to the shelter have no concept of disease control. Staff who fail to follow cleaning protocols are equally to blame for the spread of disease in a shelter.

One of the issues that concern animal shelter employees is pregnant women coming into contact with cat feces and contracting toxoplasmosis.   An embarrassing moment for me was warning a woman with a significant belly bump of contracting toxoplasmosis  while pregnant.  She asked me what I was talking about, she wasn’t pregnant.  It is one of the risk of being a public servant: embarrassing yourself.

Dogs:

You cannot read a pitbull dog. Just because it is wagging its tail does not mean that it won’t try to bite you. I know that it is politically incorrect to say that a pitbull is different from other breeds, but after you retire, you can reflect back on the number of times that you misjudged the breed.  But to be sincerely honest, the problem with pitbulls, is that there is an insufficient number of people who are able to be responsible pet owners.  Most people get away from being irresponsible pet owners because their pets cannot rise to the point of being a danger to society.  Chihuahuas  are probably the most danger breed, but their size doesn’t allow them to rise to being able to break the skin on a person.  You can get away with being an irresponsible pet owner if you own a Chihuahua.  All of the mastiff breeds demand a responsible owner, but few of their owners act in a manner of being responsible.  For those of us in this profession, we call that job security.

If you have a dog birthing, make sure that your drain system has small enough holes as to prevent a neonatal puppy from falling into the draining system. I think the T-Kennel system is the best for shelters, except when being used for birthing. The system is intended to have a catch basin, but many contractors think they are unnecessary. In addition to puppies, the system also passes chew toys. You can’t imagine how expensive it is to tear up your flooring to remove a crew bone lodged at a “L” joint in your plumbing system.

Not every dog should be given a blanket to lay on. I have had to order surgery on many animals that ate their bedding when they got bored. Those same dogs will chew up the plastic piping that make up doggie beds. Let’s face it, some dogs are just going to have to sleep on the floor.

Many shelters perform laboratory tests animals during their stay. If you choose the test that tests for Lyme Disease, be prepared to be treating a third of your dog intake population, if you are located in the East. I suspect that anywhere you have a deer population, the abundance of deer ticks will be your source. After all, how many dog’s have never gotten ticks?

Speaking of ticks, if you ever get a dog that is brought in lethargic and covered in ticks. Although the dog will mostly look near death, many dogs recover well once the ticks have been removed. I have witnessed dogs recover that your first thought would have been to euthanize the dog.

Set up an isolation room next to the area where animal control officers are unloading dogs. If they suspect a dog having Parvo, that dog should be isolated and the path to that isolation room should not be one that is travelled by healthy dogs. The isolation room is where the cleaning protocols are most strictly followed; don’t leave these rooms to be cleaned by lazy staff who take shortcuts.

The best tools for approaching an unknown dog in the field is your metal clipboard. The clipboard makes an excellent shield. You can use it to block the dog or, if necessary, feed it to the dog. The second-best tool is your catchpole. Keep the loop open because you cannot catch a dog with a closed loop. If you are dealing with a vicious dog, go ahead and allow the dog to chomp down on the loop. If you can chinch down on the mouth, you can call in backup to bring a second catchpole to get around the dog’s neck. I know it always looks horrible when you have an animal on a catchpole, but officer safety must always come first. If you don’t think that you can handle the situation, then back away and consider chemical capture instead of physical capture. A word of caution, if you have police backup, if they think you are losing the fight, they may end up shooting the dog. Sometimes the best advice to give arriving police officers is to stay in their vehicles. Fortunately, many police departments train their officers in catching dogs and they carry a catchpole in their vehicles.

The trick to our business is having the right tools, at the time that you need them. I learned the hard way that stepping out of the vehicle without my catchpole is very, very stupid. I had a Rottweiler attack me and all that I had was a leash in my hand. At least, I was smart enough to carry a can of Halt. The owner filed a complaint against me for spraying their dog. A Police Sargent came out to investigate and nearly shot their dog when the dog attacked him. Needless to say, the complaint was ruled unfounded. I’ve always claimed that the owners of large aggressive dogs are too stupid to accept the fact that their dogs present a danger to the public and ill prepared animal control officers. But, to this day, I realize I could have avoided all of this by grabbing the catchpole as I got out of my vehicle.

We live in a funny world. We argue as to whether we are pet owners or pet care takers. We try to determine whether a dog is better off being the property of its owner or that the animal has individual rights of its own. Basically, it is a combination of both of these; otherwise, acts of animal cruelty would be legal. One area of argument is whether an owner has the proprietary right to kill their pet. It is not uncommon for a pet owner to come into the shelter to ask that their dog be euthanized; the reason is usually based on something legitimate as health or age, but often the reason may be illegitimate as to their inability to care for the pet or not wanting anyone else to own their pet. So, shelters argue the legalities of complying with an owner’s wishes. I’ve always said, “to hell with the owner’s wishes, do what it right.” I explain to the owner that they are surrendering their pet to the animal shelter. The pet becomes the property of the animal shelter. They are no longer a part of the decision-making process, other than providing the health and behavior of the animal’s past issues. In most cases, the owner will make a good decision; but in others, their decision won’t hold water. I don’t think animal shelters should be in the business of killing animals just because the owner wants their pet dead. Some will say, “But hey? The pet is the owner’s property and you have an obligation to follow the owner’s wishes to kill their pet!” And my response is that when an owner surrenders their pet for euthanasia, the shelter becomes the new owner of the pet. Our job is to do the right thing for the pet and not act upon the request of an idiot owner. If you have an doubts on this issue, tell the owner that they are free to take the shelter to court and have a judge issue a mandatory order in the matter. Judges are in the business, as we are, in dealing with idiots.

Guns in the work place:

This seems like an odd topic, but stay with me. Open carry guns are intended for only one purpose: to intimidate others. If you are really serious about your Second Amendment Rights, you would conceal carry your firearm. I was a law enforcement officer in the military and for the US Treasury Department. I carried a gun for the purpose to intimidate anyone thinking of attempting harm to me. In my last employment, a young lady walking in to the animal shelter with a weapon. She came to argue about the fees for her impounded dog. She explained to me that she had just been discriminated against when she walked into a McDonald’s restaurant wearing the gun. She told me she had to open carry because she was too young to be able to purchase a conceal carry permit in Virginia. If you have ever watched a police officer, you might see that the officer might rest his hand on his gun, it isn’t because he or she plans to use it, it is just a comfortable resting spot. While I was talking with this gal, she moved her hand to her gun, keep in mind she was wearing the gun to intimidate me into lowering her impoundment fees. A soon as her hand reached the gun’s handle, I jumped up towards her and yelled, “Get you hand away from your gun.” It scared the hell out of her and it should. In rethinking the incident, I probably should have refused to meet with her without a police officer being present. As much as I support our gun rights, there are some people who wear them for the wrong reason. In our profession, we deal with these folks. To this day, that gal is probably retelling the story about being kicked out of McDonalds and nearly attacked by an animal shelter director, all because of she wanted to exercise her second amendment right. And for the record, she paid all of the fees. You do not have to work in an unsafe environment, if you are dealing with a character that makes you feel unsafe, call the police. Keep in mind the response time for your locality, in many places you can have an officer at your door in 3 to 5 minutes; in other areas you might not see one for days… plan accordingly.

Control the situation. I had a guy that picked up one of our telephone handsets and used it to take a swing at one of the ladies working our front counter. I ordered him off of the premises. He asked me how could he reclaim his dog if he could come on to the property. I told him that he either needed to find a friend who could act civil or deal with off our property. He asked to meet me in the parking lot, I told him that the parking lot was on the premises and he wasn’t allowed there. I met him across the street. We live in a society of people who think they should always get their way. I live in a world in which I want to treat everyone the same. I spent a career dealing with that conflict. The nice think about blogging is that you are free to tell war stories and people will either read them or not.

Customers:

Customers are not always right, but don’t let them know that. Help out the ones that you can and try to find alternate solutions for those that you cannot. Fee deferments are a bad idea, unless you can convince your local clerk’s office or treasury office to oversee the deferment. I have never seen a case in which the pet owner made good their deferment. It is frustrating to take on this task yourself and the paperwork will wear you out. The only time a deferment works is if the pet is ever impounded again and then the owner is faced with the new impound fees along with paying the old. When the amount gets up that high, the owner will most likely abandon the animal. There is no justice in that solution for the animal. Your local Clerk’s Office oversees property taxes; sometimes both vehicle and housing. They are able to put leans on a person property if they fail to pay.

If you ever have to relay bad news to a customer, take them aside. It seems that a person is more likely to act out if there is an audience. Then the cell phones come out. YouTube seems to be a one-sided vehicle of the truth. Although, it does make you wonder about the large number of videos of customers attacking their restaurant server. Seeing how volatile that people become is a good reason to take a second look at their Second Amendment rights. I did not intend for this to appear that I am climbing up on a soapbox, but the people that you see acting out are the same people that come through our doors. If people become violent over a lunch order, how are they going to act out that their dog has been euthanized or adopted because they waited two weeks to bail their dog out? I’ve never worked in a place that allowed employees to carry firearms. You’ll have to come up with a plan. I’ve always removed heavy objects that can be thrown at an employee off of the front counter.

Technology:

Most animal shelters use a computerized system to track the management of the animals that flow through their shelters. To be effective, the more data that you put in the system the better. But we live in a profession in which our staff thinks data entry is a waste of time and they are good at finding shortcuts. Most computer systems are either animal or incident centric. Each system has a weak point as to beating the system. Since real incidents involve relationship between animals, people, and incidents our systems break down. A relational database system would be too complicated for our employees. Our employees don’t like complicated data entry. The system breaks because we don’t track households. Households have addresses, people, incidents, and animals. So, with our current systems, we may not recognize the household relationship. Why does that matter? Well, a different household member could bail out their pet and staff not realize that the animal is a habitual offender (keep in mind, most people do not keep identification on their pet). Or the owner of record reclaiming the dog claiming is not the dog is not the same dog that was declared dangerous. If you have a dangerous dog ordinance, this is one of the few good reasons to use microchips.

In Jacksonville, the City purchased a system to track government vehicles. I believe it was intended for the sanitation fleet. We managed to get our vehicles on the system and it was very helpful when people could call in and want to know the arrive time of an officer. We could check the computer and see that the vehicle was a block away. Knowing where your officers are makes for a safe environment, but, if some of your officers are goof-offs, they may not appreciate it. We once got a complaint of erratic driving by one of our officers; sure enough, the records showed the officer going 55 mph in a 35 mph zone.

On the same notion as officer safety, in Salt Lake County we had a policy that our officers undergo a drug test following a vehicle accident. In one incident, we were convinced that the other driver was at fault, but our driver tested positive for meth. We’ll never know if the meth was a cause of the accident, but you can assume that our driver could have been driving more aggressively that needed. Given the new era of better living through chemistry, I think drug testing employees is becoming more and more necessary. However, if you choose to test all of your staff at once, you might end up with a staffing shortage. Test the director first, so that no one can complain that it isn’t being fairly administered.

In Atlanta, we had a telephone system that recorded every call. If you want to spend half of your life listening to audio files in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, record your telephone calls. Trying to find video files on your camera system is hard enough, but audio files are worse. The disadvantages to recording telephone conversations is that it is not worth the one or two times that you found they were of value. Some phone systems allow the staff to record a conversation that appears to be turning bad. Make sure you are aware of the laws concerning recording phone calls in your State.

In a few places, we used radios for the shelter staff. In this way, if you need one employee to come to the front counter, you didn’t get three who responded to the intercom call. The first person to head to the request could radio that they were in route to the front counter. As with any tool, it is only as good as the people using it.

Organization:

Cities and counties have difficulty in trying to figure out where their animal control organization should fit within the structure of their government. In my career, my organizations have been under the police department, twice under environmental services, three times it was its own department, once under public works, and once under neighborhood services. As much as I hate to be under the police department, it is usually the best place for funding and for backup when you need help. The problem with being under another department, your overseers won’t have any concept of our staff dealing with the public as a law enforcement organization.

Many governments separate field services from shelter services. Usually the animal control officers are under the police department and the shelter is placed in a miscellaneous department. The main advantage for the animal control officers being under the police department is that in many cases they are permitted to carry a gun. Let’s face it, in the crazy world, it is becoming more and more necessary to arm our employees. But there is nothing in our profession that requires that we engage in a shootout. Animal control officers can back away from a scene that they see going bad.

The biggest problem of animal control officers being separate from the shelter is that they cannot associate with the problems resulting in their field policies. In Virginia, the local animal control officers didn’t care that the shelter was overcrowded, they would laugh at us every time the brought in an animal, this was especially true when we were combating a disease outbreak. We couldn’t convince the animal control officers that their first duty was to return a dog home, they seemed to think that making the dog owner go to “the pound” was the proper treatment in punishing the dog owner. An effective animal control officer should attempt to determine where the dog lives and return the dog with a citation.

If the owner is not home, the animal control officer should never, never leave the dog at the house unsupervised. Too many times an animal control officer would put a dog back inside its fence, only to have the dog jump out again and get hit by a car. That act of compassion is one that will eventually backfire on you. Even though the owner kept the dog in that fenced yard, they will not be beyond suing you when you do it.

Relationships with other Organizations

There are three types of relationships that your shelter will have with other organizations: ones out to help you, ones out to undermine your organization, and the ones who gives the appearance that they hare helping you while undermining your organization. You will discover an even mix when dealing with other animal welfare organizations. I dealt with one organization that I could always count on to try to undermine my organization, but their bad intensions were often mixed with good deeds. It is easy to just block an organization from dealing with your shelter, but you will miss the occasional good deed that comes their way.

Snakes

You have heard me railing against owners of dangerous or vicious dogs being stupid in the lackadaisical approach to confining their pets.  But the owners of venomous snakes take the cake.  These people are just downright stupid.

On several occasions I have had to oversee the care of some of the most dangerous reptiles on this planet as a result of the owner being bitten by one of their “pet” snakes.  The worst place I have found for stupid snake owners is in Milwaukee.  For some reason this city attacks these idiots.  To be honest, I don’t remember encountering a female snake hoarder, so maybe they are the smarter gender.

I’ve written about hoarding situations, but snake hoarders are the hardest cases to handle because our employees are just not trained to deal with a venomous snake.  I am still so raddled by the experience that I still care snake tongs and a snake hook in my car at all times… and I am retired.  We had one case in which a guy was keeping several large alligators in his basement as well.  Anyone who is so stupid to own these animals are not smart enough from getting bitten.  It is unfortunate that precious antivenom has to be used to continue a species from such a deleterious gene pool.

The really odd thing is that these venomous critters are freely mailed to people.  I am usually opposed to new laws, but the plain and simple fact is that we need laws to protect us from idiots.  Stopping the importation of dangerous animals to an idiot hoarder would be a good law.  Can you imagine what it would be like to live next door to someone who is keeping cobras or green mombas?  We had someone in Milwaukee who had both and many, many more dangerous reptiles.

In the old days, drug dealers would keep their drugs hidden under a rattlesnake.  Or use an aggressive pitbull to guard their stash.  I have heard about drug busts where the police stayed behind the animal control officer (with a catchpole) when they breached the door of a suspected drug dealer.  Dealing with a snake hoarder is a different matter.

Usually snake hoarders have no concept of moderation.  If you are called upon, it won’t be just a few snakes; you could easily be dealing with 30 to 80 smakes.  Fortunately, a few of them will likely not be venomous.  But, how can you tell, we are not experts in this field.  So, the first call is to your local zoo.  You are going to horribly be taking advantage of them.  In most cases the zoos cannot take your snakes because reptile hoarders take such horrible care of their animals that the snakes will likely have some disease or snake rot (I made that one up) that will prevent them from endangering their own animals.  But, what they do have is cages and handling tools that you will find useful.  Anytime that you have to handle the animals to clean their cages, let the zoo personnel volunteer for the task.  Keep in mind that the snake’s owner is in the hospital for being stupid (but, I’ve already told you that).

If you are lucky, the courts will award you the animals.  The zoo will be able to help you either find new homes or oversee the euthanasia of these animals.  Our attempts to anesthetize the snakes failed; animal shelters generally don’t keep containers for such efforts and a jerry-rigged solution may not work.  Fortunately snakes like holes.  You can devise a short pipe that the snake can crawl into that will allow you to safely inject the animal.

I hope you never have to deal with venomous snakes; but, you have to remember that we are in a business that is secured by the nature of people making bad decisions.  Our jobs are to keep the community safe, even though a large portion of that population is working against us.

Junk Mail

In my last blog, I complained about the junk mail that I receive for donation requests, but the worst junk mail is from vendors.  I am constantly reminded of the mistake that I made in renting the small post office box.  I have discovered that postal employees are deviously clever putting mail into boxes that are over full.  On several occasions, I was tempted to push the mail back, in hopes of them rearranging it so that I could manipulate  it to come out the front.

This bad decision that I’ve made a few years ago, has caused me to called customer service departments and plead with them to stop sending catalogs.  These companies don’t seem to realize that there a people out there that only want to buy one item once and will never ever deal with them again.  But, they are so hopeful that they send you a catalog month after month.

I was so delighted that I got a warning on one of my catalogs that told me that unless I order soon from them, they will stop sending me their catalog.  That was two years ago.   I am ever hopefully that they will honor their threat.

I check my post office box once a week.  I would do it more often, if there were ever anything other than junk.  To be honest, I did get a Christmas Card from my sister.  For some reason, the word has gotten out that I turned old.  I somehow squandered my youth.  And, as a result, there are companies that think I need supplemental Medicare insurance, life insurance, hearing aids, and auto insurance.

In addition to the junk mail, I get spam telephone calls about my extended warranty on a 14 year old vehicle.  My favorite spam call is when they ask for someone (just make up any name) and after you tell them that person doesn’t live here, they say, “Well maybe you can help me.”  I’m not as quick as I used to be and before I can explain that I can’t help them, they are rattling off a script and you can’t get a word in edgewise.  All I can think about is losing my cellphone minutes.  So now, I say, “So? You are looking for Joe?  Hang on a minute, he’s in the bathroom.  I’ll go get him.”  And then hang up.  The best feature on my cellphone is the ability to block a caller.

I’ve spent a lifetime listening to people demanding unreasonable things.  The best part of retirement is deciding who you are going to talk to on the telephone.  My staff always turned the worst calls over to me to handle.  Let face it, I  don’t want their time taken up with unreasonable people, when they have customers who need their attention.  I would love to volunteer to help with the phones at my local shelter, but I am afraid that my governor quit working.  That’s why I blog.

Deciding who you should donate to.

I think I made the mistake this year in donating to the wrong organizations.  As a result, my mail box is kept full of donation requests.  I have a simple rule in which I would like to see my money go to an organization that will use my money wisely, but it seems that I found a few organizations that seem to use the donations to fuel more donations.  We call that the administrative overhead.  The trick to getting your money to go where you want it, it so find a charity that has a small administrative overhead.  If you have a question  about an organization that is asking you for your money, you might consult Charity Navigator to see their ratings.

In my world, I would hate to see my donations used for address labels , calendars, note cards, and journals; but, I have to admit that had I not received a bunch of Christmas cards in one donation request, My sister would not have gotten a card last year.  Regrettably, I did donate to that organization because I was feeling guiltyfor using their cards.  Otherwise, all I see  in those inserts as wasted junk; a waste of funds that could be used for a better cause.

When donating to animal welfare causes, you have to ask yourself if you want to donate to help the animals in your community or to a national organization.  Many people are confused when they see an ad on their local television of an animal in need, that the money, or a portion of it, will go to their local humane society. It does not.  National organizations provide grant funding to humane societies, but not necessarily the one in your community.

Although I like to help the animals in my community, I recognize  that without the help  of donations to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), PetSmart Charities, American Humane, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), I would have been in a world of hurt with dealing with one of the largest cat hoarding cases in the United States.   I and other animal shelter directors reach out to these national organizations when we get into a situation that is over our heads.  In cases like these, our local humane society can provide limited support.  The national organizations are the big guns.

Next year, I will not be donating again to those organizations that filled up by mailbox with the junk; that waste the donations that were given to them. I will give a little leeway to those who just gave a calendar… I can see the point in the calendar reminding me every month the good that they are doing.  I just don’t know what to do with all of them.  It is hard to give always calendars because each year people get more than they can every use.  But those organizations who glue nickels in their letters asking for donations have got to go.  And #### ####*, what the hell where you thinking with the address labels, planner, crossword puzzle book, Farmer’s Almanac, 3 calendars, and the pocket calendar?  Was there anything left to help the children?  Oddly enough, they are rated high with Charity Navigator; but, they missed the mark with me.  I would be okay with just a thank you note, but I would prefer that you save the postage for the kids.

* I decided to block out the organization. I didn’t want my criteria to impact another’s decision to donate to them.  Besides, if you did donate to them, you would be completing crossword puzzles now, instead of reading this blog.  You have to decide for yourself as to your own criteria you want to use when donating.  I believe organizations should use good judgement when using funds given by others, but I also know that some people respond to getting Christmas cards in their donation requests.   So maybe someone might be enjoying a Farmer’s Almanac with receipts for feeding 50 or 100 people.  As I have always said, “We are a funny species.”

 

Computer Data

I was in college when the world gave birth to home computers. I had been typing all of my college reports on a typewriter. The first computers were little more than word processors; exactly what I wanted. I desperately needed a home computer, but I would have to sneak it into the house without my wife knowing. Some where she read an article of women becoming computer widows. She made it clear that I would never have a computer while I was married to her.

I had a choice to make: leave the wife or hide the computer. When my wife wasn’t looking, I bought an Adam computer. The manufacturer claimed that with the high-speed cassette drives, the computer would boot up quickly. I would turn on the computer and start a pot of coffee. When the coffee was done peculating, the computer would be finished booting up a few moments later. The computer was built around a daisy wheel printer, so the end result gave the appearance of having been typed. The dot-matrix printers at the time produced horrible print results.

Shortly after, the internet was invented and we could access the worldwide web at a dazzling 300 bauds. You could feel yourself grow old while you waited for a photo to download to your computer. When we got computer modems that could reach 5.6k speeds when thought we were in heaven. Now, we complain if our download speed gets below 5mb/s. I got involved with AOL’s Pet Care Forum and managed a couple online forums. I was witnessing my wife’s predictions coming true. Fortunately, the AVMA took over the forums and many of us old timers lost interest and I was spending more time with the wife… I have children to prove it.

The first “real” home computers came with three hard drive size options: 10, 20, or 30 megabytes. We were told that no one could ever use up that much space on these drives in a lifetime. If you know of anyone who has loaded Microsoft Office with 32 floppy disks… these are the old timers. We’ve seen it all.

I stayed current with the evolution of computers; I wrote a couple articles for the National Animal Control Association’ newsletter to help introduce this new technology to our profession. I lectured on computer technology at a conference and gave a final exam in which the attendees would explain a computer sales ad so that they could understand the language used in the new era.

I found myself overseeing technical support for an animal shelter management software tool called PetWhere. I grew to have a great appreciation for technical support people everywhere; well almost everywhere…. Now, you talk to someone who claims that they are speaking English, but you cannot discern a word that they are saying.

I remember providing technical support to a guy that was have problems with our software program and, to be honest, I was losing my patience with him. I spent a half hour trying to teach him the difference between his left and right mouse buttons. I quickly realized that the problem the guy was having with his computer was himself. In a moment of frustration, I asked the guy to walk out to his lobby and see if he could find a twelve-year-old child to bring back to his computer. So, to all of the technical support people out there, I felt your pain. Some people should just not be allowed near a computer keyboard (or a mouse).

I used to love getting data disks from animal shelter with corrupted data: it was a great feeling to save the day. I remember an animal shelter in Texas backing up their data every night on tape, not realizing that those tapes would eventually wear out. They had been backing up their data for years using the same tapes, night after night. There is nothing worse that losing all of your data. Even now, I make backups of my backups. You can easily find an external 4 terabyte drive for under $100. If you have a large database you should save backing up your files after hours, so that you are not bogging down the system while your front counter folks are trying assist people.

Computers today make backing up your data easy. I suggest that you make two backups every night and take on offsite. When Hurricane Katrina hit, one shelter had to evacuate and left behind their computers that were four feet underwater. Can you imagine losing your data? It is always a good idea to have your data replicated to a laptop computer, so that if your network goes down due to power loss, you at least have one working computer that you can query. Don’t think you are off the hook because you have a power backup system in place for your servers, eventually those batteries will stop providing power after a few hours. And, many facilities don’t have their desktop computer with a backup power supply. So much of what we do is sitting on a server somewhere. You need to remember that your data is your weak link. When you lose your data, that is when you figure out how important it is to have a backup plan. Please don’t think the plan of having your data at an online location is the solution either; infrequently the internet goes down as well; but, it can provide one location for your backup data.

In preparing for a power loss, you will find it helpful that your kennel cards, the cards placed on every animal’s kennel describing the animal, should contain sufficient information about the animal that you can discern the status of the animal without the need to run to a computer. Information as to whether the animal is on its stray hold time, or available for adoption are important when all other data is inaccessible. It would not hurt that any medical treatment be posted as well. Many shelters will actually stick the vaccination stickers on the kennel cards to show that the animal had been vaccinated in the shelter. Keep in mind that during disasters and facing possible power loss for an extended period of time, your kennel card should be sufficiently “useful” for the task. Always be prepared with a paper-based system for incoming animals when computers are down.

Drugs used for Animal Welfare

In addition to the vaccinations that we administer, there are a number of drugs that we should have in our toolbox.  When I started in the animal welfare business, no training was provided in the use of drugs; but, I was fortunate that my first place of employment was in Pullman Washington,  I developed a good working relationship with the Washington State’s Veterinary College and I was trained by the head  anesthesiologist.   Now, training is required for those who use these drugs.

Sodium Pentobarbital is the drug that we least like to use, but it is the only preferred method to administer euthanasia. A number of years ago the supply of drug diminished and for several months the entire country had become no-kill. pharmaceuticals can be a fickle thing and that one incident taught us all to maintain, at least, a six month supply.

Years ago, I got into the habit of pre-tranquilizing my animals for euthanasia.  I wanted the procedure to go as smoothing for the animal, as well as myself.  In those days, my cohorts in the profession called me “drug happy.”  Now, it has become common practice to anesthetize an animal prior to euthanasia.

The same drugs are use both in the shelter and in the field to tranquilize an animal.  Much of the training that you find online is geared towards wildlife, but if you use the drugs that offer the a wide margin of safety, the same drugs are safe on domestic animals.  The rule of thumb is that you use double the clinical dosage in the field to overcome the adrenaline that an animal has in a field setting.

Generally animal control professionals create a cocktail of two or more drugs.  Much of my history of using chemicals, I choose a 5-1 mixture of ketamine and xylazine.  I would create the solution by opening a 10 ml bottle of 100 mg/ml of ketamine and injecting 2 ml of 100 mg/ml of xylazine.  The benefit of this cocktail was that it had a wide safety margin and a long shelf life.  One of the problems with this cocktail is that if you stored loaded tranquilizer darts, you would have to make sure that the cocktail did not crystalize in the needle.

The “bible” on this subject was the Chemical Immobilization in Urban Animal Control Work, by Leon Nielsen.  The book was published by the Wisconsin Humane Society and has not been in print for many, many years.  I found a copy on Amazon.  Also the proceedings for the North American in 1982 produced the Chemical Immobilization of North American Wildlife.  It is much easier to find this book, but if you going to be in the business of chemical capture, both books should be on your shelf.

At this point I should add that a large number of animal control officers prefer to add acepromazine.  Acepromazine is a mild sedative and you might as well just add water to dilute  your cocktail.  It is great to use alone to mildly sedate an animal, but reversal is quick when adrenaline kicks in.

I used a blow dart system that used a 3 ml dart.  I could load the three darts with 1 ml, 2 ml, and 3ml for small, medium, or large dogs.  If I got a very large animal, I could load the blow gun with multiple darts.

Today, animal organizations are moving to using Telazol as their drug of choice.  The advantage of Telazol is that it comes in powder form, so that you can increase its strength by adding less water, which is a good thing when your darts are limited to 3 ml.  The problem with Telazol is that it has a very short shelf life.  I have used the drug on multiple occasions and just prefer the cocktail that I grew up with.

There is one drug that I hesitate to mention: succinylcholine.  It is a paralytic drug and provides the quickest knock down, but they have a very narrow safety margin.  Overdosing an animal administers a horrible death.  I was attending a college lecture in which a wildlife researcher was telling my class about his project of shooting deer with a tranquilizer from a helicopter for his research project.  Being the smartass that I am, I asked him what drug was he using.  He said he was using succinylcholine.  I then asked him what his survival rate was.  He said that he had a fifty percent survival rate.  I then asked him how he felt about being involved in bastard research.  My entire class agreed with me that any research that kills half of its research subjects it not legitimate.

I had only one incident in my career in which I considered using succinylcholine; I got a call that a group of dogs were harassing a deer and that the deer’s hind legs were torn up badly.  Since I was not authorized to use a firearm, I needed a drug that would quickly knock the deer down, so that I could immediately euthanize it.

When considering using chemicals to capture an animal in the field, you need to consider the possibility of loosing a dart.  Each time I shot an animal with a tranquilizer dart, I was more concerned as to where the dart went than the animal.  Trust me, missing darts are hard to find and will give you many sleepless nights.  I was fortunate that I recovered every lost dart.  I had a good team working with me.  If I could not find the dart, I would bring in a pair of professional dart finders: my young son and daughter.  Kids are well suited for finding things on the ground, that is why you never, never, ever want to lose one of your darts.

Tranquilizers are very helpful when you need to handle an aggressive dog for examination or euthanasia.  In the kennel area, you can either use a blowgun or jab-stick.  A jab-stick is just a syringe on the end of a long pole.  You have to use care in dealing with a moving animal so that you don’t inadvertently bend the needle when sticking an animal.  You need to apply enough force to plunge the solution in the syringe into the animal.

Dealing with aggressive animals is one of the elements that makes an animal welfare officer’s job dangerous.  Chemical techniques can greatly lessen that danger.  It also lessens damage to the animal when being captured.

Animal Disposal

The best disposition at an animal shelter is through adoption, but not every outcome meets our hope. Due to age, illness, behavior, or overcrowding, we are too frequently faced with the need to dispose of an animal that has been brought to the shelter dead or has been euthanized. The four methods of disposal are landfill, rendering, selling them for research and cremation.  I have always said that the respect in which an animal shelter treats there dead animals is an indicator as to how they treat their animals while they were alive.

Burying the animals at the landfill is the cheapest option and least preferred.  Overtime, landfills have stopped accepting animal remains.  The process requires that someone is available upon delivery of the load of animals to dig a hole and cover it up immediately.  But, beyond the additional work, there is a general feeling among community members that pets should not be treated like garbage.

The ability to use rendering plants and local research companies to “repurpose” the animals are becoming rarer and rarer.  But, these are to two options that provide for revenue when selling off your dead animals.  You’ll have to do a little research to see if these options are available and if your community is open to the idea.

One option that should be mentioned is selling your live animals for research.  When I was director of the a Utah animal shelter, the State passed a law requiring animal shelters to make their animals available for research I was opposed to this Pound Seizure principle.  I spend much of my time finding work-a-rounds to prevent the animals in my care to become research subjects.  It is an issue that you may one day face.  No all research on live animals is bad, but who wants to take the chance?

Cremation is the most preferred method of disposal, but it is costly due to the upfront cost of equipment and the ongoing cost of fuel.  In an effort to reduce costs, some “efficient” crematoriums are constructed with the secondary burner below the primary burner, so the heat from one adds to the heat to the other.

Very quickly, crematoriums have two chambers: the primary chamber is where the animals are placed and a secondary chamber to burn the smoke and debris caused during the primary bury; so in other words, you are burning the fumes.  The primary chamber is usually lined with fire brick called a green coat and infrequently needs to be replaced.  In most models, the secondary chamber is in the smoke stack.

There are two problems with the new energy efficient crematoriums:  your staff will have to lift the animals up into the primary chamber that may cause strain when dealing with large animals.  In these models, the secondary chamber is a bricked chamber area under the primary (thus the need to have to lift animals up to the primary chamber).  To reach the secondary chamber, a person has to climb into the primary chamber to access the area for brick replacement underneath.  I am amazed that anyone can perform that task.  Also, the primary chamber is only large enough for a dozen medium sized animals.

The most convenient crematoriums are the walk in units.   Many are large enough for 50 to 100 animals.  We had a couple oddball crematoriums in Wisconsin that only handed 3 to five animals.  Given the size of those units, two were used.  Since one or the other was always down for maintenance, it was nice to have the other as a backup unit.   I suspect that these units had poor secondary burners, because it was always obvious when the units were in use.  Given the smoke and neighborhood complaints,  I suspect these units barely met EPA requirements.  This is something to think about when building a shelter in a residential neighborhood and decide to cremate.  We frequently had an inspector parked outside our shelter watching for visible emissions.  Emissions or not, we were not a very good neighbor; more money should have gone in to the purchase of better units.

A word to the wise.  If you have a crematorium, you might be approached by your local law enforcement and asked to burn a narcotics seizure.  Unless you are eager to pay the cost of constantly green coating your unit, I would turn them down.  Marijuana burns at a much high temperature that biomatter.  There are special units for burning drugs.  If you want to be the good guy, only burn a few kilos at a time with the animals.

If you have a crematorium, you will be asked to perform private cremations.  Obviously, it is too expensive to fire up the crematorium for just one animal.  Usually a private cremation is set aside of the main body of animals and scooped up separately.  Many shelters will use large steel bowls to confine the ashes.  Once the cremation is complete, you either sift out the larger pieces of bone or you put the ashes in a blender so that the ashes look esthetically like “ashes.”  Many shelters have nice bags or boxes they use to return the ashes to the owner.

The biggest problem associated with crematoriums is that the companies that make these units seem to only stay in business a few years.  As you can expect, as the units get older they require more maintenance; but it might become increasingly difficult to find someone to repair them.  It is surprising how many things can go wrong.  I knew a guy that flew around the country from unit to unit repairing crematoriums  after the company went out of business.  He was the last remaining expert.  That was ten years ago.

In an ideal world, I would outsource the cremations, so as to avoid all of the problems that are associated with running your own crematorium.  However, if your volume is too high, even an outside vender may refuse.  This is one aspect that as communities increase their live placements, the need for costly crematoriums become less needed.

As we began expanding our animal placement efforts in Virginia, we saw the added benefit in cost savings to our budget in firing up the crematorium less.

What should a paycheck buy?

I have always believed that loyalty if the first thing that I should offer as the result of receiving a paycheck.  The security of a steady paycheck should offer plenty of loyalty to those who signed that check.  Many of our new employees do not agree.

Over the years, I have seen an increasing decline in employee loyalty.   Many new employees feel entitled to have a job and have associated employment behaviors to demonstrate that entitlement.  Instead of acting as a team, new employees seem to demand special treatment.  In the last several years, I’ve seen an increase in employees undermining their organization; in small ways, like calling in sick on Fridays or Mondays to extend their weekends; or, in large ways of undermining their supervisors.  It is unfortunate that our hiring processes cannot better identify these people.  A good work ethic seems to have died with the new workforce.

From a political perspective, it is easier to understand how our youth lean towards socialism; in their employment practices, we see them coming to work expecting a paycheck after providing little work.  We are seeing a whole group of people expecting something for nothing.  Fortunately, having managers that are sufficiently diligent in hiring a few good workers to help keep the organization from falling apart; I think, we can partly see how an employee’s love for animals encourages some employees to go the extra mile, if only for the animals.

.It isn’t all doom and gloom, there are wonderful workers out there, it is just becoming harder and harder to find them.

 

Pet Vaccinations

One of the interesting problems that we encounter is the anti-vaccination folks.  We have laws and policies that require that animals be vaccinated for rabies, but the owner refuses to vaccinate their pet.  It becomes problematic when the animal is impounded for running at large and ordinances demand that the animal is licensed at the time the animal is reclaimed; of course, pet licensing requires that the animal is vaccinated for rabies.

Many shelters have vaccination protocols that provide for animals to be given combo vaccinations upon their intake.  You can imagine the hysterical pet owners when they are told that their pet was vaccinated without their approval and worse, that they cannot reclaim their pet unless it is further vaccinated for the license.

Many ordinances allow for waiving the rabies vaccination if a veterinarian writes a note that the animal’s health would be jeopardized if vaccinated, but their is no provision for people who are on the anti- vaccination bandwagon.

I have found that their are several ways to deal with these owners: allow the owner sufficient time to take you to court to have the courts overrule the ordinance; or, let the stray hold time run out and the animal becomes your animal to deal with; or, vaccinate the animal without the owner’s knowledge; or, return the animal to the owner unvaccinated and issue a citation for an unvaccinated pet and ask for a mandatory hearing.

Allowing the owner to take the lead to take you to court will probably end up with a lengthy stay of the animal in an already crowded animal shelter.  Pet owners will tend to be slow in dealing with the courts and the case will usually end up with such large boarding fees that the owner eventually abandons the pet.

Allowing the stray hold time run out is a good option, as long as the pet owner understands that time is of the essence.   Be prepared to give an extension of the holding period; I would encourage requiring that the owner prepay boarding fees when extensions are sought.

I always like to be open and honest with a pet owner and would not ordinarily do anything to an owner’s pet without their approval.  But, we live in a world of mentally unhealthy people who are not able to make sound decisions, so I leave it as an option.

Issuing the citation to the pet’s owner is a good solution, providing that your court process allows for mandatory hearings.  The order to vaccinate a pet is better heard if presented by a judge.  The pet owner would have to face jail time if he or she decided to violate a court order.

Given the number of animals that get sick in our shelters due to the lack of vaccinations by their owners, you would think that vaccinations would be provided as part of being a responsible pet owner.  But, you have to remember that we have jobs in this field because many people do not come by being responsible freely.