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.

Working Dogs

I was watching a news program the other day and came to realize that the general public knows very little about working dogs.  It is amazing the number of times that someone will asked if you get an animal hooked on drugs to become a narcotics sniffing dog.  The answer is hell no, that would be really, really stupid.  So, here is the 411 on working dogs.  For the record, I trained military working dogs in the Air Force utilizing sentry dogs, patrol dogs and narcotics dogs.  I later trained and utilized dogs on the Mexican Border looking for narcotics for the Treasury Department.  My dog and I had racked up seizures amounting to two tons of marihuana.

Okay, so back to the dogs; there are basically three types of dogs, patrol dogs, narcotics dogs and bomb dogs.

Patrol dogs are people finders.  They use their sight to detect movement,  their hearing to target noise, and they use smell to detect a person upwind or who have left behind a trail-scent on a path of travel.  These dog’s primary task is to protect their handlers.  In the old days dog were not trained to release from a bite; they would keep biting the suspect until the dog’s handler force the dog to stop.  Let me tell you, I had one dog named Sampson that didn’t like me stopping him from biting.  Sampson taught me to be very quick so that I didn’t find my own hands in this mouth.  Sampson was a sentry dog.  Most dogs today are trained to release on command.  These dogs are called patrol dogs.  The advantage of controlling the dogs by voice prevented two dogs going after the same suspect and then getting into a dog fight over the suspect.  Now, one dog can be called off of the suspect and can be directed to a secondary target or recalled.  Using voice command was a critical aspect of utilizing these dogs.  We went through a phase that I call the “stupid phase” in which police departments would hire trained dogs from Germany.  Yep, you guess it, the dogs were trained in German.  When you are in a tense situation, the first thing you lose is your command of the German language.  Besides, dogs are smart enough to learn English.  Or, just keep your mouth shut and the dog will do what the dog does.

I’ve ALWAYS believed that handlers should train their own dogs.  In the training process the handler and dog form a bond and the handler begins to understand the dog’s world.  Anytime I went to search a building, I would be constantly working the air currents; how is the air moving through the building?  To find drugs or a suspect, it was important to think like a dog and to use your environment to the dog’s best ability.

Narcotics dogs are trained to be aggressive towards narcotics and sees it as a game.  Once the drug is found, the handler throws a toy down to the dog and a game of tug-of war would ensue.  Many years ago the US Customs folks attempted to use small dogs off leash to clear ventilation systems of ships; but, the presence of vertical shafts and keeping the dog from biting into the hidden drugs proved that dog teams must be connected by a leash.  Because the dogs are aggressive towards the drugs, dog handlers would carry three vials of Narcan so as to administer to the dog and/or the handler in the event that the handler had not be watching close enough to stop the dog from biting into the kilo of cocaine and the drug became airborne.  We were directed to get the dog to a veterinarian and then seek treatment for ourselves (thus the third vial).  Fortunately, I never heard of anyone needing to administer the narcotics antidote.

Is it possible to mask the scent of marihuana?  Yes and no, given sufficient time a sufficient number of marihuana particles will rise to the level of detection.  You could experiment and spend the a few years in jail,  or you could just move to a State that has legalized it.  One of the common ways that people would attempt to smuggle marihuana into the United States was putting the drugs inside a spare tire.  But, these damn fools could never sufficiently clean off the smell of marijuana from the exterior of the tire before throwing it into the trunk of the car.  Could the smell escape from the interior of the tire, who know?  All I know is that we were constantly tearing tires apart on the Border.

In most cases, the drivers of the vehicles were just as effective as our dogs in telling us that their cars were loaded.  If a car smelled usually strong of vanilla or baby powder, it was probably loaded.  The Mexican Border gets pretty hot in the summers, cars waiting to enter the Border would start to get hot and the marijuana would begin to bake in the car.  We found that most drug smugglers were not too bright.

Bomb dogs are trained to sit when they smell an explosive substance.  This is one of the reasons that dogs are not trained to search for both narcotics and bombs.  It would become rather annoying to have to call the bomb squad every time your dog alerted on a marihuana joint.  When the dog sits, then, like the narcotics dogs, it becomes playtime.

Gainesville Florida

A few days ago, I wrote about an incident dealing with a pedophile employee.  Given our profession of dealing with children, we need to keep a constant vigilence.

While working in Gainesville Florida one of my volunteers began sending  scathing letters to the City Council about an incident involving the adoption of a puppy.  You know the type of incident in which all of your employees and volunteers begin fighting over a new puppy that has come in the shelter.  Many shelters opt to deny first adoption rights to staff and volunteers for such scenes that they make.  Anyway, the guy thought that he could force the adoption if he took his case to the City Council.  The guy wasn’t smart enough to realize that we were a county operation and he should have been sending his letters to the County Commission.

The guy was saying such horrible things about me that I decided to check him out.  It didn’t take long for me to discover that the guy was on the State’s sexual preditor website.  I found it funny that given such a designation, that I would want to keep a very low profile.  It is amazing as to how you can destroy a person’s credibility by mentioning that fact.

He turned his energy towards creating a website.  He did an effective job of superimposing my image into a natzy uniform.  Clearly he had spent a lot of time on the website.  Maybe it was therapy for him.  I could accept the anger that he had directed at me, but I got upset over him going after my staff.  I contacted the company that was providing him the free web-space and asked them how much they vetted the folks using their site.  I explained that his triage was unfairly directed to my staff.  My mind is a little fuzzy at this point, it may have slipped out that they may not want to be known as having a sex offender using their website.  The website was shutdown within days.

I’m not a vindictive person and I have often wondered if I was righteous in approaching the volunteer that he started dating.  She was young and had a couple of young children; I have a strong protective streak.  Clearly, he had not shared that part of his life with her.  As with most sex offenders, she would have seen the large sign in his front yard.  She directed her anger at me, but I think that she was embarrassed that she had exposed her children to this guy without properly vetting him.

In our business we are not just dealing with animals, we are dealing with people.  Animal people are very caring and that makes them vulnerable in today’s world.  You have to ask yourself as to how you would handle the situation; just as I have to keep asking myself if I did the right thing.

To give you a clearer picture of the world that we live in, Google the sex offender registry of your city.  You will be amazed as to the seriousness of our plight to protect our community’s children.  Whatever the reason that earns a person’s profile on the registry, it is clear that they’ll be on that list for life.  That speaks to the concern of our judicial system to keep us safe.

But, the highlight of the Gainesville experience was a long running grant that had been awarded to the animal rescues in our community from Maddie’s Fund.  For the most part, Maddie’s Fund had given up on funding community projects because animal groups just can’t seem to work together.  They were experiencing failure after failure because animal welfare groups could not comply with the first rule of the grant: to play well together.

In Gainesville, the rescue community stepped over our large egos and joined together to form a coalition to save as many animals as possible.  Due to our success, Maddie’s Fund extended our grand several times.  We became a poster project that they could wave as a success, when they were facing so many failures with working with animal shelters.

Due to their unsuccessful experience working with animal shelters, Maddie’s Fund went off in wild directions providing grants that less impacted on community populations.  As a profession, we fail them and our communities.

Gainesville was one of the few communities that could enjoy the presence of a local veterinary college.  Veterinary colleges became a solid source of grant funding when Maddie’s fund gave up hope working with animal shelters.  One of the interesting thing about college projects, there is always a bias toward a specific area of interest; for the University of Florida, the interest was in cats.  If you every ask for a shelter assessment from a national organization or a college, look for the bias of their investigators.  Understanding their bias will help you make better sense of their assessment.

The University had developed a Shelter Medicine tract, thanks to Maddie’s Fund and we had weekly visits by veterinary students walking the halls of our shelter.  As with all of our rescue partners, we had a good relationship with the University.

Gainesville also set the stage for one of the largest hoarding cases in the United States in which we were force to seize nearly 700 cats from a local sanctuary.  As with most hoarding cases, it was a good idea that ended horribly bad.  As with all hoarding cases, the caretakes couldn’t turn off the “off button” on animal intakes.  The Humane Society of the United States was our key partner, but we were assisted by the ASPCA with veterinarians and American Humane with volunteers.  One of the key problems that we faced in handing this case, we discovered that working with a single veterinarian allows the veterinarian to make tough decisions; when you add one or two more, the committee approach to veterinary care becomes extremely expensive.  Fortunately the Humane Society of the United States help defray those costs.

We spend a lot of time matching up feral cats that had been brought into the sanctuary when a nearby jurisdiction thought they had found a solution to their feral cat problem by dumping the animals into another community.  In the animal welfare business, we are good at dumping our problems in other communities; especially when it come to dangerous dogs.  How many times have you heard a judge using old west justice by ordering an animal to get out of town?  No thought given to the new town that just gained a dangerous problem.

Government Contracts

Municipalities are frequently faced with balancing tax dollars between people and pets and the weight of the scales is definitely balanced toward people.  It is not uncommon for a municipality to look for alternate funding for their animal services program and will let their local humane society take over the operation.

For the city or county, they believe that the humane society is in a better position to request donations and run the program using volunteers.  Governments generally don’t want to ask for donations because it calls into question their appropriation of tax dollars.  I have worked in municipalities that refused to allow us to collect donations for our animals, because they claimed it sent a message that the shelter was not adequately funded.  Fortunately,  they would not turn their nose down to charity grants.

Humane societies see the contract as a source for additional funding and having the ability to cherry pick over the animals as the shelter.  It usually doesn’t take the humane society very long to see that the additional funding doesn’t go very far and these contract relationship usually don’t last long.

The biggest mistake that humane societies make is to attempt to keep separate books; they will tout that they are a no-kill shelter while euthanizing eighty percent of the “city dogs.”  Even the most generous of supporters will  realize that an eighty percent euthanasia rate is unreasonable.  I’ve witnessed more humane societies surrendering their government contract when the community saw that the humane society was inflating their placement numbers.  To the community, the shelter numbers represent live animals and they count.

One humane society director learned (the had way) that his protection as a private citizen became void after accepting a government contract; along with the contract the director becomes a public official.  This director decided to sue a volunteer who alluded to his high (80 percent) euthanasia rate.  He likened the volunteer to being a terrorist (okay, a little overkill).  The courts pointed out that accepting the government contract, he had become a public figure and had to suffer the verbal abuse like the rest of us.  The courts ruled that volunteers are allowed to exercise their first amendment rights.

Portland Oregon

Portland was my first experience as an Animal Services Director.  It is a first in other ways as well.  Portland was the first County (that’s Multnomah County) to provide protection to gays.  They were first to provide benefits to gay couples as they did to heterosexual couples.

One day, after attending an Human Resources seminar on job protection status, I came to realize that my gay brothers and sisters in government service had taken a giant leap forward in job protection and I had none.  In order to even the playing field, I decided to come out of the closet.  You would have no idea as to how difficult it is for a heterosexual guy to come out of the closet.  I kept insisting that making me prove that I was homosexual was sexual harassment.  When pressed on the issue, I would finally insist that I was a lesbian; I saw myself as a woman who preferred other women.  That was new in those days, but today, people are allow to see themselves as anything… by gender, or ethnicity or ever breed.  I fear that twenty-five years ago, I started a fad.  Fortunately, I was never fired from Multnomah County, so I never had to put my sexual orientation card.

While serving in Multnomah County, I encountered some strange behavior with one of my animal attendants.  It was reported to me that one of my animal attendants was getting himself invited into the homes of single women with young children to take photographs of them and their newly adopted pet.  It seem an odd behavior and I confronted the employee.  He told me that he was doing this off duty and it was none of my business.   I’m usually a pretty calm person, but this guy hit my switch.

I began investigating this person’s life history and discovered that he had previously been a teacher and was fired for having sex with his students.  How the hell didn’t Multnomah County Human Recourses uncover this in this work history.  Anyway, he was now my employee and he was now my responsibility.   I have to admit that our Human Resources Department was absolutely of no use to me.  If I had done it their way, they guy would still be working for the County and molesting children.

But calm minds must prevail.   Since the employee refused to stop meeting with our clients (and their children), I placed him on leave so that he could not access our files.   I sent him to a counselor and after weeks of interviews, the counselor was intimindated by the employee and refused to release his findings.  That didn’t prevent the counselor from sending us a bill for his efforts.  I told the counselor that he had been hired to provide a risk assessment and he failed to do so; if he wanted to see his fees paid, either provide the assessment or take me to court.

I decided to revisit the time that the employee had been a teacher.  Fortunately for me (I guess), one of the students that had been molested had a parent that was a key player at the school.  In talking with that person, I discovered the name of the counselor that the school had used with the employee.  I was fortunate to that the counselor remembered the employee and he was free to give me a risk assessment.  So off to another few weeks of counseling.

The assessment revealed that nothing in the employee’s life had changed, he was as much a risk as he was when molesting school children.  I took all of my findings to our Human Resource Department and they told me to put the employee back on duty… and to watch him.

What the hell?  I explained the danger that this guy presented and all they wanted is for this guy to return to work.  I told them “Hell no, no child is going to be molested on my watch.  If they want to find this guy another job, fine; I’m going to fire him.”  They were not happy with me, but I fired the guy.

The HR guys claim they worked out a severns package to prevent me from being sued.  I told them they has wasted the County’s money, I would have loved to be taken to court by this guy.

This incident, among others in Multnomah County, taught me that sometimes you have to stop listening to “the professionals” in order to maintain the integrity of your organization.  Do what is right and tell “the professionals” workout the paperwork.

Have you ever had a day that you would like to relive?  One of the happiest days of my life was when one of my employees quit to take a job with the police department.  After a few weeks, the police department discovered what I knew all along that the person was a worthless employee.  She could not go into the field alone unless she was following another employee.  It was a funny sight to see two animal control vehicles following one another in North Portland.  After being fired by the police department, she asked for her old job back.

I told her no and the matter went to the County Commission to make the final decision.  Everything was going well until the County’s Legal Department advised me to not say anything bad about the employee.  I have always beat myself up for listening to them.  How can you depict an employees bad performance if you cannot say anything bad?  I was forced to take the employee back and as I learned with the County’s HR department, they don’t have our best interests in mind.  They are just trying to make their own jobs easier.  As you walk the walk of your profession, you’ll have to decide which battles are worth taking on.  Keep in mind that if you are in municipal services, the advice that you receive will only be fifty percent right.  Doing the right thing, frequently comes with a battle.  But it feels good to win them.

Hospice Care

I recently read about a group of people condemning their shelter for failing to provide hospice care.  In a gentle world, it would be nice to have a group of homes that would care for animals during their last leg of their journey on earth.  The problem arises that there are damn few people who can perform hospice care.

The idea of providing hospice care is to allow an animal to live out its final days in the care of a loving home… allowing the animal to have a natural death.  The person performing this task should understand the process and provide gentile care as the animal drifts away.  But, those kind of people rarely exist; instead, you end out with people who freak out over every event and seem to forget that their job is to allow the animal to pass into death, instead of seeking every avenue to keep the animal alive (and constantly running the animals to a veterinarian)..  Having the wrong caregiver can be very expensive for animal shelter and it is understandable why an anima shelter would rather administer euthanasia than to place an animal into a home where the caregiver will only prolong the animal’s pain.  You usually find these people conjugated on a social media page, being led by their own ignorance and self importance.

In all of the years that I worked in this profession, I only found two or three people who I could count on to be a hospice care provider.  It takes a special person to be able to feel the animals pain and to accept the need to lead the animal home.

Euthanasia Discussion

A few weeks ago, Dave Perry wrote an opinion piece, “End the euphemism for killing unwanted dogs and cats; it’s not euthanasia.”  The point that Mr. Perry was trying to make is that the word euthanasia comes from the Greek meaning “good death.”  Many definitions go further to suggest that the word means to perform this good death to alleviate pain and suffering.  It connotates being a good thing that we administer.

There is nothing good about the fact that we must kill animals because they are born into a world that doesn’t want them.  I know, I know, the no-kill world claims that there is no pet surplus; but, they are idiots.  The surplus of animals differs from community to community.  It is an indicator as to a community’s sensitivity to responsible pet ownership that includes spaying and neutering their animals.

Mr. Perry focused on the usage of the word.  But the act of euthanasia or “killing” takes an emotional toll on the animals and on shelter staff.  Performing this act speaks to the failure that we, as humans, deal with a problem that is caused by us.

I have to agree with Mr. Perry that there is nothing good about the killing of adoptable animals in our shelters.  We can attempt to soften the blow by finding a fancy word to describe our actions, but in the end the animals is dead.  All we have done is to bring the least painful method to killing an animal that is stuck in a small cage.  Those of us who have worked in animal shelters know that the longer an animal sits in a small cage, the more inhumane the confinement becomes.  So the question is to the length of time that an animal must  be held in a cage so that you can justify claiming that you are relieving the animal’s pain and suffering to call its death euthanasia.  The question that is always asked is how long is too long to hold an animal while calling its confinement humane?  That differs from animal to animal and it depends on the enrichment programs that are offered to the animal during its confinement.  The fact that we keep an animal in a cage for two years before it begins to become cage crazy and the animal is “euthanized;” we have to ask if we should look back and claim if holding the animal for such a long period of time, only to be euthanized is humane?  Probably not, but we are always hopeful for a positive outcome.

The no-kill movement doesn’t want us to blame the people responsible for causing the pet overpopulation problem; but, they want to blame the ones who must clean up the mess.

Street Dogs

The other day, I found myself watching Disney’s new version of Lady and the Tramp.  I have no appreciation for Disney’s portrayal of the dogcatcher in any of their movies.  Throughout the movie, the dogcatcher was trying to convince everyone (including himself) that in removing all of the “dangerous” street dogs that he was providing a valuable service.

The dogcatcher’s view on street dogs reminded me of a time in my life in which I was asked to oversee the transition of a government contract from one humane organization to another.  The first humane organization has carried the contract for many years and refused to work with local dog rescues; and as a result, they have an 80 percent euthanasia rate.

Several of the dog groups got together and created a new humane organization and submitted a bid for the government contract.  When they were awarded the contract, they were required to bring in an experienced director to oversee the operation; that is where I come in.

Over a brief period of time, the euthanasia declined sharply.  We were eager to tout our success.  Throughout my employment, I received numerous calls from the board of directors of the first humane organization lambasting our adoptions, convinced that 90 percent of the stray dogs were not worth saving.  To be honest, I was dumbfounded by the idea that these people could be so damn stupid to think that 90 percent of the dogs were a danger to the public. For whatever reasons, they needed to believe that fallacy to justify the killing of the dogs under their watch.

I’d like to say that the first organization was an insignificant organization, but it wasn’t.  It had a national following.  It always amazed me that an organization could have such a national following when their mission was to kill off all of the stay dogs in their community.  Not every stray dog is heroic like Tramp, but you can bet that most of the dogs are worthy of finding new homes.

I am happy to report that the first organization has found its new mission and is doing great things now, in their community.  It is a testament that our profession has evolved well.

Common Courtesy

One of our most important tasks is to notify pet owners that the animal shelter is in possession of their lost pet.  Most pet owners want to be notified as soon as possible, but out of courtesy I never call anyone before 10 AM, unless they have instructed me to do so.  Even keeping to this courtesy, I have apologized numerous times to day sleepers.  I always figured that day sleepers would think to turn their phones off to ward away unexpected phone calls.

Record of each phone call attempt should be documented in the animal’s record.  It is amazing that owners will accuse you of negligence for not calling them, when they are avoiding your phone calls.  A record log of your attempts will allay their accusations.  Although I hate leaving messages on voicemail, a general script should be used, so that you can copy and paste that script into your computer record.  You should also note when leaving a message as to the deadline as to when the pet owner should call you.  A large portion of owners will never call before the deadline, so any disposition of the animal should occur a day or two after the deadline.  It isn’t a bad idea to repeat your phone call attempts several times each day.  You may discover that the pet owner will not be actively looking for their lost pet and how difficult it will be to actually reach them.

If you are able to determine the address of the pet owner, it isn’t a bad idea to send an Animal Control officer to their house to post a notice.  We should exhaust ever effort to get a lost pet back to their owner.  In most areas of the country, pet owners will appreciate your efforts.  If you decide to send out a letter to the owner, make sure you adjust you holding time to accommodate the time necessary for the Post Office to deliver your letter and for the owner to respond.  If the letter returns undeliverable, make sure you record that information in the animal’s record as well.

If after a few days of failed attempts of reaching the pet owner, I throw out my common courtesy and begin calling early in the morning or late at night.  People have odd schedules and many of them fail to set up voicemail on their phones.

I cannot tell you enough how important it is to record all of your attempts to reach the pet owner; one day you might need to present those records in court to prove that you were not negligent in performing your duties.  We live in a world in which the people want to point out negligence in others and not see it in themselves.

Free Cats

A couple of the animal shelters in my area are hoping to reduce their overpopulation of cats by offering them free for adoption.  One of the advantages of living in the northern States is that we experience one less breeding cycle due to extreme cold weather.  That benefit does not seem to hold for this winter.  It is odd to see infant kittens entering the shelter in the winter months in which it gives a reprieved to shelters dealing with the excess cats in the community.  But, it appears that the cats are adapting.

Many communities face the problem of surplus cats and the cause is a result of our own good intentions.  We see a hungry cat at our door, we feed it.  As I have always said, “If there is sufficient food, cats will breed.”  Well, we must be feeding the hell out of cats.

Every time an animal shelter starts offering “free cats,” someone will come out of the woodwork exclaiming that by doing so, we are devaluing cats.  A free cat sends the message that cats have no value and people will treat the cats as having no vlaue.  I have never witness anyone mistreating a cat because the cat was free.  Animal Shelters face the problem of people giving away free kittens in front of shopping malls.  An Animal Shelter would be smart to compete and fill the community with spayed and neutered kittens than to push their community to the free unsterilized cats offered for sale by irresponsible cat owners.

The fact that Animal Shelters are offering cats for free is evidence of the following:

  •  The No Kill Movement is lying to us that there is no pet overpopulation.
  •  Low cost spay/neuter programs are necessary to curb the overpopulation problem.
  •  Trap, neuter and release (TNR) programs are a critical component of reducing the feral cat problem in our communities.
  • The community needs to understand their role in creating this problem.

I wish the shelters well in their efforts.