Fences Make for Bad Neighbors

One of the most frustrating thing that we face in our profession is determining the risk of a failing fence.  I have had countless conversations with owners of perceived aggressive dogs as to the state of their fence line.  We are not in the insurance business, but we know a accident waiting to happen.  The problem we face is that the owners of aggressive dogs are not the brightest tool in the box and as Animal Control Officers, we cannot take action until the dog actually escapes the yard.

The other day, 9-year-old Emma Hermandez was killed by three pit bull type dogs in Detroit after Emma’s father spoke to the dog’s owners about  the sad state that his fence was in.   The owner was arrested, but the article stated that the “prosecutors are determining what charges, if any, their owner may face.”  The problem with prosecutors is that they rarely deal with fatal dog cases and can’t think objectively.  Every dog has the potential to bite, but few have the ability to kill.  Dogs are like a loaded weapon, some are like BB guns and other are more like a 45 caliber.  Having been warned about the neighbor’s concern and failing to take action, the owner should be charged with reckless endangerment.  If the Animal Control had received and acted on previous complaints, the owner should be charged with murder.

As with guns, there are no laws that keep dogs out of the hands of idiots.  You can usually tell when a neighborhood has one of these dog owners, the rest of the neighborhood knows that a gun will trump a dog anytime.

I have advised neighbors to know the response time of their police and go on record filing a complaint with both the police and animal control.  A person needs to build a case for themselves as to the necessity of the actions that they have taken to protect themselves.  You may one day be in court trying to convince a judge that your actions were necessary.  A person needs to keep their wits about them, even an experienced police officer can fail to hit a vital organ.  My shelter dealt with a pit bull dog that had been shot by the local police officers 19 times and lived through the experience.  The best shot comes when the dog is running directly at you, presenting that large forehead.  If you miss, offer up your forearm and you are in perfect position to line up for a perfect shot.  If you work for the police department, volunteer to catch your canine dog on a wrap.  Plenty of “wrap time” can get you to see for yourself the opportunity that is made available to you.  If you find it necessary to shoot the dog, remember that in all of the excitement, you must always insure that you have a safe background behind the dog.

Why would you consider shooting a dog?

  1. You do not carry the necessary equipment to capture the dog alive without risk to yourself.
  2. It is a quick solution to a problem that demands an immediate response.  Let’s face it, the longer that a dog is allowed to chew on a child, the less likely the child will survive.
  3. It is a permanent solution to a problem that you cannot trust the dog’s owner to fix.

In the case with Emma, a neighbor shot one dog and the others were later captured by animal control; but, it was all too late for her.   As with any of these fatal incidents, there will be someone wanting to save the dogs.  They might even hire a “dog expert” to justify the dog’s actions, these guys are paid well to spin a yarn, they’ll even make the case that it was the victim’s fault.

The Case for Pookie

In 1995, a 2 year old girl was playing in her yard, when she decided that she wanted to pet the neighbor’s dog, Pookie.  She began climbing the chain link fence so that she could reach over and pet the dog.  As she climbed the fence, the dog grabbed on to the toe of her shoe and began pulling her toes, then foot, then leg through the fence.  A witness at a nearby bus stop reported that the dog look like a land shark, trying to pull that child through the fence.

The dangerous dog case against this dog was thrown out because the judge ruled that when the child’s toes crossed the plane of the fence, the child was trespassing and determined that the child’s actions triggered the attack upon her.

This incident became a landmark case in Portland Oregon because it set the stage for a local attorney and his wife to turn the local animal shelter into a prison as they appealed dangerous dog cases that came their way.  Anyone who has worked with the courts know the lengthy process and the attorney used this lengthy process to punish the shelter by forcing them to hold dogs pending the appeal process.  The appeals serve to keep the animal shelter full of “dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs,” and where the dogs become the victims of being caged for a long time.  Many debate as to how humane it is for a dog to be caged for years pending a court resolution.

The war between public safety and the rights of animals has been constantly waged in Portland Oregon for years.  This attorney and his wife have repeatedly stated that there really is no reason to declare an animal as dangerous, it is a human problem.  As with any cause, there are people at the extreme left and extreme right.  The people who live their lives in the fringe of any cause do not accept those of us who try to remain balanced and stay in the middle.   Working in the animal welfare field, you are going to be constantly called on to take one side or the other.  If you are a government employee, you have to understand that even though we got into this business because of our love for animals, our primary purpose is to protect our community.  In spite of what people will tell you, there are animals that are too unsafe to live in our communities.  Sure, most of them became unsafe as a result of their owners; so, even though it isn’t their fault, they are still a public safety risk.

The purpose of people like this attorney and his wife is to intimidate us.  They believe that if they are persistent long enough, we will cave to their will.  Along the way we are going to lose a case or two, but we will carry on because we have a higher calling: to keep our children safe.

Cracking Down on Service Animal Fraud

Alabama has just joined 25 other States who have are cracking down on people who are declaring their pets as service animals.  The problem is that the States will have no way to prove that a person is committing the fraud.  Given the way that the American Disability Act (ADA) was written to protect disabled people, those same laws protect people claiming to be disabled.

The various State laws claim that a person must be disabled and have a service animal specifically trained to assist the person with their disability.  The ADA states that a person is not required to prove that they are disabled and Service Animals are not required to be trained by certified trainers.

Nothing angers me more that people who abuse the system; but, the laws that protect disabled people also protect the abusers.  It is tragic what businesses have to deal with when dealing with this abuse, but I am afraid that the ADA is unwilling to do anything about its laws so as to keep protecting the people that the laws were intended for.

Delaware Recognized as the first No-kill State

Best Friends just announced that Delaware has achieved a 90% live release rate average for animal shelters throughout the State; designating it as the first no-kill State.  This comes as no surprise as we (in the animal welfare profession) have recognized that people living in the New England States seem to be more sensitive to the plight of animals.

Shelters in the northeast were the first shelters to experience a shortage of animals because their owners were smart enough to spay/neuter their pets.  Fearing that breeders would fill the void, the shelters began transporting pets in from animal shelters south of them.

It is amazing to recognize this accomplishment because they reach no-kill status as a State and while they were also importing animals from other states.  Good job Delaware!

Service Animals

Service animals are in the news again; I am not surprised. It is one of the most abused area of the Americans with Disability Act. Under the ADA, a person just needs to mention that they are disabled and the animal performs some function to assist with that disability. The person is not required to present proof of disability or evidence that their dog is specifically trained to assist the person.

If you Google “Service Dog,” you will see advertisements for service dog vests and ID that a person can purchase, in hopes of overcoming the question as to whether a person can appear to be legitimate. Thanks to the Internet, you can appear to be legitimate for thirty or forty dollars.

A major airline took the stance that certain breeds and size of dogs were not going to allowed on aircraft. The airline was experiencing an increase in dog bite incidents and wanted to improve passenger safety. The ADA stepped in and advised the airline that they could not discriminate on breed or size of a service dog.

From my experience, there is more fraud surrounding service animals; by my guess that for every legitimate service animals, there are four per owners taking advantage of the system, by claiming that their pet is a service animal. Just going online to see the numerous companies that cater to this abuse is evidence enough.

Unfortunately, although the ADA has laws that prevent abuse, there is no substance that anyone can act on. Under the ADA, a business owner must accept the word of the dog owner. The only reason that the dog owner may be asked to leave is if the owner or the animal becomes unruly. Here is a list of frequently asked questions about service animals. 

Pet owners are required to clean up after their pets, but anyone who will abuse the laws of the ADA will likely refuse to clean up after their pet.  It becomes most troublesome for passengers on a crowded aircraft to have to maneuver around a large “service animal.”

If you go on a website that is selling the supplies for fake service dog registrations, they will provide a long list of ailments that would meet the requirements for claiming a disability.  That list is so extensive that 80 percent of the population would meet the requirements of claiming use of a service animal.

What bothers me about the ADA laws is the impact that it has on people who legitimately need a service animals when they live in a world that is largely made up of fraudulent abusers.

Dress Code

One of the greatest challenge in overseeing the professional image of your animal shelter is administering a dress code.  For many years, simply stating that the dress code is business casual seemed to be understood by everyone.  Now, you have to deal with female employees wanting to wear leggings and everyone seems to be accessorized with tattoos and piercings.

In the “old days,” the issues seemed to center around hair length, both on the head and face.  Now days, employees want the liberty to sculpt their bodies with art.  Each organization has to decide as to how these sculptures impact the image of the organization.   There seems to be a movement toward having the appearance that people have spent time in the “big house,” receiving prison tattoos.  It makes me believe that anyone can be a tattoo artist, no skill is required.

As with all things, moderations should reign in the decision as to present our public image, but we live in times in which restraint is rarely exercised.  I have witnessed some beautiful tattoos, but they have been infrequent.  I have come from a generation in which the best tattoos are the ones that are hidden from view.  If you can’t hide your tattoos, you might consider the fact that you have applied them excessively.

Why? 0.2

Last month, I celebrated my second year in retirement.  My one-year anniversary of creating this blog.  The blog is therapy for me; yes, after two years of retirement, I am still winding down from the experiences from my adventures in animal welfare.

The early days of my profession were easy; people had better control of their emotions and had some semblance of commonsense; but best of all, they had not harnessed the destructive power of social media.  My last two gigs were a bit more complicated.  In one gig, the “powers” surrendered their efforts of evolving to a no-kill operation to appease one employee.  That employee didn’t like having volunteers around or allowing rescues from coming into the shelter.  Although I was the Executive Director, it was clear who had the power.  In the other gig, the “powers” were more concerned about positive social media than having a properly run operation.  Without someone showing some constraint many, many aggressive dogs would have been released into the community.

I bring this up because in the animal welfare profession we come with great expectations of making our organizations great, only to be undermined by the social and political currents that surround us.    While I was in the heat of the fire, I frequently asked if I had made a poor career choice.  In looking back, I remember all of the good that I participated in.  Looking in the soft eyes of an animal in pain,  I felt the strength to help that animal.  Humans are a thankless species, but the dogs and cats that we help make up for the grief that we receive from our own species.

The purpose of this blog is to help someone who might be considering animal welfare as their own profession.  I report mostly on the negative things to prepare you for what you have to face, but the rewards are great as well.  For those who are in the fire now, leave your office and walk back into the kennels and hold one of the animals in your care.  As directors, we feel alone, but what you are experiencing is happening to many, many others.  Fight the good fight, provide your community with what they need, not what they want.  Protect the innocent.

Animals in Hot Cars

A summer doesn’t go by without news of a child or dog dying in a hot car.  People do not seem to comprehend how quickly a vehicle can heat up.  It is tragic t loose an animal in this fashion.  For that reason, animal control organizations need to have policies in place to make sure that animal control officers are not guilty of committing the same acts, especially if those officers are using unairconditioned animal control boxes on their vehicles.

In creating a policy, the organization must determine the ambient temperature that will trigger the policy; eighty to ninety degrees seems to be a good temperature range to work with.  When the temperature reaches that threshold temperature, the policy is triggered that sets the maximum time that an animal may be in the vehicle; 60 minutes is a good length of time, providing that the carrier box pushes air through each kennel.

If an animal seems hot during pickup, that holding time should be reduced to 30 minutes and the animal should be given water and wetted down prior to transportation.  Animal Control Officers need to be smart enough to park in shaded area and to constantly check on the animals onboard the vehicle.  Frequent stops at gas stations might be necessary to keep the animals hosed down and kept cool.

There is no excuse for an animal control officer leaving an animal onboard his/her vehicle for extending period of time in the summer; but, every year we hear about an officer forgetting about an animal that is left on the vehicle over night.  Officers need to get into the routine of checking their vehicle at the end of their shift and cleaning the vehicle for use the next day.  One stupid mistake can bring to an end of your animal control career.

Keeping animals safe in the summer is a matter of common sense.

Mathematics

I read a t-shirt that stated, “5 out of 4 people struggle with math.”   This was a reminder to my time as an Animal Shelter Director.   Accurate reporting of the use of controlled substances is critical for the operation of any animal shelter;  it requires that staff handling these drugs to have a basic understand of simple mathematics.  I was amazed at the inability of my staff to record drug usage and maintain a running balance of each batch of the drug.

A smart Animal Shelter Director should include simple math problems in the hiring process because the failure of staff to adequately perform simple subtraction could put the shelter at risk with the DEA and State Board of Pharmacy.   Fixing employee mathematical mistakes is consuming for you.  You should not have to reconcile drug logs due to laziness or the lack of a proper education.  Hire the right employees.

New York Bans the Declawing of Cats

Declawing of cats is a form of butchery, that cat owners use to prevent cats from harming furniture.  It is a brutal act committed upon cats and now has been FINALY legal banned in New York.  Like cropping and docking of dogs, we frequently ask ourselves how veterinarians can perform such surgeries.  Veterinarians should stick to surgeries that are necessary for the welfare of the animal, not the animal’s owner.

Declawing became acceptable over the years as a way for cat owners to keep their pets that are damaging furniture.  In response to the radical effort to make cats “safe,” a company came out with a product in which a cat owner can place covers over the cat’s claws.  This covers are called Soft Paws.

To be perfectly honest, I tried, for a couple of years, to put Soft Paws on my cat and decided that the process of chasing down the cat and providing restraint was too much to bare for either the cat or myself.  I figured that the best option was to  just budget for the replacement of the furniture that the cat destroys.

It will be interesting to see if the declawing ban moves beyond the State of  New York.