Special Programs

It is always exciting to develop a community program, but some programs only work on the drawing board.  One of the local women’s shelter approached us to assist with the police department on dealing with incidents involving battered women.  That sound like a wonderful program, right?

The idea was that some women will not leave their abusive situation because of a pet in the household.  So the police would arrive and pick up the battered woman and her pets to take them to safety.  It was a feel good program for everyone; except for the pets.

When the program was first developed, I had to constantly rewrite the program weekly.  We needed a bailout clause because once rescued from the abusive situation, most of the pets were abandoned.  In the first case, the woman jumped aboard a passing 18 wheeler truck and was never heard from again.  That incident forced us to set holding times and create abandonment clauses.

Just because a program feels good doesn’t make it a good program.  I hate to admit it, but I have created similar programs in many localities, only to help one or two women.  Although the program always ended in failure, I felt it was worthwhile for the one or two women that the program helped.   And given a choice, I would do it again and again.

Special programs are a good idea, but it is important that when creating programs to help people, you need to look out for the welfare of the animals that are involved.

Hurricane Preparation

It is the day after the hurricane made landfall and the media is reporting that  hurricane victims are complaining that FEMA has failed to knock on their doors with food and water.  Two events are at play: the first is that the people had the opportunity to evacuate and failed to do so and second, they choose to shelter-in-place without preparation.

Why would a person weather out a storm and not be prepared?  Have we become so foolish to believe that no matter what life mistakes that we make, someone will be there to fix them for us.  And if FEMA doesn’t show up to fix our mistakes, we immediately run to the media.

No matter how prepared FEMA is for a storm, if you are going to sit out a storm, you need to be prepared to care for yourself (and your pets) for a week.  It is the commonsense portion of your disaster plan… you know, the plan that you should have made before the storm…. before running to the media.

We have become a society of victims.  We are too shortsighted to recognize that we become victims of our own foolishness.

Dog Bites

The leading cause of dog bites are dog owners.  Most dog owners are oblivious to the fact that their dog has the potential to bite and callous of the conditions that might lead up to their pet biting.  For that reason, one of the most common phrases that a dog bite victim hears prior to being bitten is the voice of the dog’s owner yelling, “Don’t worry, he won’t bite.”

This is one of the greatest threats to our community in which dog owners fail to step up and accept responsibility for the dog bite potential that their pet presents.  Failing to accept that responsibility places people at risk.

Dog bites have become so common that people have become judicial witnesses based on “junk science” that attempts to win dog bite cases by blaming dog bites on the victims rather than recognizing the behavior of the dog.  The notion is that the dog has a reason for biting a person, but we just don’t understand what that reason is; so a self proclaimed individual will take the stand in court, claiming to be a profession witness, to explain what the victim did to justify the bite.

These “experts’ have created a niche in which they make the dog owner the victim on an unjust justice system that puts humans before animals.  These “professionals” are lifted up by their followers that own potentially dangerous dog breeds.

To be honest, some people  provoke dogs to the point of getting bit.   That is one more reason for dog owners to consider their liability in owning a large dog and failing to provide proper boundaries between their dog and potential victims.  Some dogs have less tolerance towards being provoked; some dogs don’t need any provocation.

The Problem with Microchips

Technology is usually a good thing.  From the beginning, microchips seems to be just that; a way to identify our pets without the worry of misplaced collars and tags.  But, at best, microchipping your pet is a poor secondary form of identification.  It is better than nothing, but not much better.  The fact that your pet is microchipped, is no excuse for failing to place  identification on your pet or to actually physically search for your dog..

From the beginning, microchip companies did not want to share their microchipping secrets.  One company even encrypted their microchips to prevent other microchip company scanners from being able to scan for their chips.  Then microchips began entering the United States from Canada and new microchip frequencies began to enter our market.  It became increasingly difficult for animal shelter to find the implanted chips due to the lack of universal scanners.  Even today, with universal scanners on the market, microchips remain unfound because of frequency issues.  The issue has become so great, that many animal shelters refuse to scan for microchips because of the difficulty of finding the chips.

Responsible animal shelters believe that if a pet owner is going to microchip their pet, then the shelter should, at least,  perform the scan.  Animal shelters should make every effort to return a pet back to its owner.  Because microchips are elusive to find, animal shelters will scan for the chip three times: upon intake of the animals, during the medical examination, and at disposition.  Microchips can migrate within the pet; I once found a microchip that had migrated from the injection site (in the shoulder blades) to the front paw, for this Great Dane, that was a migration of three feet.  It is so critical that every inch of the animal is scanned.   If you realized the number of microchips that are discovered just prior to euthanasia, you would understand why I state that the microchip is a poor secondary form of identification.

Animal shelter personnel get so very excited to find a microchip, only to find that few microchips are traceable.   The most common cause of an untraceable microchip is from microchips that are purchased from veterinarians, where the veterinarian expects the pet owner to register the microchip with a national registry.  Many veterinarians just sell and implant the chip, but fails to associate that chip with the owner and those that do, might purge the records of pet owners who fail to return for follow up medical examinations.

We are a mobile society.  Pet owners fail to keep current their pet’s microchip registration.  Some animal shelters have to go to great lengths to trace an owner through their microchip.  Originally, it had been the hope of our profession to find lost pets in the field and return them home before the owner even discovered the pet was missing.  That happens infrequently, but those occurrence are occurring even more rarely.

One of the most frustrating things that animal shelter personnel face is that pet owners with microchipped pets feel that it is not necessary for them to look for their lost pet because the microchip will guarantee the animal’s return.  With this mindset, the pet owners might have to wait a year or two to see their pet again.

Microchipping your pet is no excuse to be lazy.  Buy an ID tag, purchase your local pet license and be proactive in finding your lost pet.

Maintaining Herd Health

Most veterinarians will tell you that the best way to keep your shelter animals health is to keep your animal population low.  In today’s world of No Kill, people don’t want you to euthanize any animal, even aggressive animals, if you have open cage space.

Some foolish States created laws preventing the euthanasia of shelter animals if open cage space is available.  The people creating those laws did not have the common sense to understand that open cage space is necessary to provide for incoming animals.  Without open cage space, every new animal intake would create a crisis: do you force the doubling of animals in cages or quickly euthanize an animal to make space on every intake?

Maintaining an animal shelter at full capacity creates stress on the animals.  Animals under stress are more likely to get sick.  A shelter full of sick animals is a shelter’s worst nightmare.

Even shelter maintaining the proper population balance will hit a crisis when animals are dumped on them from natural disasters or hoarding cases.  Usually longer holding periods will be required during natural disasters in hope of the pet’s owner returning home.  Hoarding cases often require holding periods to get the owner through the court process; these holding periods could easily exceed months.

The business of animal sheltering frequently forces shelter management to move from one crisis to another.  When tough decisions are made to manage the overpopulation at an animal shelter, the No Kill folks will be first to criticize the those decision when they see an empty cage.

Practicing Veterinary Medicine

I came across an article that a rescue organization was charged with practicing veterinary medicine in the aftermath of a natural disaster.  Tax funded organization, if property funded, have access to veterinarians.  Most animal rescue organization are not so funded.

In a world of pet owners failing to provide even the minimum level of veterinary care to their pets, I think we can give a break to experienced care givers who is trying to help the animals in their care.

The veterinary profession has engaged in legislation that assures their own survival by forcing pet owners to obtain specific services from them.  In some states, animal shelter workers are not allowed to simply vaccinate animals unless under the direction of a veterinarian.   The their efforts to secure their own profits, the veterinarians hinder the ability of animal caregivers to legally provide medical care for the animals in their care.

One example is the administration of a rabies vaccination.  Veterinarians have attempted for years to restrict access to rabies vaccines to veterinarians only.  They claim that only veterinarians are capable of maintaining the proper refrigeration of the vaccine.  In most states, only rabies vaccinations administered by a veterinarian is considered a legal vaccination.

If you vaccinate your dog for rabies yourself and your dog bites a person, the dog will be considered unvaccinated and your dog will have to undergo the quarantine of an unvaccinated animal.  Only a rabies titer test would be evidence that the dog had been vaccinated.

I don’t fault the veterinarians for drumming up business, they have earned it; but, it doesn’t justify going after our rescue partners who are in the business of doing good.

Preparing for Hurricanes

One of the nice things about Hurricanes is that you see them coming.  But, in spite of the advanced notice of its arrival, we see emergency personnel rescuing pets that were abandoned by their owners who had evaluated.  This is clear evidence that the pet’s owners had no emergency plan.

Emergency plans are pretty simple, you plan early and you plan for your pets.  With all of the websites available to assist pet owners in making a plan, there is no excuse.  Disasters are rough on pets, especially the ones who have been left behind.

Preparing for Disasters

One of the greatest outcomes of Hurricane Katrina was FEMA recognizing the importance of pets during a natural disaster.  FEMA opened the door to the creation of pet friendly shelters.  People like the idea of being sheltered with their pets.

Anyone who ever worked with me, knows that I always keep my vehicle stocked with supplies in preparation of providing an emergency response; but, all of the equipment in the world isn’t going to help you if you are not educated in handling disasters.  One of the best ways to prepare your staff and volunteers is to train them as Community Emergency Response Team Members.  The above link will put you, your staff, and volunteers into contact with other community members dedicated to keeping your community safe in an emergency.  If you are working on the public side of a disaster, you will be required to complete FEMA training; this training, is required for most public officials dealing with disasters.

Often preparation is the most important aspect of disaster preparedness; but cleanup after a disaster will aid in being allow back.  I was never able to make headway in opening pet friendly shelters in a county in north Florida because one previous attempt was made, years before my arrival, in a public school.  Whoever organized the sheltering of animals in the school left the cleanup to school personnel.  School administration never forgot that.

It is an important reminder that cleanup after a disaster could be the most important aspect of preparing for your next disaster.  In the Boy Scouts, we always had a rule to leave a campsite better than we found it.  It is a good rule to follow when closing down a pet shelter following a disaster.

One of the tragic part of being the midst of a disaster is the problem of pets being left behind when their owners evacuate.  Not only does a shelter have to deal with the influx of these abandoned pets, you have to deal with the pets that are turned away at sheltering locations that prohibit animals.

In our recent response to the epidemic, we have eyewitness accounts as to our nation getting a failing grade as to our preparation for a disaster.  In the Boy Scouts, our motto was Be Prepared.  Our problem as a nation is that we believe that someone else will assume our responsibility for being prepared.

Preparedness begins on an individual level.  People have looked a preppers as crazy people and now, in the midst of an epidemic, the preppers are saying, “I told you so!”  Being prepared is an ongoing thing, it is not rushing to the grocery store to buy out all of the toilet paper.  We as families should always be prepared.

Every community has a continuity of operations plan (COOP).  The  plan is for every department at the local, county, state, country to continue operations in an emergency.  COOP shows us our weaknesses and allows for us to make preparations prior to an emergency.

It is with great dismay that I watch on the news of the governments of New York screaming for the federal government to respond to their emergency.  The fact that New York is calling for assistance is evidence that they failed in preparation of an emergency.  Fortunately the Feds are there to bail them out, you would think they would show more appreciation.

I frequently get on my soapbox about people seeing themselves as victims.  Now I am seeing governments crying out that they are victims, only because they didn’t have the foresight to be prepared.  Soon, we will see this epidemic behind us, I hope that people see this as a lesson to accept their role in preparing for a disaster.

No Kill Statistics

I happened to see an article about an ex-employee, from one of the organizations that I ran, running to the media to be a whistle blower about how statistics were doctored to report higher live release rates.  With so much pressure being placed on shelter managers, the risk is high that statistics could be doctored to make the shelter look like it has a higher live release rate that it does.

Often, animal shelters might document that the relinquishing owner has surrender the animal for euthanasia because the animal is sick.  In most cases, the city/county will investigate and find nothing wrong; unfortunately time and effort has to be spent responding to a disgruntled (ex-) employee.

Due to people like this, it is becoming more and more important to track changes to animal intake records to show who is making changes after the fact.  When purchasing an animal shelter software tool, asked about change reporting within the software.

If changes are made to the software entry, they usually occur at the time of disposition (when the decision is made to euthanize the animal).  The intake entry is changed to justify the euthanasia.  Change reporting will track who made any changes to the animal’s record and when.  This reporting ability is equally important to show that no such change occurred.

Volunteers

I grew up in a profession that believed that our volunteers were the life blood of our organization.  Our volunteers could give our animals the special attention that we didn’t have time to provide.

I continued to believe that throughout my career until I ran into a group of volunteers who believed that their service to the organization gave them justification to have the right to direct the operation of the animal shelter.

It was the first time in my life that I believed that our volunteers were a detriment to the organization.  Sure, they were providing valuable care to the animals, but they became a force of demanding staff to overlook the behavioral problems associated with dogs, so as to push the aggressive animals into adoptive homes.

The volunteers were quite effective.  They complained to the right people, made their plea to the media.  There purpose was to undermine the mission of the animal shelter staff to protect the public.

To some degree the volunteers were success in getting the power players to question the decision of staff.  But, mostly these players didn’t like to be embroiled in conflict.  They saw the volunteers as representing a caring community, instead of their role as inflicting their special interest.

This was a problem that was being experience State wide to such a degree due to the high frequency of aggressive animals being released from animal shelters back into the community, the State had to step in and enact laws to force shelters to tell the truth about the behavior of the animals in their care.

Volunteers have special interest, the care that they provide the animals makes them biased towards those animals.  Many volunteers will try to force a shelter to ignore the shelter’s mission to protect the community.  Our elected overseers should have the foresight to recognize this dynamic.