Ignorance of Breeding

There are two breeds that of their own volition would pose a threat of overbreeding animal shelters:  the poodle and the pit bull.  Let’s face it poodles are likely to breed with anything.  Fortunately they mostly choose to mate with a pants leg; that generally does not spawn offspring. 

Pit bulls, on the other hand seems to be attracted to anything on four legs.  Animal shelter employees do not wish to call an animal a pit bull mix because that term diminished the chances of the animal getting adopted, but the phenotypic broad forehead of the breed seems to identify itself within the genetic make of most dogs entering an animal shelter.

Since poodles present little risk of overpopulation in an animal shelter, pit bulls do present a risk.  I have always been in favor of creating an ordinance that demands the sterilization (spaying or neutering) of any breed that causes the greatest risk of overwhelming an animal shelter.  In today’s age, that would be the pit bull.  The pit bull is the hardest breed to place and for that reason they take up the largest portion of our shelters.  One of the biggest complaints that we hear at the animal shelter is that there is no selection to choose from, “All the have are pit bulls!”

Pit bulls originally became a problem because they attracted the worst kind of pet owner.  The fact that pit bulls remain a problem is that the breed is still attracting owners who refuse to take actions to stop the reproductive potential of their pet, whether by sterilization or by isolation.

It is easy to point out ignorant people at the intake side of an animal shelter, these are the folks that think they are giving you a gift when they are dumping their litter of puppies (or kittens) on you.  Every shelter experiences a group of their citizens that like clockwork deliver their litters to them.  All of the explaining in the world cannot breach that thick layer of ignorance that surrounds these people.

The Plight of Backyard Dogs

Our pet’s love for us shows no bounds.  I know this because I have carved a career in animal welfare due to the reckless manner in which people treat their pets.  Let’s face it, if people were responsible pet owners, their would be no need for animal shelters and animal control officers.

Winter is the time that pet owners show their greatest ignorance towards their pets.  A recent article out of Dallas Texas demonstrated this when their local media reported that Dallas was seeing an increase in calls concerning pets being left out in the cold.  It is rare that any of our southern states could become cold enough to impact outdoor pets.

Dogs are social animals, so I am opposed to dogs living outdoors, not because of the effects of weather, but due to meeting their need to socialize with the pack (our household).  Most of my dogs preferred cold weather, after all they have been wearing a coat all year.

I used to have staff freak out about temperatures get down to forty degrees, when many of the animals preferred that temperature.  It is difficult to determine rules as to the temperature range for each animal because they are different.  Most “northern breed” dogs prefer colder weather.  And many shorthaired breeds appear to be cold when it is eighty degrees.

If it is possible, pet owners should show commonsense when dealing with their pets and the weather.  If it is cold enough for your dog’s water to freeze, then it is probably too cold for your dog to be outdoors.  I have lived in many areas that hot weather became an issue and we had to limit the time that an animal could be confined in an animal control vehicle.  If the temperature got to eighty or ninety degrees, we required that the animal be transported directly back to the animal shelter.  If an immediate transport could not be made, the officer was to pull over in the shade and hose down the dog to keep the dog cool.

Most dogs prefer to live in temperature ranges that are cooler that what we humans like, but that is no reason to leave them out in the cold.

Selling vs Adopting

This year, California will ban the selling of pets in pet shops.  The belief behind this legislation is that with the over population of pets in our shelters, pet shops should not be adding to the problem by selling animals that they obtain from puppy mills and backyard breeders.  The problem that they create by enacting these laws is that they fail to serve people wanting designer pets. 

Sure, animal shelters have designer pets following a puppy mill bust or an out of control backyard breeder, but those animals go quickly and the animal shelter is back to having only (mostly) pit bulls available for adoption.  Not everyone wants a pit bull.

Twenty years ago, we were approached by a pet shop owner who wanted to stop buying animals from puppy mills and asked if our animal shelter would become his supplier.  It was very innovated thinking and I am not sure that, at that time, we were prepared to make that decision.

In our business, we have become so arrogant in thinking that only through our grueling adoption process will we make the perfect placement.  During my career, the animal welfare movement has undergone several cycles that questioned the effectiveness of our adoption processes.  Many “innovated” shelters reported that their adoption return rate was unchanged when they relaxed their adoption policies.  Although they don’t want to admit it, their adoptions became no different than those of a pet shop.

Animal Shelters only hold the high ground because they largely try to adopt animals that are not widely sought after.  They would be wise to increase their placements by getting past their arrogance and do what is right for the animals.  The shelters in California have a wonderful opportunity before them; they might consider making the pet shops their adoption partners.

Shelter Construction

Many of the animal shelters that I have worked were built by contractors that know nothing of shelter construction and as a result make life miserable for the shelter personnel who later come to work in those facilities.

Disease Control

Due to the fact that many pet owners fail to vaccinate their pets, many pets become sick from the first virus that hits them in an animal shelter.  Although most shelters vaccinate an animal at intake, the vaccine is ineffective for several days.  Shelters should be built to reduce the potential for viruses to spread.

Many animal shelters have holding pens in which they place animals at intake so as to not have them interact with the shelter’s general population.  If an animal is going to break with a virus, it will usually within the first three to five days.

Instead of holding animals in large rooms, it is better to maintain the animals in smaller wards so that if disease breaks out, it will be contained to a smaller group of animals.  So as to keep from spreading disease from one ward to another, it is generally a good idea to limit the cleaning of the ward to one specific person so as to not cause cross contamination.  A shelter might have one person clean one cat ward and then clean one dog ward and stay away from the other wards.  Most important is to prevent the public from carrying disease from one ward to another while looking for a lost pet or finding a new pet.  It is surprising the number of people who cannot stop themselves from touching one animal after another as the go down a row of cages or kennels after being warned not to touch the animals.

To avoid cross contamination, it is important to construct the shelter so that suspected diseased animals have a straight path to the quarantine area without taking the animal down common hallways that are used for the general shelter population; for example, animals brought in from the field should not be walked through general population areas.

The air exchange system is very important for disease control.  If air is pulled from within the building, it should be sanitized through filters and UV lights before being blow back into the shelter.  An improperly installed HVAC system could be the primary cause of contaminating and recontaminating your shelter guests.  Many shelters opt for only outside air intake, which can be very expensive on hot or cold days.  If you live in areas of high humidity, make sure the system supports sufficient drains under the condenser coils. 

If your shelter can afford it, each ward should be zoned separately when providing air conditioning and heating.  Some shelters incorporate self-contained fans that use filters and UV lights to sanitize the air during a disease outbreak.  Use Ozone generators sparingly as Ozone is hard on an animal’s lungs.

Although not a construction issue, it is important to disease control that volunteers and staff do not use the same leashes to walk all of the dogs or the same cat toys when socializing cats.  As animals stay longer periods of time, staff and volunteers need to make sure that they are not unintentionally exposing animals when engaging in enrichment programs with the animals.

Play yards are another area of concern.  Creating play groups for animals and the play surface can be areas that spread disease.  Play groups should consist of animals that have been in the shelter a sufficient length of time for the animal’s initial vaccination to begin to take hold.  Play surfaces should be make of a material that allows for disinfecting.  Dirt and grass surfaces is an excellent way to spread the Parvo virus.


Having an effective drain system will reduce the workload of your kennel staff.  My experience is the T-Kennel system drain is the best system.  The system allows for the attendant to push animal waste to the back of the kennel, this front to back cleaning allows for faster cleaning.  Most shelters have a single circular drain in the middle of the kennel; with this system, staff has to scoop up the animal waste and return to mop the kennel.

The T-Kennel system usually has a large catch basin where it catches chew toys and blanket material.  On rare occasions, the catch basin might stop an infant animal from being washed down the drain (great care must be taken when holding mothers with infant animals).  The drain pipes should be constructed so that the system contains no sharp turns.  The first time you have to tear up your concrete floors looking for a long nylon chew toy that is clogging your system, you will understand the need for either limiting the toys that animal chew or create ways to prevent the toys from going down into your waste system.  Anytime that the waste system has a sharp turn, a cleanout should be installed to access that point.

Adopters in Harms Way

A current trend to increase adoptions is for animal shelter personnel ignoring the aggressive behavior of an animal as reported by the animal’s owner or keeper.  Shelter personnel wish the animal to have a clean slate and treat the animal as having no background information; they are confident that their own evaluations are sufficient to determine the animals fitness for adoption.

It is not uncommon for various factions in a shelter to view an animal in different light.  One of the most common problem that my last shelter faced was our volunteers posting glowing comments about animals on social media that were not consistent with the staff’s evaluations.  The volunteers felt that they knew better because of the behavior that they witnessed when walking the animal, even though the previous owner and staff assessed the animal differently.  They didn’t realize that they were observing the animal from a very small window.  People would come in to the shelter and discover that the volunteers lied to them so as to facilitate the placement of the animal.  Fortunately for the community, our shelter staff had the integrity to report the correct information or refuse to accept the adoption application.

This trend of passing marginal animals or animals with aggression in their history is getting animal shelters in trouble.  I frequently read about cases in which an adopter is subject to a serious incident and then finds that the animal’s history of aggression was not shared with them.  It became so commonplace in Virginia that laws were drafted to force adoption organizations to give out the animal’s history, good or bad.

Many shelters have placed their animal placements ahead of public safety due to the pressures of being no kill.  Not only have people been harmed, but many shelters have been sued for their callous actions.

No Kill Equation

Those associated with the No Kill Movement have created a number of elements that they have identified as necessary for an animal shelter to become no kill.  They view this as an all or nothing arrangement; you either commit to every element or you will be declared as a lazy uncompassionate shelter director.

The equation is pretty simple: to reduce euthanasia at your shelter, you must reduce animal intakes and provide for more positive outcomes.  But, getting there becomes a little more complicated.

Reduce Animal Intakes

The first order of reducing the pet overpopulation is to reduce the breeding of pets through low-cost sterilization programs.  As the number of unwanted pets in the community are reduced, fewer will find their way into your shelter. 

Pet retention programs provide resources to pet owners to show alternatives to the dumping of their pet on the shelter when they lack financial resources to care for their pet or wisdom to deal with behavioral problems associated with their pet.

A few shelters are so committed to becoming no kill that they have resorted in shutting their doors to the intake of animals.  People finding stray animals are force to keep the stray until such time as it is convenient for the shelter to receive the animal.

Increase Placements

In my experience, I have found that creating rescue partners is the most successful avenue for the placement of pets in the shelters that I have directed; however, it is critical that a watchful eye is on those rescues to prevent them from getting into a hoarding situation.

Mobile adoptions are a project for volunteers.  The idea is to take animals from the shelter and deliver them to a highly visible area of your city to be viewed by the public.  Petsmart is always open to using their stores for adoption events.

Adoption Ambassador programs allow foster parents to screen potential homes for the animals in their care.  The main problem with this program is similar to a foster to adopt program where the animal is in a permanent home, but is on the shelter’s records so the shelter has to flip for the medical expenses on the whim of the person keeping the animal.  Also, people who foster animals tend to have stricter standards for giving up their “babies” to a new owner.  Be prepared for a lot of complaints from potential adopters that want a foster animal.

When all else fails, you can offer free adoptions.  Since people purchase on impulse, you should create strict guidelines for those who adopt a free pet.  It is critical that person has sufficient income to support day to day care for the animal and necessary medical needs of the animal.

Rabies Vaccinations

Keeping your pets vaccinated is a key element of being a responsible pet owner. Years ago, veterinarians decided that the rabies vaccination was the only vaccination that should only be maintained and administered by a licensed veterinarian. Pet owners could purchase and vaccinate their pets with rabies vaccination from a farm store, but their pet would not be considered legally vaccinated. Unless a Titer test is given to the animal, the animal would be considered unvaccinated if it were to bite another animal or a person.

There are two reasons why veterinarians give the rabies vaccination: pet owners cannot be trusted and veterinarians need the business. The second thing that comes out of a pet owner’s month when their pet bites someone is “Don’t worry, he’s vaccinated.” When the dog is running towards the person, the pet owner will first exclaim, “Don’t worry, he won’t bite.” If the owner lied about the first thing, the owner probably lied about the second. Without a vaccination certificate from a licensed veterinarian, the pet owner could just print out a blank certificate on-line, complete it and then present it as proof of vaccination. Rabies is serious stuff and causes a horrible death; pet owners just cannot be trusted to do this on their own.

Rabies vaccinations keep veterinarians in business. The simple way to confirm whether your veterinarian uses the rabies vaccination as a business tool is to look at the rabies expiration date. The Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control 2016 provides approved rabies vaccination for 1 year and 3 years for adult animals. Most veterinarians worry about over vaccinating a pet and will administer the 3 year vaccination. I have encountered veterinarians to use the 1 year vaccination to “force” the pet owner to return for annual examinations; pressuring the pet owner to be more responsible for their pet (to get them in for the pet’s annual vaccinations (that are not required by law)).

Lions, Tigers and Bears; OH MY!

Having spent a career in animal control, I have frequently asked the question: “How did we become the dominant species.”  I have witnessed so many of my species with the deleterious gene for stupidity.  Part of my duties were to write ordinances because left to our own devices, we would put ourselves and other at risk.

I first encountered a liger at the Salt Lake City zoo.  It was the only lion/tiger hybrid in existence.  Shasta was a major draw for the Hogle Zoo.   My next experience was in the backyard of a home in the Portland Oregon area.  It appears that someone thought it would be profitable to breed and sell these animals without understanding that anyone who would want to put one of these in their backyard is probably too stupid to have the skills to keep the animal confined.  A young girl was injured as a result of this act of stupidity.

Having worked for government organizations, I had to monitor my word selection.  Retirement and old age has loosened my tongue to call it what it really is.  Every time we performed a rewrite of our ordinances, we had to update the list of animals that were not safe to own in our jurisdiction.  Why?  You are right, stupidity.  If we didn’t list every animal, someone would figure out that they could legally own it.  And worse, there was someone out there that could provide it.  It is amazing the number of dangerous animals that are shipped through our mail carriers.

I’ve seen videos of delivery drivers mishandling packages.  Most people think that is horrible because something in the package could break; I worry that something in that package might get angry and burrow out of the package.

During the old drug trade, police officers would encounter verminous snakes.  The snakes were a deterrent for the officer to search the cage for the drug dealer’s stash.  Animal Control officer became the first line of defense at drug busts; either the dealer would sic their dog(s) on the officers, or some other creature protected the stash.

I witnessed more people keeping dangerous reptiles in Milwaukee, than I did while working in Florida.  Fortunately, many of the exotic species did not hold up well during a Wisconsin winter.

It is surprising that more reptiles are not found loose.  Most snake hoarders keep their animals in small plastic containers.  The cruelty that is inflicted on these animals should be left for another rant.

Customer Service

I recently contacted my local animal shelter to make a donation.  This experience reminded me as to why I made the policies for communication with my own staff.

I wanted every communication (email, social media, telephone calls) returned within 3 hours; 24 hours if they were slammed.   I made sure that I kept to the same rules.  The only exception was weekends, holidays and vacations.  If they were going to be out for longer that 24 hours, their email or phone message should reflect that.

I also insisted that the doors of the shelter open 5 to 10 minutes before the scheduled time.  Customer service is one of the most important things that we have to offer; unfortunately too many staff see that customer service equates to work and they want to avoid both.

Many of us are government workers.  That doesn’t mean that we have to act in the way that citizens think of us.  We should always go the extra mile.  I tell my staff to treat each person as if you are dealing with the Mayor.

The first shelter I contacted for the donation never contacted me.  The second shelter responded as soon as staff came to work.  Guess where all of my future donations will go?

Pet Photos

Technology has made us lazy. People do not venture out of their homes when they can have their home needs delivered to them.  For this reason, animal shelters need to put policies in place to photograph incoming animals as quickly as possible and post the photos on their website and social media sites to alert these home-bound pet owners.  If the owner is found, the next trick is to try to get them out of their homes to reclaim their pet; I have had many owners of lost pets ask for home delivery (most do not want to dirty their car with pet hair).

Although some animals on intake are like trying to photograph a two-year-old child, they will be constantly on the move and will attempt to bite you. When dealing with such animals, shelter personnel will be tempted to be safe and photograph the animal through a cage, on a catchpole, or through the window of a feral box.  Photos like these are the ones that your viewers will complain about most.  The only reason for a poor photo is staff safety.

Consider your audience when photographing animals. In every animal shelter that I have worked, I always had a group of people who trolled our website looking for pictures that they could complain about.  But, in fact, they were usually right; staff would be too quick to take a photo and post it.  The problem with hastily taken photos is that you capture the animal in a pose that not even the owner would not recognize.

The “first” photo that is taken of an animal should be one that can recognize the animal for the owner. If you cannot handle the animal, then explain why and provide as much detail in the description of the animal.

If an animal is unclaimed, it becomes time to take additional photos of the animal; we call these the glamour shots. Hopefully the animal has calmed down enough to capture natural photos of it.   Some shelters create space to set up a small studio with lights and backdrops, while other shelters have volunteers walking the animals take photos of animal on their walks.  These images are key in “selling” the animal to a potential adopter.