The Problem with No Kill

It is a noble cause to find homes for the homeless pets in our communities.  I would never attempt to hinder the adoption of adoptable animals.  In the completion between animal shelters to declare their organizations as no kill, we have created hostilities between organizations.  The No Kill Movement has caused an isolation between adoption organizations.

The dynamics of becoming no kill is quite simple: increase adoptions or decrease animal intakes.  In Florida, our humane society wanted to declare that they were no kill, so as to access grants that are only available to no kill organizations.  In order to accomplish their no kill status, they chose to stop taking in stray animals.  The intakes increase at the public shelter at a time that the shelter was already beyond capacity.

The No Kill Movement is ineffective unless it is viewed from a big picture view.  One organization in a community claiming to be No Kill is worthless if all of the other organizations in that community are overwhelmed.  I am always amazed at the criticism that a public shelter receives from local no kill shelters that refuse to accept animals.

The admission status of a shelter seems to get lost in the condemnation that public animal shelters receive.  It is easy to be a no kill shelter when you can control what animals that you are willing to accept.  It is more difficult to be an open admission shelter in which you are expected to accept any animal that shows up (at any time).  It is easy to become overwhelmed in an open admission shelter.

The pressure on open admission shelters is great and has caused many of them to try no kill tactics.  The most common tactic is to attempt to reduce animal intakes.  They first started by trying to reduce owner surrendered animals.  Pet owners soon saw that in order to give up their pets, they would need to claim that their pets were strays.  Shelters then began to require that people had to make an appointment to surrender an animal.  When appointments were weeks or months out into the future, people saw that it was unreasonable to even attempt to surrender a stray pet.  People were left with releasing the pets in the parking lot of the shelter. 

This strategy takes an odd turn.  Although the shelter refused to accept the animal, they would quickly prosecute an person releasing the animal in their parking lot, charging them with animal abandonment.  All the while, the animal shelter views themselves as the good guy.  The purpose of a public animal shelter is to house stray animals, to keep them from being a nuisance or a danger to the community.  The No Kill Movement has caused communities to have more animals running loose.  It is a sad day when animal control officers have to turn a blind eye to the stray dog that runs out in front of their vehicle, because there are no open kennels in the shelter.

The No Kill Movement has forced people to turn a blind eye to the community problems that created public animal shelters in the first place.  Up until now, the No Kill Movement has only pitted one shelter against another.  The Movement is ineffective until it can announce that an entire community has become No Kill.  However, becoming a No Kill Community is not the end game; when the City of Austin announced it had gained no kill status, all of the surrounding communities began to flood Austin’s shelters with animals from adjacent countries.  Our end game is to become an No Kill Nation.

Organizational Change

During my career, I had the opportunity to manage operations undergoing major organizational change.  Both cases involved humane societies ending their contract of managing the local public animal shelter.  Both had their own private shelters and used their contract to pick the best animals from the public shelter for adoption in their private shelter.  No adoptions were occurring in the private shelters.  The animals that were not moved to adoption were euthanized.  Both organizations refused to work with outside groups to ease the high euthanasia rate at their public shelters.

The first shelter was in Georgia.  A group of rescues joined together to approach the county to rebid the animal control contract.  With a 90 percent euthanasia rate at the public shelter, something had to change.  I was hired by the rescue groups to oversee the transition.  I was amazed at the phone calls I would get from the board of directors of the humane society claiming that stray dogs are just not suitable for adoption.  They had to feel justified in their management style of the public shelter.  That style lead to outside organizations wanting to colaberate and take over the public animal shelter.

The second shelter was in Virginia.  The humane society was taking critisim because they claimed to be no kill, but failed to calculate in the euthanasias performed through their contract with the local jurisdictions.  They treated each entity as a separate organization, reporting separate statistics: their private shelter had great statistics, but their public shelter had horrible statistics.  They too, had shut the door to outside groups because they saw those groups competing for the best animals and donors.  Trying to maintain positive organizational PR can be a fickle thing.

Both organizations were so busy trying to make themselves look good, that they missed the big picture.  In their effort to “appear” to look, like a progressive no kill organization, they discovered that their communities were a lot smarter than they gave them credit for.  They had become arrogant in their public image and lost out on a large source of public revenue and public good will.

It is a hard game for private rescue groups to stay viable.  In addition to the local competition for donor funding, they have to deal with the constant television ads from national organizations asking for money.  The fact is that people are more likely to donate to an organization that calls its self no kill, and many people have the false assumption that their donations to the national organizations will funnel to their local humane society.  It is easy to see why a local humane society might “stretch” the truth about their live release rate.

It has been my experience that major organizational change occurs when the organization is caught in a lie.  Organizational integrity is the foundation of any organization; if you weaken it, you will loose the support of your community.  It isn’t enough to appear good, you must be good. 

Pet overpopulation is still a real thing in our country.  The solution requires multiple hands in the pot.  I spent most of my career on the public side of running an animal shelter, because I wanted to focus on how I was going to get my animals into new homes and not worry about where the money was going to come from.  I attribute my successes to seeing the benefit of working with rescue groups, even the ones that were difficult.

Societal Evolution

I have always believed that a person’s integrity was one of the most important attributes of a person’s character.  I learned my value system at a young age and by the time that I had become an Eagle Scout, my value system was fully formed.  I was constantly dismayed at seeing the corrosion of our societal norms.

It should come as no surprise to you that I felt that social media corrupted good people.  Everyone wanted to be “center stage” and self-embellishment led to flat out lying.  Lying became so commonplace that I believe people began believing their own lies.  Lying just became a way of life.

News organizations no longer reported the news, but created the news and no one cared if the facts were right, as long as they fought for higher ratings.  Fake news became a commonly used term and news sources became a forum for reporters to push their own belief system.

One of my biggest failures, as pointed out by one of my employees, was that I placed too much trust in people, I always gave them the benefit of the doubt.  He was right.  I wanted to believe that people treasured their integrity.  I think I cared more for their integrity than they did.

I witnessed people going out of their way to fabricate lies.  I witnessed staff scheming against their supervisor in an effort to bully the supervisor into looking the other way to overlook their own incompetence.  I was dumfounded in getting a call from our HR Department in which staff wanted to draw attention to their supervisor by calling anonymously to HR, claiming that their supervisor(s) returned from lunch with alcohol on their breath; just to make the life of their supervisor miserable.  The claims were obviously false.  I was further dismayed that HR protected these troublemakers by claiming protection under whistleblower policies.  We are becoming an ugly society and societal norms protected these people under First Amendment Rights and Whistleblower policies.  We began to lose our organizational vision because we were constantly putting out infighting fires caused by hateful people.

It is discouraging to watch the daily news to see that we have become a society of over-reacting children in desperate need of parental guidance.  Animal welfare and politics seem to have so much in common.  We daily watch the confrontations that occur and wonder if anyone is going to step up and be the adult. 

This evolution of the degradation of society has taken its toll on me.  Although I have always been an introvert, I’ve now become a recluse.  I keep hoping to see the rise of role models to lead society back to honoring personal intregrity. 

Diplomacy

Managing an animal shelter demands the greatest diplomacy.  It is not a career in which your personal feelings on issues is welcome, nor is it safe to express them.  You have to hold it in until after you retire.

Even the most constructive words will find offense.  We live in a word in which everyone is hunting for an excuse to be offended.  By some freak of nature, I was passed along the genetic code that made me a “white male.”  To some, those phenotypic characteristics will earn me some labels that are not earned, deserved, or wanted.  So, diplomacy becomes even a greater concern.  To many, the fact that you look a certain way will cause people to shutdown to what you are saying and disreguard your words.

Along with diplomacy, balance is necessary.  Animal welfare is a fringe entity where people live on the outer boundaries.  As much as we try to maintain our footing in the middle, we will be constantly pulled to one fringe or another.  I think it is important to have a basic understand of another person’s position when looking for the proper diplomatic words; you can find it in an overview.

From the above overview animal control and animal welfare sits in the middle of the continuum as animal abuse and animal rights sit on in the fringe.  This fringe will become the groups that you will mostly deal with and communications will become the most difficult.  As you carefully select your words, keep in mind that these folks will not give you any benefit of the doubt and will search our words to find offense. 

This is what makes your career so exciting.  To stay out of trouble during your career, guard your words.  As I mentioned earlier, if you have to “let it out,” write a blog AFTER you retire.  Those of you who are in the profession or thinking of getting into the profession, my guiding words to you is to treat all communication as if it might be on the front page of your local newspaper or circulated on social media, because they probably will.

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.

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.

Video Catch-Pole

During my career overseeing animal rescues, I have encountered situations in which new inventions were necessary.  Below is a link to an invention that I crated to retrieve animals that fallen down holes that were beyond the reach of our longest catch-poles.

Video Catch-pole

The Emu Caper

Over a decade ago, people were convinced that emus were the next generation as a meat source and were purchasing emus to ranch the species.  The caper proved to be a scam and the emu ranchers found themselves with birds that they could not sell.

Animal Shelters began filling up on these flightless birds as these would be profiteers began abandoning their herds on the streets of their communities.  Animal Control Officers were learning to become emu wranglers.  Once captured, the Officers were delighted to find that the birds had been microchipped and efforts were started to find the people who had abandoned the animals.

Knowing that the market had dropped out on emus; actually the emus market never caught on; the breeders reported that the microchips had never been registered, so as to prevent prosecutors from tracing the microchips to the animal’s owners.

For a short time in the history of local animal shelters, emus became fairly common forcing those shelters to educate themselves on the housing and care of this unique species.

“Perception is Reality.”

I’ve heard the phase, “perception is reality” too often at executive meetings, indicating that if someone has a specific perception, it is their reality.  In some way, there was an expectation that we manage people’s perception; even though they created the perception to manipulate reality.  Let me explain:

Only in the realm of politics do we see greater misuse of manipulation to manifest a false reality.  Our generation will be known as the keepers of fake news.  We live in a world in which people create their own reality my falsifying  the events around them to drive their own agenda.

Fake news for animal welfare began with the no kill movement and was fuled by social media.  Social media became the number one place to obtain false information.  People pushed fake news either for attention or to bully.  Unfortunately, the ploy was fairly successful.  Organizations were bullied into making decisions that were not in their own best interest to mollify the social media noise.

Evidence of those bad decisions are documented on PETA’s website:  No Kill Policies.  It saddens me to see what shelter managers are going through as a result of caving to the outrageous demands of a few people.   My mantra was to “do the right thing.”  Today, the “right thing” is different for every person.   I always believed that keeping the community safe was the right thing.  Now there is an expectation that shelters should save every animal.  Saving animals is a good cause, but shelters must not compromise the safety of their community or the care of those animals in that effort.

The officials who oversee the operation of their community animal shelter are frequently more concerned about what people say on social media than they are worried about the safety of their community.  They want to cater to those who make the most noise.  It has never been a more difficult time to manage an animal shelter due to the competing demands and unreasonable expectations.

The Problem with Databases

One of the greatest challenges for any animal shelter is selecting the mode by which you will maintain your data.  Before you start, you need to recognize that there is no perfect mechanism to record and maintain your data; when you finally make your decision, you’ll discover that it is all about compromise.

The first decision is that whether your records will be paper based or computer based.  Obviously a paper based system is the simplest method of recordkeeping, but it is a horrible system to query.  It is also doesn’t stand up well to the elements.  However, a computer based system is only as effective as the backup systems in place.  For example, I worked with a Houston shelter to recover their database files.  Their shelter staff faithfully backed up their data every evening onto a tape backup system without thinking that they should replace the backup tapes from time to time.  After years of using the same backup tapes, over the years they were backing up their data onto worn out (worthless) tapes.

Since a paper based system requires no explanation, I’ll jump into computer based systems.  The simplest computer systems use a flat file system; eventually an electronic paper based system.  Think of it as a paper based system on a computer.   Like a paper based system, it is easy to use and it allows you simple queries.   A flat file system is the easiest system to train your staff on, but it isn’t much help for driving statistics.  It is a good system for very small shelters or rescue organizations.

Anyone who has been in animal shelter for any length of time, you know that animal records are all about relationships.  A relational file system is the most common system used in maintaining animal shelter records.  But, those relationships can be confusing and so far there is no database system that you can purchase that can capture all of those relationships.

But, before you can decide on which relationships are necessary for your shelter, you need to decide if you want your data to focus on the animal or the incident (or event).  What will be the chief cornerstone of your data gathering?  Do you want to make the animal or the incident the center of your data gather.  In every occurrence, both will play a role.

The most common example is an animal intake.  The intake or impoundment is the incident and the animal is the other half of that equation.  Since most shelters wish to maintain monthly statistics, incidents (or events) become the cornerstone of their data gathering.  From that cornerstone event, other relationships begin to unfold.  And this begins the journey as to the complexity of a database program.  It is also the place where your eyes begin to glass over.

Usually a database is broken into data areas: animal, people and events.  In each incident, relationships paint the picture of what has occurred.  As with the intake incident described above: the animal has a relationship to the incident as “impounded.”  When the owner is found, the animal has the relationship as “owned.”  If an owner does not claim the animal, then the animal hopefully gains the relationship of “adopted.”  As so on…

To make the data easier to use, most software engineers eliminate obvious relationship to prevent the use from becoming overly frustrated.  For example:  Most database programs fail to recognize the association of household units.  People and animals belong to a household and households have relationships to addresses.  Failing to recognize those relationships, various household members could bail out their pet from the shelter without the shelter personnel realizing that the animal had been impounded multiple times.  It is a problem that exists when  shelter personnel allow their computers to do all of the thinking.

No animal shelter management software tool is perfect, in fact to make this tool work for you, you’ll have to create numerous workarounds to meet your needs.  When test driving an animal shelter software tool, look for data fields that seem to serve no purpose; those are the fields that you can later use when you need a workaround.