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.

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.

Having the Right Tools

Being an animal control officer is much easier than being a police officer; I’ve always been able to predict the behavior of an animal, but I am still trying to figure out people.  Given the tools that are available to animals (teeth and claws), it is necessary for animal welfare workers to have the right tools.

Muzzles:  as I have mentioned previously, if you need a muzzle for a cat, you have already lost the battle.  However, muzzles are effective tools for potentially aggressive dogs.  It is important that if you see the need to put a muzzle on a dog, that you use the right size.  A muzzle is useless if it doesn’t stay on the dog.

Catchpoles:  a catchpole is for the safety of an individual.  Anyone who has used a catchpole knows that it can be a public relations nightmare.  Many dogs have never been on leash, so you can imagine how they will respond to a pole.  Using a catchpole on a cat is much like using a muzzle; it is always hard to watch.  It is too easy to harm a cat, so make sure that you catch one of the front legs; otherwise, consider using a net.  Catchpoles are one of those tools that you should ALWAY carry away from your vehicle.  I walked up on a Rottweiler with only a leash and quickly discovered how stupid that was.

Pepper spray:  pepper spray is extremely important to carry if you are stupid enough to get out of your vehicle without a catchpole.  On a side note, the owner of the Rottweiler filed a complaint against me for using pepper spray on her dog, she should have file a stupidity complaint against me.  I had the right tools but didn’t have them immediately available.  Fortunately for me, the sergeant investigating the incident was attacked by the dog and was nearly shot.  I received no disciplinary action other than the verbal abuse I received from myself.

Nets:  nets make me think dogcatcher.  I hate using nets on poles.  My officers use giant nets in Atlanta.  I hated them, but I saw that they were very good at using them and the animals were safe… I overlooked my objections.  Nets are really the only way to catch and control aggressive cats.  The problem is getting a cat out of net and into a carrier.  I have found most gloves insufficient for handling cats.  It is also very hard to find an experienced person willing to test a new set of gloves on a cat.

Metal clipboards:  other than a brick wall, there is no better protection to keep from getting bit than a sturdy clipboard when by an aggressive dog at the owner’s front door.  When the dog rushes out the door, the clipboard is what you feed it.  You use it as a shield.  You continue feeding it until you can back away and get into your vehicle.  I’ve rarely found the owner willing or able to control their pet during one of these incidents.   If two dogs come rushing out at you, you pepper spray both and hope that the spray stops one of them.  The clipboard may be your only protection at the door, so make sure you spend the extra money to get a metal one.

Snake tongs:  I hate snakes.  The first tools I purchased when I started work as an animal control officer was a snake tong and snake hook, even though I had never encountered them in my work.  No sooner did I have the new tools in my vehicle that I got my first snake call.  So, be careful what you order.

Gloves: one of the most useful tool that I ever had was a Neptune Glove.  You probably have never hear about them because I may have been the only one who ever bought one.  It looked like an attack sleeve used in training police and military dogs, but had an additional covering of chainmail on the outside of the glove.  Although the glove was expensive, it paid for itself the night that I got called out to remove a badger from the truck of a car (long story).  Chainmail is used on smaller gloves for people working with knives.  There are gloves rated for animals, but I have never gotten anyone to test them on a feral cat.

Flashlights:  when working at night, remember that it takes two hands to work a catchpole, so make sure you get a light that you affix to your head or pole.

Duct tape and cable ties:  I can’t think of any use for duct tape while working, but it is still a useful tool.  Maybe you can tape your flashlight to your catchpole.  In a disaster, duct tape usually fixes anything… like an emergency repair to a animal carrier that lost half of its screws.  Which reminds me that cable ties are handy when you’ve lost all of your carrier screws.

CO2 fire extinguisher:  This is one of the most effective tools in breaking up dogfights.  The extinguisher provides a momentary shock to the dogs that will hopefully break up the dogfight… once administered, it is important to quickly move in with leashes or catchpoles.

The most important tool is the one you decide you need when you don’t have it; so, in each situation, think about what tools would make your job easier (safer).

Being Creative

High praise to the Oklahoma City Animal Shelter for their “Come Storm our Shelter” promotion.   The shelter saw the social  media following posts of people wanting to storm Area 51 and used the energy of those posting to encourage people to adopt pets.

Smart shelter folks keep an eye for media cows and think of ways to milk them to bring attention to their humane mission.   Smart job Oklahoma.