Defining your core values

The core values of an organization is what keeps the  committed to driving your boat in the same direction.  It gives meaning to the work that you perform.  Being united in the same value system keeps your organization on track and together.  It is critical that you hire employees that share your same organizational core values.

The core values are just as important and your organization philosophies, mission statement, and statement of purpose; it is the foundation of your organization.  Here are some links to aid you in creating your core values:

18 core company values that will shape your company.

Defining your company’s core values: The Complete Guide (with Templates).

You would be surprised as to how the development of your core values will bring your staff together for a common purpose.

Shelter Diets

Each budget cycle you may be faced with determining if you are providing an adequate food source for the animals in your care.  Although you are in the business of short term care, your decision on what you feed your animals will determine the stools that your staff will face and the complaints from owners reclaiming their pets.  I have always resorted to using mainstay products like Purina and have found that in most cases the food that I was feeding my shelter animals were in all likelihood better than they had been receiving at home.

But, before we start hitting the store shelves, lets see what the experts say.  The problem with most animals are that they have delicate constitutions and any change in their diet is going to result in diarrhea.  It will usually take a few days for an animal to adjust to a new diet and by that time their stray hold is up and it is time to move the animal into a new home, where they will once again undergo a dietary change.  Smart shelter will send home a bag of food that the animal is used to and suggest that the owner stay on that diet.  It is a common issue that people take an animal home only to discover their animal has diarrhea and believes that the animal is sick and not as a result that they changed the animal’s diet..

There are several pet food companies that offer products for animal shelters:  Hill Pet Food and Purina are the two most common.  I have not used these plans because Hill Pet Food demands that you use only their food and that prescription food recommended by your veterinarian has to be approved by their corporate office.  It is my responsibility as to what I feed the animals in my shelter and I felt that the Hills program bullied their oversight on us.  If you are a municipal organization, your city/county attorney might question their contractional demands.  The Purina program only offers their Pro Plan in which the food is more expensive.  Both programs seem to fail to recognize the fact that animal shelters work with limited budgets and it is silly to be offering premium food to our pets when in a few days the animal will return home to their usual diet.

You many not be able to afford premium food, but it is a mistake to buy the cheapest food.  There is a lot of bad food products out there and having a shelter full of animals with dietary problems will impact your staff’s cleaning time and cause potential adopters to look for a pet at another shelter, thinking that all of your animals are sick.  Your food choice can give your organization a bad name.

Compassion or Stupidity

Colorado wildlife officials urge people to not pick up wild animals after a Colorado Springs woman picked up an injured bobcat and placed the animal in the backseat with her child.  This is one of those incidents where an act of compassion throws out simple commonsense.  Fortunately no one was injured, but someone desperately needs to call child protective services on this woman for placing her child at such risk or, at least, demand that she be prevented from having more children.

When I was a fledgling animal control officer, I got a call to help a guy remove a badger from the trunk of his car.  When I arrived on scene, he told me that he had accidently hit the badger and wrapped up the animal and placed it in the trunk of his car.  When he got to his destination, he opened the trunk and found the badger sitting on his spare tire spitting fury.  It is easy to armchair quarterback a person’s decision when you are looking at teeth and claws.

Wild animals have a genetic history that aids in their survival to be wild.  I had an assistant once working on infant coyotes that found that all of the socialization that the pups received in their youth failed to domesticate the animals and yet, we life in a society in which people desire to own wild animals.  In many cases, the decision to own such a creature is later proven to be a poor one.

Because commonsense isn’t as common that we would like to believe, we have to create laws so that these people do not inadvertently impact society.  Most people will agree that it is a good idea to restrict certain (crazy) people from owning guns.  In the field of animal welfare we constantly see people who should be restricted from having children or pets.  A good rule of thumb is that if a person purchases a wild animal. that person is not fit to make good decisions; all of their pets and children should be taken from them.

Downfall Mistakes

I like to research the circumstances that make job announcements available to those seeking employment in public animal welfare.  Many of the vacancy openings are the result of mistakes by the director.  These mistakes almost always center around decisions that are made as they relate to the euthanasia of a pet.  The following accounts are intended to rethink your euthanasia decisions.  Once euthanasia is carried out, there is no “do overs.”

Court order euthanasia — Most communities have laws the sentence dogs to death for being vicious.  When you are issued an order from a judge to euthanize an animal, please do not forget the owners appeal process.  Too often you hear about a dog being euthanized while the dog owner is seeking an appeal.  In cases like these, you should always be slow to follow the judges order.  Even when giving a specific date by which to execute the order, wait.  There is nothing worse than to have a judge reverse an order after the dog has been euthanized.  I was once told by a judge that I would never be held in contempt of court if I delayed his order to perform euthanasia.  You should always delay a sufficient length of time to insure that the appeal period has expired.  Work with your city/county attorney to watch clerk of the court filings to make sure nothing gets past you in the complicated court process.

Aurora Colorado had a case in which the owners of a dog were charged with animal cruelty for having sex with their dog.  This case demonstrates the problem with dogs being held for trial.  I have had cases that required a dog to be held for over two years while the owners kept delaying the court proceedings.  Court ordered custody of an animal is never in the best interest of the animal.  While an animal is in custody, the animal undergoes such protection that it limits the animal to social interaction.  It is not uncommon that the animal will begin displaying aggression as it sits in a cage day after day.  When the dog is finally handed over to the animal control department for disposition, they are faced with an animal that fails to meet their adoptions standards.

Keep in mind that the community has been watching this case on the news for months as the case went through the court system.  People would naturally take a vested interest to see that this dog have a good outcome.  Aurora animal shelter staff did not recognize this investment when they decided to euthanize the dog.  To them it was just another unadoptable dog that needed to be kept off the streets.  They quickly recognized their mistake; but, as always with euthanasia, you cannot undo your mistake.

Here is how I would have handled the situation:  I would contact all of the animal behaviorist/trainers in the community and ask them to submit a bid as to how they would turn the dog’s behavior around.  These folks would be begging for an opportunity to get their names in the news as they worked with the dog.  Most would be willing to provide their services at no charge because of the media attention that they would receive.  I would give the trainer as much time as they needed to make the dog adoptable.  Even if the effort failed, you could show the amount of work that you performed to a favorable outcome for the dog.

I know that you are constantly dealing with overcrowding in your shelter, but sometimes it just makes sense to think slowly when it comes to making the hard decision.



Do you really have to own a pet?

It is not uncommon for those of us who might interview for a job in animal welfare to be asked, “Do you own a pet?”  It is a falsely held belief that if you don’t own a pet, then you are not fit to work in the animal welfare profession.  This is a very narrowminded belief.

There are many reasons that a person might not live with a pet and none of them have any impact of a person’s fitness for a job in our profession.  In our profession, we encounter a large portion of our community that really should not own a pet, but they don’t have the sense to give up their pet.

I currently do not own a pet and yet I have fostered countless infant kittens.  But, for some reason, people will raise a skeptical eye at an animal shelter director who doesn’t own a pet.  For some ignorant reason, people will claim that any director that doesn’t own a pet is unfit to make decisions concerning the strays that enter our shelter.

Many of the stray pets that have entered my shelter were, in fact, given a better life once they got away from their previous owner.  Lets face it, there are many bad pet owners and having a pet does not necessarily make you more compassionate.

For many people, owning a pet is a selfish act.  Knowing that your lifestyle would be unfair to a pet is a good reason to not own them.  Besides, many of us who do not have pets at home have plenty of room for the pets we care for in our shelter.  Many of us treat the animals in our care as being our own.

Formulas don’t lie. Or do they?

Every budget cycle, animal control directors are faced with the task of justifying the number of personnel needed to run their operations.  I was reading one such justification recently in which the director was making the case for a new animal shelter and the necessary staff to run the shelter.

The “go to place” to find formulas that will over estimate your needs is the resource center for the National Animal Control Association.  Don’t get me wrong, the Association is a wonderful organization but their formulas are grossly out dated by twenty years.  The calculations that were created for shelter staff  are wrong because we as a society have evolved into better pet owners.

In the document that I was reading, that was presented three years ago, the paper predicted that the shelter would have an intake of 25,000 animals, based on the city’s current population.  But based on the current statistics, the actual intake was 5,000 animals.  We are seeing a decline in our intakes because more and more people are spaying or neutering their pets.

The only pet demographic that is giving us trouble is that of pitbull owners.  By far, the owners of pitbull dogs are less likely to spay or neuter their dog.  For that reason, the pitbull breed is taking up over 50% or our kennel space in animal shelters.   The good news is that with declining intakes, animal shelters have more kennel space, which are needed because pitbulls require more time to get them adopted, if at all.

Anytime some one is using a “national statistical formula” to justify increasing their budget, you should ask yourself if the numbers are real.  In order to determine that, you have to observe the shelter’s activities over time and see what influences the intake numbers.  One method to increase your intake numbers is to announce that you have become no-kill and your intakes will increase with surrenders from your jurisdiction and all of the surrounding jurisdicitons.

Fee Waivers and Deferments

It is frustrating in our business that people will not have a second thought of allowing their pets to run loose,  but have second thoughts when it come time to bail their pet out of the shelter.  In an effort to maintain the highest live release rate, we have bent over backward to get pets back to their owners when the owners don’t want to pay impoundment fees.

Returned in the field:  many shelters have a program which an animal found running at large and is wearing a current license, the animal control officer will return the pet home.  If there is someone home, the animal is simply handed off.  If the owner is not home, the animal control officer should not attempt to secure the animal in a fence.  All you need is to return the pet and then have the pet escape again and be hit by a car.  If it is observed that you returned the pet, then you will be blamed for any harm that comes to the animal later.  It is important to track returning pets home, so pet owners don’t abuse this service.  When I first started in this business, a Black Lab would come out and greet me and he and I would patrol his neighborhood.  I would give his owners a break because he helped me capture the other dogs that were running loose (hint: it is easier to catch a dog if you have another dog with you).

Fee deferment:  fee deferment is a program that works with your finance department in which pet owners are offer an opportunity to set up a fee schedule to pay back the fees that they are owed.  Since many people will not honor a payment schedule, the finance department can apply it to their property taxes, whether house or auto.  Don’t waste your time sending non-payments to a collection agency, they will tell you that there is no money in it for them.  It is not like they are going to reprocess their pet; besides, you’ll see the animal back in your shelter in no time.

Fee waivers:  a fee waiver is a partial or complete reduction in the fee.  This is usually a case in which the owner can demonstrate that the impoundment was beyond his or her control or that they can show an extreme financial hardship.  Like everything, you have to decide if they are telling the truth.

These waivers will have one of two outcomes: that you have coddled the owner and the owner learns nothing from the experience, except to scam the system.  But, there are times that it is a educational experience and the owner learns a little more about being a responsible pet owner.

Personal Narrative

From the moment that we are born, we are creating our personal narrative.  As we get older, outside forces begin to boister or corrode that narrative.  It is too bad that many fail to follow the teaching I learned in the Boy Scouts to be “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, courteous,  kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”  As we age, we begin to carry two personal narrative:  the real one and the one that we put out to others.

Our real narrative is the one that determines if we have the good qualities of our species, like integrity.  Oddly it one of the traits that I see less often.  We are all born with the same amount of these good qualities and many of us start selling the off through life.

As you choose to loose those better qualities, we create a narrative that we project to others; these are the kind of things that we put on our Facebook page or on a dating app.  Social media is a good place to determine the kind of person you are.  Do you post to get attention or do you post to make the things better.  Do you push your agenda on the world with truths or lies?  Are you supportive or are you destructive?  This is your public narrative.   It is the one that most people see.

For many people they create their public narrative, the embellish it, and when told a sufficient number of times, they begin to believe it.  In your narrative, you can become the hero or the victim.  I’ve noticed a growing number of victims because they have started believing their public narrative.  In stead of taking responsibility for their lives, they want to blame others for their failures.

What kind of narrative are you creating?

The Deevolution of Communication or is it?

I sent out a text message to a friend and all I got back was a smiley face; while it is probably preferable to a “LOL.”  I cannot help but feel that we are evolving back to the stone age where our emojis are becoming a form of cave painting in an electronic format.  Or maybe I am just getting this all wrong and emojis are a complex form of shorthand.  They do say that a picture paints a thousand words; but, how many words does an emoji paint?  If that is the case, then I failed in this communication.  If I was more technically savvy, I should have sent back hearts or something.

Temperament Testing

In an effort to afford potential adopters with full knowledge of their future pet, animal shelters provide behavior tests so as to provide the best adoption match.  Over the years, various temperament tests were use and eventually they migrated to the Safer Test for dogs.  Using a worksheet, the dog undergoes various tasks and a determination is made as to the temperament of the dog at the time of the testing procedure.  For obvious reasons, no test is performed to determine if the dog is good with children.

The Safer Test is a good indicator, but potential adopters should understand that the test is performed under controlled conditions and that the dog is performing the test after being taken from a confined space within a loud kennel.  The Safer Test is only an indicator, but usually pretty accurate, if performed by qualified, attentive staff.

It is not uncommon for owners who have had their dogs seized as a dangerous dog will demand that their dog be tested for aggression, as if the Safer Test will out weigh the dog’s actions of attacking someone.  In court trials, attorneys for dog owners make claim that their client was denied Due Process because the animal shelter failed to administer a temperament test on the dog.  The dog’s temperament at the time that the dog is in the shelter has nothing to do with the dog running out into the street to bite a delivery person.  The only true test would be to set up the same conditions that caused the dog to attack in the first place.  The Safer Test does not provide for having someone drive up in a UPS truck and approach the dog’s house in a UPS uniform.  If it did, the dog would likely fail that test.

Dogs are territorial.  They see some one approach their house and after barking at them, the person leaves; likely because their job is done and the package has been delivered.  Over time the dog begins to see that by showing aggression toward these people that the dog always wins and the person leaves.  If allowed to escape the yard, the dog realizes that he can finally teach them a lesson and bites them.  Even a dog that has passed a Safer Test could be caught in this situation.

Over the years, I have tried to explain this to dog owners who have asked to allow their dog be evaluated prior to a dangerous dog hearing.  Sometimes, I have even been tempted to allow it; but, I know that if I allow someone to test the dog while the dog is in my shelter and that person is attacked, that is on me.  The person will ask to sign a waiver, but a waiver of liability will not hold up in court.   It is foolish to place the shelter at legal risk by allowing someone to interact with the animal.  You don’t want to end your career by allowing someone into a position of being able to sue you and your jurisdiction.