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)).

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.

So you want to Surrender your Pet

People have all kinds of reasons for surrendering their pets to their local animal shelter.  We have heard them all, well most of them anyway and they are usually bad reasons that come down to the pet either taking too much of your time or costing you too much money.  If you feel guilty about giving up your pet, you should.

Many animal shelters will try to talk you out of your decision, not because they think you can become a better pet owner, but because they are over crowded and may have to kill another pet to make room for your pet.  I want you to feel guilty as hell, so that you will do the right thing.  When pet owners come to the decision to give up their pet, they usually don’t back down from that decision.  An animal shelter will attempt to talk you out of your decision and they think they made a breakthrough when you walk away with your pet.  But, most of you will just drive to another shelter and try different answers when undergoing the next interrogation.

If you are going to give up your pet, then give your pet a fighting chance at getting adopted.  Many pets do not make it to adoption because their previous owners were too negligent to provide basic veterinary care.  Well in advance of surrendering your pet (usually 30 to 45 days) have your pet examined by your veterinarian and have the pet given all of the regular vaccinations.  Explain to your veterinarian that the dog may be in a long term kennel environment.  Giving your dog the vaccinations and giving the vaccines sufficient time to become effect in the dog will increase the dog’s chances of staying healthy in the kennel.  The only thing that might diminish the dog’s chances is that if the dog is a pitbull breed or a history of aggression.  Having your pet first sterilized (spayed or neutered) will earn good points with the animal shelter.

Pitbull are not necessarily a bad breed, it is just that the breed makes up half of the dogs in any animal shelter and many, if not most, apartment managers restrict the breed.  Many home insurance policies exempt pitbulls as well.  Due to the problems associated with the breed, an owner of a pitbull is a fool to not have the animal serialized.   There are FAR TOO MANY pitbulls and they are difficult for animal shelters to find new homes.

Finally, to increase the chances of your pet getting adopted, offer to pay the adoption fees for the new owner.  This little financial encouragement might be the driving factor of a person picking your dog over another.  Offer to share puppy photos, so the new owner knows that the dog had a real family and was not just picked up as a stray.

If you decide that the time is right for another pet… make sure that it is the right thing to do and that you intend to keep the animal the rest of its life.

 

Service Animals

One of the greatest examples of where we have been as to what we have become is the issue of service animals.  As pioneers we crossed our great land in stage coaches holding our therapy chickens for the two week crossing.  Today, we feel the need to hold a peacock for a two-hour airplane flight.

The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) created a mess when dealing with the issue of assistance animals.  Since people were not required to prove that they were disabled and there were no programs for certifying assistance animals; people took advantage of the ACT to be able to keep their pets, when their landlord discovered that they were violating their lease agreement.

People pushed the issue for taking their pets on public transportation and now have reached the extreme by demanding that their pets be allowed on aircraft.  There seems to be a contest as to who can go to the greatest extreme as to the size and type of animal that they choose as a therapy animal.

Helping the Helpless

We live in times in which people complain that government is too big, but the problem is that people are becoming more and more helpless and ask government to do more for them. The pioneer spirit, that made our country so great, is being replaced by needy people.

People don’t want to spend the energy to find a new home for their pet, so they dump it at the “pound.” Fearing that people will think ill of them for surrendering their pet, they turn the animal in as a stray. So, instead of immediately trying to find a new home for the pet, the animal shelter is forced to spend the first few days looking for the animals owner.

It is not uncommon that we find that surrendering pet owners are not only callous, but also stupid. When surrendering a pet, the owner will forget that they had adopted the pet from the shelter and the pet had been microchipped prior to adoption.

Animal Control Officers will get calls from citizens asking for assistance to help the owner catch his/her own dog. The owner has developed such a poor relationship with their pet, that it is more likely that a stranger will be able to catch it.

One summer in Virginia, we had a problem of pet sitters surrendering the animals in their care. They would get tired of caring for the pet and surrender the animal to the shelter as a stray. They would not even bother to let us know that an owner will be returning from vacation to look for their pet.

But the biggest problem that we faced is people adopting a new pet and losing the pet before getting the pet inside their home. Even after all of the instructions that we provided, people would choose to drop the leash to let their new pet run to the front door on their own. Hey, guess what? After being caged for a long while, being off leash opened opportunities for new adventures for the pet.

The good news is that the few people who have access to money can pay others to help them be good pet owners. Doggie Day Cares exist to exercise and socialize and you can even hire people to come out and clean up the poop in your yard.

Fourth of July

As we enter the Fourth of July holiday, animal shelters throughout the country will be gearing up for an increase in shelter intakes. Pet owners seem to forget each year as to how traumatic the noise is for their pets.

Pets should be kept away from fireworks. Pets should be kept in quiet places. Pets SHOULD BE WEARING IDENTIFICATION!!!!

Why?

In a few days, I will celebrate one year of retirement.  The past year has allowed me to settle down and reflect on animal welfare as a profession.  I witnessed the era before pitbulls and social media.  This profession is much more challenging today for those who wish to make a career in this profession.