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.

No-Kill Confusion

I recently watched a YouTube video that demonstrats the confusion that people have about no-kill.   The author of the video, Kitten Lady, wrote, “Did you know that baby kittens can still be killed in a “no-kill” shelter? Watch my video to learn about how the standards in the Asilomar Accords fail to protect the tiniest and most vulnerable felines. It’s important for the public to know that even in “no-kill” communities, kittens still need our help and protection! ”

For the most part, Kitten Lady was right on about the struggles that animal shelter faces in trying to find homes for all of their animal guests, but she really missed the boat with she described the Asilomar Accords as an insurance policy.  The Asilomar Accords is a system to describe the health of an animal at intake and disposition.  Its intent is to provide a better understanding of decisions that are made toward an animal.  The shelter makes its euthanasia decisions based on the animal’s health, as well as overcrowding conditions and resources.  As I mentioned in the previous post, kitten season, the decision to euthanize kittens is the result of all of these factors.  The Asilomar Accords only provided a definition as to the kitten’s health condition at the time.  Being no-kill has little to do with whether an animal shelter kills kittens; it is about reducing their euthanasia to 10% of their total intakes.  Many shelters have programs that provide for the fostering of infant kittens.  Many kittens pasted through my home and I’ll be damned if anyone was going to euthanize them.

I suspect that video bloggers “stretch” their story to get people to watch their videos.  If they stretch it far enough, it becomes fake news.  It may also be a teaser for an new book that she is writing.

Kitten Season

The onset of kitten season is one of the most dreaded times for animal shelters.  Kitten season is one of the greatest factors that makes or breaks an animal shelter calling itself a no-kill shelter.   And demonstrates the nasty side of mother nature by flooding the animal shelter with kittens two to four times each year, many of the kittens being neonatal (unable to eat without assistance).  Factors that regulated the severity of kitten season are access to food, climate, and communicable diseases.

Although population is the primary limiting factor in are area’s carrying capacity, providing an additional food source will extend the carrying capacity beyond its natural limits.  As long as there is an adequate food source, cats will breed.  People who are feeding outside cats are providing the cats with incentive to continue to reproduce.

The northern states are more likely to have fewer breeding cycles due to harsh weather.  Freezing temperatures serve to discourage a breeding cycle or kill any young offspring.   The fewer breeding cycles provide the shelter with few incidents of shelter overcrowding.

Communicable diseases (usually feline panleukopenia) will usually kill off many kittens shortly after birth.  The disease also presents a major risk to the animal shelter as the community and local animal control officers bring in diseased cats at a time when the shelter is at its greatest capacity.  It is not uncommon to read new reports of animal shelter having to euthanize their entire cat population to rid the shelter of potential vectors while the shelter undergoes a disinfecting process.

All of these factors will cause the increase in euthanasia at the animal shelter.  If the number of euthanasias drive the number of total deaths over ten percent, the shelter loses its right to call itself no-kill.

Records Request

We have entered a period in our society in which people want to second guess government decisions.  In an effort to peak into our decision making processes, people will make requests for information under the freedom of information act (FOIA).  Many requests that are made are overkill and as such government has the right to charge the appropriate fees when responding to such requests.  Many times, when government provides an estimate to the cost involved with producing the request, the requester will either refine their request or claim that the information is for the “public good” and ask that the information be provided at no charge.

FOIA requests give us opportunity to review how our information is stored.  Most requests are for emails on certain topics.  Many large government organizations backup the email server nightly and email requests can be handled through the IT Department.  Organizations need to be constantly reminded that retention of documents must be adhered to.

Some government organization prohibit texting and social media because the information is usually not archived and thus unsearchable.  If you cannot search records that are used in your government employment, you should not use that method of communication.  It becomes critical that your staff does not delete messages, text, or social media posts if they are used to conduct government business.  The more methods that you use to conduct your business, the more searching you have to do when responding to a FOIS request.  Anyone who works for an organization that records telephone calls will understand the difficulty in searching audio files that have been requested.

When updating your local laws, it might be a good idea to see how your client records are protected.  I have had FOIA requests for licensing data of pet owners.  Your database is a good source of data that someone can use to target the pet owners of your community.  Although FOIA states that you must give the information in the form that it is maintained, electronic data becomes problematic and it might be a smart move to offer the data in printed form… maybe a mailing label, so that data is used only once.  If you are considering protecting your data from vendors, you should consider protecting the data that comes from your veterinarians when administering rabies vaccinations, since licensing requires that information.  By protecting the information from veterinarians, your licensing data will also be protected.

It is  common for someone to request adoption information.  The request is usually by the owner of a pet who failed to timely reclaim their pet and wants to use the information to bully the person who adopted their pet.  I would suggest that you find a way to protect that data as well.  There are two ways to do that: the first way is to protect the data by ordinance, the other is to put a check mark on  the adoption contract in which the adopter can ask for confidentiality.  It would force the old dog owner to take you to court for the information; then you can explain to the judge that the previous owner has no legal right to the animal and providing the information may place the adoption family at risk.

FOIA requests have become so common that you might consider having a person specifically responsible for handling them.  Time limits are set and it is important not to violate a person’s right to information.  When working on a FOIA request, you’ll need to track the length of time to conduct the search and wages of the people involved.  You should calculate the cost of paper and the ware and tear of your copier or printer.  Many organizations just simplify the process by charging per page.  Some database request would resort in thousand of pages, so to save paper, you might consider converting the files to PDF and provide them via email.  Make sure you collect your fees first.

FOIA is a necessary service for the public to see how their government is working, but it frequently is used to bog an organization down in work to punish  the organization for performing an action that a person dislikes.  It is important that you are meticulous in performing this function; many times the person knows that there is a specific file (probably one leaked from an employee or volunteer) that they are looking for and if you fail to find it or fail to provide it, you will face some difficult questions that you will have to answer.

Identifying Dog Breeds

When I first started working in animal welfare, you could easily identify 99 percent of the dogs coming through your shelter with a good dog breed book.  Over the years dogs have been interbreeding to the point that I’ve been unable to identify the primary breed.  It is common to identify two distinct breeds, but eventually we began to see breed combinations that are no longer readily identifiable.

When I first stated in this business, I worked on an animal shelter management software tool.  The most common request that our users asked was to allow for them to distinguish the primary breed as unknown.  I recognized the problem of doing that when lazy shelter employees would identify all of the animals in the shelter as “unknown” breed.  It would have made record keeping impossible.

As time passes, I began to experience the same problem of identifying the various breeds contained in a dog.  For a long time, pitbull dogs were misidentified and many people took on the task of teaching staff how to correctly identify the breed.  Some shelters recognized the problem of calling a dog a pitbull and began calling them by other breeds, such as an “American Dog”.  I always believed in the integrity of my data.

The most common complaint from people was that most dogs were identified as a “pitbull mix.”  It wasn’t that we could not identify the breed, the fact was that pitpulls were being intentionally bred with other dogs.  My daughter just announced to me that she adopted a pitbull/poodle mix that was seized from a breeder in her community.  I don’t know if I should be critical of using a pitbull or using a poodle.

The fact that breed identification was so difficult, shelter staff is constantly asked to change a dog’s breed description so as to get the animal adopted.  I explained that it is pretty embarrassing for the owner of an adopted  pitbull puppy to be confronted by their landlord or veterinarian with the truth about their dog’s breed.  I have always insisted on the integrity of my organization.

I had a group of volunteers trying to convince me that a pitbull (American Staffordshire Terrier (I know, some people will claim that this isn’t a pitbull, but it falls into the group of dog breed groups that we call “pitbull”))  Under the pressure of this group, I started to see some Great Dane characterizes in the dog.  I could see myself caving on this issue.  My staff thought I was nuts.  I guess as you get older, you either try to compromise more or you begin to lose your vision.  I suggested that we send the dog’s DNA off for testing.  The dog came back 100 percent American Staffordshire Terrier.  I was proof that the longer that you stare at a pitbul the more it begins to look like another breed.

I recently read a news headline about forty new mixed breeds that people are crazy about… just what we need!  Animal Shelters are a constant battleground as to breed identification.  I fondly look back to the days when breeds would be readily identified.  When it came to animal identification, those were the good old days. Today,  it is okay to step back from a dog and shake your head and say, “I don’t know what it is.”

Woke

Our politics and the animal welfare profession is driven by the fringe.  The fringe is so fervent in their beliefs that they are prone to violence; that is why the rest of us stay quietly in the middle.

In human politics, we encounter self proclaimed individuals who are over sensitive on every issue, who claim that we cannot be woke unless we believe exactly like them.  This past week, they went way past the line of reason.  Their longtime solution is to erase history, so that we cannot celebrate our past.  American is great because we have done some wonderful things and have learned from our mistakes.

This same fringe is driving the animal welfare movement, they would have us put animals before people.  This “Animals First” movement has led to animal shelter staff and volunteers lying about animals to get them adopted.  But, our mission is not to get an animal into every home, it is to get them into the right home.

For pet owners, if your dog is chained in your backyard, you are definitely not woke.

Being woke is being sensitive to the plight of others.  Unfortunately, the determination of being woke is in the hands of over sensitive people; who find issues where no issue exists.

Cowboy Justice

One of the most common ways for judges to deal with aggressive dogs is to vanquish the dog from the jurisdiction.  This means of administering justice is similar to dog owners hiding their dog following an incident in which the dog has injured someone.

The judges don’t want to make the decision to destroy the dog and the pet owner is unwilling to accept responsibility for the actions of their dog.  Neither have any concern about throwing out an aggressive dog from one jurisdiction makes the dog a risk to another jurisdiction.  As long as the dog doesn’t pose a threat to our community, they are okay.  When it comes to pet ownership, as a society, we have never thought globally.

The reason that so many people are attacked by aggressive dogs is that neither the community nor the owners take their responsibility seriously and the children seem to take the brunt of these folks failing to accept their civic responsibility.

Anytime I heard about a “get out of town free” order, I would determine where the dog was going and call the animal control officers of that jurisdiction to make them aware that an aggressive dog was moving into their neighborhood.  I figure that if all we do is push our problems off on another community, they can prepare to deal with it in their community.   This kind of thinking has forced many neighborhoods to take protection with them as they go out on their daily walk; some of them even carry guns.

The Evolution of the “Running at Large” Ordinance

In the beginning, dogs were considered running at large if the dog was not under the “control of the owner”, while off the property of the owner.  There seemed to be a discrepancy between what the owner consider under control and what Animal Control Officers consider under control.  It became obvious that voice control proved to provide inadequate control under most (every)circumstances.

Ordinances migrated to requiring dogs to be kept under physical control.  Eventually the ordinance evolved to requiring maximum leash length and the leash had to be held by an adult with the capacity to “physically” control the dog while off the property of the owner.

Soon the laws required dogs to be physically confined to the property.  It was a time when the Invisible Fence folks tried to convince the law makers that their device should be viewed as physical confinement; we didn’t buy it.  We had enough experience to know that a headstrong dog would suffer the brief pain to breach the fence and then would be punished every time the dog tried getting back into the yard.

People too cheap to fence their yards would start chaining their pet in the yard.  After a few years we discovered the chaining caused dogs to become more aggressive and it was inhumane to chain the dogs for long periods of time.  We then began to create tethering laws; that created a whole new world of pet owners trying to interpret the law.

It wasn’t long that cats got into the act.  I think we received more complaints about cats than we did dogs.  Cat owners, like the dog owners before them could not understand how they could be breaking the law while their cat was just sitting on the porch.  Most people did not understand the concept of their pet having the potential to leave the property because the animal was not physically confined to the property.  Not a single pet owner convinced us that they had an infallible honor system with their pet that was never broken.

be We constantly were told that “My pet never leaves the yard.”  In all my years in animal control, I found only two dogs that could not be coaxed from their yard.  They were two Shelties living on a corner lot in Pullman Washington.  Those animals have passed on, so I am convinced that there are now no animals to my knowledge that will not breach the boundary of their yard.

Cats became more of an issue because cat owners exercised loose ownership of their cats.  People treated their pets as passing strays in the neighborhood.  For that reason, we then had to define the term of owner.  It seems that the more laws that we created to make people responsible pet owners and good neighbors were creating a culture of absentee pet owners.  The thinking is that if I pretend that I don’t own the animal, then maybe I can convince someone else that I really don’t own the animal.

Cat Licensing

I believe that cats should be indoor animals; however, I have lived with numerous cats who disagree with me.  Cats are easy to train to be indoor animals, until they experience the outdoors and all that training goes out the door (or window).  Having experienced the outdoors, the cat is compelled to be an outdoor animal.   When this event occurs, it is time to double check that you cat is still wearing its collar with pet license and other identification.

Why should you cat have multiple identification?    If your local jurisdiction requires licenses, the only phone number on the license tag is one to your animal shelter or city/county clerk.  These offices are not always open.  Someone finding your cat, even if you don’t think it is lost, will have no one to call in the middle of the night.  Putting a tag on your pet with your phone number may save you a trip to your local shelter to reclaim your pet and save you the cost of reclaiming your pet.

Cat licensing ordinances are the most difficult ordinances to pass.  Many people don’t believe it is possible to own a cat and city councils and county commissions often agree.  People see licensing as a pet tax, which it is; but, it also indicates that the animal that bit or scratched you may be vaccinated for rabies.  I said, “may be” because people frequently place licenses ontheir pets that are not registered for that pet.

I believe in pet taxes because pet owners are the ones who benefit most from animal control services.  These are the folks that pick up your pet from a frustrated neighbor when your pet is digging or pooping in their yard.  If these folks didn’t have someone to call, who knows how they might take out their frustrations.

Most cat owners are too lazy to put (and keep) a collar and tag on their cat.  They claim that the collar endangered the cat by getting the cat hung up on a tree branch.  I have spent a lifetime rescuing cats and have yet to rescue a cat from its collar.  Don’t make excuses, just admit that you are too lazy.

Differential licensing is setting a lower license fee for animals who have been spayed or neutered.  People think this is unfair to charge more for a fertile animal; but the fact is that fertile animals and the cause of the pet overpopulation crisis that many animal shelters face.  If you are not smart enough to immediately recognize the benefit of spayed or neutered pets, then you should pay a higher tax so that animal shelter has the funds to take care of your poor judgement.

I believe that pet license expirations should coincide with the expiration of the rabies vaccination.  The initial vaccination is good for one year and most revaccinations are good for three years.  Many veterinarians  may only vaccinate for one year, so as to force you to come back each year for an office visit.  I support the notion to visit your veterinarian annually, but I oppose over vaccinating a pet.  If your veterinarian insists on giving your pet an annual rabies vaccination, it is time to look for a new veterinarian.

The main reason for putting identification on your cat is that less an 7 percent of lost cats are ever returned to their owner.  The fact is that people don’t search for their lost cat.  The main reason (not laziness (but that figures in)) is that cats are not the most loyal of creatures and might have a history of moving in with a neighbor from time to time.  Even with the longest holding times, cat owners usually don’t begin the search for their cat until the holding period has long run out.

Neighborhoods are full of frustrated people who spend their time trapping the cats that come in their yard.  It is their response to the callousness of cat owners who believe they don’t have a responsibility to keep their cats confined.  Many cities have programs for catching stray (loose) cats.  I have lived in places in which we had to keep ordering more and more traps because of the high demand.  Most of the cats that are trapped have no identification; the cats that do have identification are frequently returned within minutes of being trapped.

For the people who have not figured out how to keep a collar on their cat, you might think that microchipping is the answer.  As I have always said, microchips are a poor form of secondary identification… it is better than nothing, but not much better.  It is very hard to scan a cat in a live trap.  The cat is so freaked out, that many times the cat acts feral and for the safety of the staff, the cat is not immediately scanned for a microchip.  A collar and tag can immediately identify the cat as having an owner.  Keep a cat indoors spares the cat from the experience of being trapped.