Teaching Old Dogs Bad Tricks

I read that TSA is having a problem with their 77 million dollar canine program in detecting explosives.  It should come as no surprise; dog handlers have track records for training the dogs to become lazy.

When I was working US Customs in Thailand, I decided that I wanted to test the effectiveness of our canine team at the airport.  I watched as the dog handler hide his training aids and listened to the sound of his voice when the dog neared one of those aids.  It was clear that not only was he leaving his scent on the training aid, he was also giving the dog verbal clues as to when to alert on the substance.

The only way for me to test my theory was to empty the amnesty  box in the bathroom and use the drugs that I found there as my own training aids.  I hid the drugs among the luggage and even hinted my suspicions to the dog handler of making a find.  I watched the team work and I even pointed out some “suspicious” bags.  Nothing!

When they were done, I asked the dog handler to come over as I removed the drugs from the various bags.  I pointed out to him that he ruined a perfectly good working dog for the US Air Force.

The problem with training dogs is to not to “trick” them into finding the drugs.  It is also important to not present them with a threshold.  When you use the same amount of drugs time after time, the dog becomes trained to that threshold amount and will possibly not alert to drug amounts below or above that threshold.  When training our dogs on the Mexican Border, we usually carried around baggies of marijuana for training the dogs; but, we would roll joints and check out kilos of marijuana to vary the training.  In case if you are wondering, we found an Officer working for Border Control who would roll our joints and place them in a container away from our scent.

In true training exercises, it is important to vary the amount of the substance and never, never get your own scent on the training aides.

TSA screwed up a perfectly good system of using dogs by not having someone doublechecking the dog’s abilities.  That task is usually performed by the dog handler and he/she is just going to screw the dog up.

Because of the extra work that we performed with our dogs on the Border, we would consistently find everything from a roach to hundreds of kilos.  Once, wanting to test my dog’s abilities, DEA called me in to search a car.  I was getting readings all over the place with my dog.  Since it is odd for DEA to use our dogs, I figured out that they had already found the heron and had sat it down in various places within the car.  You have to keep in mind that the dog is not looking for the drug itself, it is looking for the smell of the drug.  Each time the drug was moved, the smell remained.

Tracking dogs work in the same manner.  The first thing that a dog senses is a disturbance.  When my dog was running too fast around a car, I would reach over and rub a finger against the car.  The second time around the car, the dog would detect that disturbance and slow down his search.  That is why it was so difficult for my dog to search the vehicle for DEA when  they had disturbed the hell out of the vehicle by having their officers crawling all over it.

The disturbance causes the dog to use his (we mostly worked with male dogs) senses to better understand the disturbance.  If presented with an article of clothing, the dog would reference each disturbance that he came across against that of the clothing.  Thus, being able to track the line of disturbances to whoever or whatever you were looking for.

The most effective way to utilize a dog, is to allow the dog to work down wind of the object you are seeking.  It is easiest to work a dog outdoors, where you can feel the wind; but, indoors air flow works the same way.  Even though we didn’t smoke, we would carry a cigarette with us into a building to watch the air currents.  Air conditioning systems really cause air to move in funny ways.

TSA dog handlers need to constantly watch air currents as well as distractions; movement and noise around the dog can easily distract him.  When a dog becomes distracted the handler has to have enough sense to take the dog back over the area when he became distracted.

Using dogs is a good idea.  I hope TSA can better figure out how to use them properly.

Diet

One of the biggest decisions that you’ll make running an animal shelter is determining the diet for your animals.  In the early years of this profession, diet was less of an issue because holding times were much shorter; by the time that an animal had adjusted to his or her shelter diet, the animal had reached the end of his or her holding time.

Now, with few animals coming into shelters, shelters have minimum hold times that exceeded our maximum hold times in the past.  Many States have adopted holding times that exceed 10 days.  With the longer holding times, it was not uncommon that a pet owner would surrender their pet to the shelter as a stray when going on vacation.  The impound fee and boarding for the animal upon their return was cheaper than boarding their pet at a kennel or with their veterinarian.  Granted it was a stupid thing to do, but this way, their animal got free vaccinations.

In the early years , pet food companies worked with animal shelters in an effort to gain a greater market share.  Purina instituted a program that provided adoptions kits that included pet food samples, owner’s guide, and coupons.  For many, many years I used Purina’s mainstream line of products for the animals that I cared for.  I’ve had a loyalty  to them for a long time.

Diarrhea is the  first indicator that you have purchased a bad diet. The problem is that animals have a very delicate digestive system and they’ll experience diarrhea when switching to a new diet.  So, animal shelters should expect loose bowel movements during the first few days.  If you continue to experience diarrhea after a few days, it might be time to look at what you are feeding your animals.  I have made many bad decisions as to food purchases; so, when you are facing budget constrains, the food should not be an item that you compromise on.

Many shelters are turning to designer food labels and with the hold times exceeding months, that may not be a bad idea.  Hills and Purina are two of the companies that provide shelter feeding programs.  Each time I attempted to enter into a contract with Hills, I was faced with a requirement in their contract that required that I only feed their product to my animals unless THEY approved the change in diet.  I could not EVER agree to them making every decision when I felt another product was in the best interest of an anima that I was caring for.  I got very excited when I learned of Purina’s shelter program and then learned that they were only pushing their designer labels and not their regular line.  The designer labels are still a budget obstacle for most animal shelters… especially when trying to explain those costs to a city/county commission.

In many places, I found that it was just easier to shop locally for my pet food; however, keep in mind that stores take a dim view with you wipeout their entire pet food section.  It is a good idea to work with the store to oversee your deliveries and you can pickup the food on the loading bay than wheeling multiple carts through their store.

Many  shelters are donated pet food.  Most of the time the food is an open package that the pet didn’t like.  The constant change of diet from donated pet food is hard on an animal’s stomach.  Most of the time, I have set aside donated food to give to rescues or people in need.  I have always believed that I need to provide a consistent diet to my animals.

The first shelter I ran was in Pullman Washington.  I was fortunate that I had access to Washington State University and would frequently get the left over food that they used for nutrition studies.  I also participated in Alpo adoption events in which the participating shelters were rewarded in pet food.  I had a wonderful lady who sent me monthly amounts of cat food.  The reason that I bring this up is that there is always a way to feed your animals; the trick is to let folks know what you need; be specific about your needs.

Giving in to Common Sense

Every week my brother and I get our cardio workout by sharing our thoughts on the state of the world.  We usually have breakfast together, but the stay at home laws limit us not to phone calls.  You could not find two people more opposite  in the expression of our views.  I see the fallacy in his views as he sees them in mine.

Our discussion turned to the people making the news by violating their stay at home orders.  I see these people as exercising their constitutional freedoms and assisting mother nature in shaping our gene pool through natural selection.  My brother, a retired fire fighter, sees these people engaged in activities that place other people at risk. I see his point.

In my eyes, I believe that  stupid people should be allowed to engage in their stupid activities because it is mother nature’s way of removing deleterious genes from our gene pool.   I failed to see the risk that these folks play in their efforts to become sick.  Paramedics, doctors and nurses are placed at risk because people engage in idiotic behavior.  We experience similar issues in the animal welfare profession in dealing with the outcomes of dangerous dogs.

There is always a group of people who get excited when you make a decision to euthanize an animal that you think is too dangerous to be adopted.  Sure, they can find a family to take the dog, but you have to worry about the kind of people who would want to bring an aggressive dog home to live with their children.  We live in a world where people willing agree to get into situations that are well over their heads.

Let’s face it, I may be the only person who is enjoying staying at home.  But, your right to walk about as you wish should not put other people at risk.  Give your first responders a break and do everything you can to keep yourself well and those around you.  That includes bringing home aggressive animals into a neighbor with small children.  Someone in the world has to start making smart decisions.

Give the Constitution a rest and do something for someone other than your self; help protect our first responders by following a few rules.  It is the least that we can do for them.

Budget Comparisons: Is it apples to apples?

One of the reoccurring methods that we have used during budget deliberations is attempting to show how our budget compares to “like” jurisdictions.  It is our hope that making an apples to apples comparison with a similar  jurisdiction might help get us a larger apple.  Unfortunately, in making many comparisons, we find many oranges thrown into the mix.

The first hurdle  to overcome is realizing how an organization’s infrastructure is manifested on the budget sheet.  Many infrastructure items, like fleet management, Human Resources, and IT are covered by other departments.  If funds have not been allocated for those, but are covered by those department’s budgets, then you are not going to see the true picture of the cost burden that animal services poses to the community.

One of the best indications of determining costs is to create a per capita evaluation to determine how organizations compare.  In the early days of comparing statistics between organizations, we began to understand that far too many oranges were mixed into our fruit  salad  of statistical comparisons.  In Florida, I took part, working with other service areas to try to create a even  field of statistical comparisons as part of the Florida Benchmarking Consortium.  Although we found the per capita bases solid, we based our statistics on number of events per 1,000 population.  In this way, smaller organizations could be compared against larger organizations.

When I was working out a contract with another jurisdiction for animal control services in Salt Lake County, I encountered one jurisdiction that felt that they should only have to pay for the added cost of providing services to their city.  They knew that we already had an infrastructure in place and felt it unnecessary to pay into an existing infrastructure; thereby, not paying their “fair share”

This type of thinking is what goes on in the heads of government officials when they begin looking for a nonprofit to take over their animal control program.  They want to pay less and getting an organization willing to fundraise to keep services flowing is just what they are looking for to cut costs. Too often a nonprofit organization will become over eager to assume the task of running an animal control program, only to find that they have walked into a battle of funding the program fundraising long term.

It is a challenge when taking on budget comparisons.  It is important to see the picture as to how line items are allocated.

What our animal shelters can tell us about the Coronavirus

Animal shelters  are in the business of fighting viruses.  The shelters become a litmus test for the viruses that affect pets in our communities.  Due to  the lack of pet owners failing to vaccinate their pets, animal shelters face a constant battle against viruses.

Rule one:  The greater the population of animals in your shelter, the greater the outbreak.  In animal shelters, capacity controls are necessary to prevent continual outbreaks.  Social distancing is nearly impossible in a shelter because shelter staff are constantly feeding and clean up after the animals.  Shelter staff are the main cause of spreading viruses in a shelter due to shortcuts they take in the cleaning/feeding processes.

Rule two:  The more movement of animals within the shelter will spark a wider outbreak throughout the shelter.  People who are violating the stay at home rule to attend meetings with other people will continue the widespread impact of the virus.

Rule Three:  Vaccinations are a long term solution, it does to help in the short term. Generally vaccinations take five to six days to being providing sufficient antibodies to protect the animal.  People will be foolish to think that a vaccination will protect them immediately.

Rule Four:  Viruses spread due to lax measures that people take during an outbreak (see Rule One).  We are a foolish species that believes that we are above the effect of a virus.  People think they are invincible and we are a society of law breakers; otherwise, why to we hear on the news about the police having to break up crowds of people.  Most notably are the church goes who believe  that God has a protective hand on them.  James 5:16 says that “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”  Is the test of your faith worth your life?  In addition to faith, God gave us a brain.  Something that we don’t use nearly enough.

We exploit our freedom.  We did not  fight for our freedom, we were born into it.  It has become our core.  We value our freedom over any other thing and we fail to recognize our folly when we exceed its boundaries.  One example is our freedom of speech that we take for granted because we believe that freedom gives us the right to say what ever we want, whether it is truthful or it is fiction.  Another example is our freedom of movement where our right to move about is more important to us than the threat that we pose to others around us.  Every day we see evidence of the misuse of the intelligence that God gave us.

Fifteen minutes of fame.

Social media has created a new generation of people eager to get their fifteen minutes of fame; no matter how stupid they have too look to get it.  They take videos of them licking items in the grocery store and even licking toilet seats in airplane lavatories.  Social media has shown us just how stupid people can behave and they put it out for the whole world to see.  How dumb can you get.

There is something very reckless with this group of people, even dangerous; only to gain a small portion of notoriety.   We are witnessing the birth of a generation that has become unable to control their natural instincts; a clear proof that evolution has failed us.

The reason that I mention this is that you may be inviting volunteers into your shelter looking to be a social media sensation; he or she is on the constant lookout for something (anything) to receive social media notoriety.  These folks will see something in the shelter and instead of brining it to staff’s attention will likely post it on social media.  Let’s face it, some of your volunteers will use the relationship they have with their shelter to gain social media fame or to push their own agenda.

Live only for today.

I have to admit that I have struggled with the new generation coming into the work place; they have such a cavalier attitude towards life and work ethics.  It is so demonstrate as to the “kids” crowding beaches in south Florida on spring break during a pandemic.  They are carefree as they live for today and drag home a virus for tomorrow.

In the work place we are faced with a new group of employees that have no concept of dressing for work; it is as if they grew up without a mother to direct their “street appearance.”  The adorn themselves with excessive tattoos (and piercings)  and wear tight clothing that would embarrass a normal person.  It seems it is a generation trying to shock the generations that came before them.

The most obvious show of their lack of work ethics is the use of sick leave.  Instead of saving sick leave for what it is intended, employees today use the sick leave to extend their days off; commonly calling in sick on their last day of work or they first day back from being off (or both) in an attempt to work shorter work weeks. It is not uncommon that employees use their sick leave and vacation leave as soon as they accumulate it and cannot understand why they have no leave when they want to take off during the summer.  Oddly, they think it is the employer’s fault that they are denied leave when their leave has been exhausted.

In my generation, it was not uncommon that we might accumulate thousands of hours of leave for an emergency.  With the current generation, it is not uncommon to see people little or no leave.  No one saw the pandemic coming, but the new generation attempted no preparation for it.  They only live for today.  And worst yet, they will never see the role that they played staying home from work without a paycheck.

“The Virus”

I usually meet with my brother for breakfast once a week and we have picked the local hospital’s cafeteria as the place for the best breakfast food… go figure.  The other day we were met at the entrance  of the hospital by a guy wearing a face mask who inquired  as to our health. It appears that you now need to be healthy to enter a hospital.  This is consistent with my visit to the grocery store where all of the hand sanitizer is sold out.  It appears that we are taking the virus threat seriously.

As I watch the news and witness the reaction and overreaction to this new strain of a virus, I realize that the world is looking in to the fishbowl of running an animal shelter.  Third world countries that engage in poor vaccination protocols experience the highest contamination rate; just as we experience in areas of our cities that fail to vaccinate our pets.

Just as the CDC is chasing down infection sources, we in the shelter fight to keep people from touching every animal as the walk through our shelters.  As infected people callously walk around in public, we have callous people walking through our shelters.  Just as these callous people play a role in the death of people by spreading germs, we experience the same thing in animal shelters.  People seem to ignore the hand sanitizer dispensers everywhere; they are usually visible from any point in an animal shelter.  Just unused.

While working in the South, we constantly fought feline panleukopenia.  We had a infected colony of cats in one county and just as we cleaned up one outbreak  in the shelter, animal control officers would go out and begin trapping cats from that colony to bring to the shelter.  We had a constant battle going  on with those animal control officers.  They could never see the big picture that the one or two feral cats that they were removing from a specific area could potentially impact the entire shelter’s cat population.  It is most difficult to deal with callous people, especially when they are in your own profession.

I wish people would take seriously the threat that they pose to shelter animals as they have taken to the threat of not wanting to be exposed to a new virus.

Donating to Charities

Around this time of the year, I become disillusioned with my decision as to who I have decided to donate to.  I walk away from the experience feeling that I was scammed.  Charitable organizations put too much junk in the letters that they mail out to request donations.  I have received more return address labels to last me several lifetimes.  I used to think the little note cards were cute, now I am just irritated by them.

I have to make weekly trips to my Post Office to clean out my mail box that is usually overflowing with donation requests; so, clearly the charities are selling their mailing lists to other charities; which I think is stupid because we ALL live on a limited income and a charity  might sell my name and address to another charity that I might choose to donate to rather than the original  organization; and in doing so, they cram my mail box with unwanted junk.

I believe that all of the junk that goes into those donation letter requests is misspent and diminishes the amount that goes to the charity.  Some charities go overboard.  The one time I appreciated an organization going overboard was a veterans group who sent me a stack of Christmas cards.  I only mail one Christmas card and the donation letter provided me with a card to send to my sister.  I think they sent me a half dozen cards so I am good for the next several years; any additional cards that they send later this year will go to waste.  The other day, one donation request letter was so full of junk that the Post Office had to place it in a package box to deliver to me.  It looks like midyear the veterans group sends out a request with a stack of all season cards,  so I am all set with get well cards and birthday cards. What a waste.

I am beginning to believe the only saving grace of the massive amounts of charity junk mail is to keep the Post Office a float.  I would be willing to pay a little extra with my Post Office box rental to have them toss out all of that junk mail… like we have scam filters on our emails.

I get really irritated by the charity requests that glue coins onto their request, whether a dime or four nickels.  Infrequently, I get a check from a charity for a small amount like $1.50 or $3.  The idea is to make you open the envelop to see what the check is about and then make a plea to not cash their check and help their cause.  I have  no  interest in donating to a cause that waste my money to pay for the people who cash those checks.  I could  just as well walk around town handing out dollar bills.

This disillusionment that I feel is that these are good charities that do good things, but most of my donation goes to the administrative overhead of trying to get more donations, that in turn, goes to getting even more donations.  I hope some where down the line a few dollars actually get spent helping the animals, children, or veterans that I really wanted to help; but I will never know because I don’t trust the process.

 

Finders of Lost Pets

If you have read any of my previous blogs, you will see that I tend to be unforgiving of ignorant pet owners who wait days or weeks before looking for their lost pets.  Finders of lost pets frequently have that same genetic disposition when attempting to find the owner of a lost pet.

Commonsense should dictate that actions of the person finding a lost pet; but, I find it necessary to spell it out for the many who cannot figure out  the path to returning a pet to its owner.  The first step is to check the animal for identification… a collar is a good sign.  If there are no tags attached to the collar, take the collar off and exam it to see if anyone has written anything inside the collar.  Put the collar back on the animal and note the color and material that the collar is made of.

Take the dog to your local animal shelter to have the animal scanned for a microchip.  Animal shelters are more likely to have access to a universal scanner than your veterinarian.  Shelter staff can help you identify the breed of the animal and will photograph the animal in the event that an owner comes in looking for the dog.  The animal shelter should be the first stop for an owner to look for their lost pet.  A reasonably  smart owner will look for their pet at the animal shelter within hours of losing their pet; so, a reasonably smart finder to quickly report the dog found there.

Some animal shelters are required by law to take custody of the animal.  If you wish to keep the animal, shelter usually give the finder of the animal first adoption rights.  The benefit of surrendering the animal to an animal shelter is that it will likely receive vaccinations and a medical examination.  Prior to adopt, the animal will be sterilized.  If you want to keep the animal fertile, you are not the kind of person that should be reading my blogs.  The primary reason to adopt from an animal shelter is that the animal becomes legally yours.

Many States have laws that provide for the “Finders of Lost Property.”  If you follow the steps contained in those laws, you can claim ownership.  Some States have no such laws, so the finder can never claim legal ownership.  If your State allows for a person to claim ownership, that person will need to place two ads in a “newspaper of competent jurisdiction”.  That means that you need to post the found ad in the newspaper that is most likely read by people in the community where you found the animal.  If you post the two ads, then after six months the animal is yours to keep.  This is a sicky issue and even though you follow all of the rules, if an owner comes forward, it may be necessary for a judge to make the final decision as to which owner has the greatest rights to the animal.  Many times the judge will rule on which owner provided the most medical care to the animal.

One of the most difficult efforts to find a lost pet is when the finder brings in an animal that is found in a rest stop.  I had one case in which the finder travelled through two States before delivering the animal to an animal shelter.  This is when convivence overrules commonsense.  There are commonsense rules that an owner can do prior to losing their pet, following those rules when travelling are even more critical.

The fact is that most finders will do the least possible work to find the pet’s owner.  So given that obstacle, the owner needs to make it easy on the finder to locate the owner.  This is nearly an impossible task because owners do not take serously the need to place and keep identification on their pet.  I worked in two animal shelters in which we printed identification tags for people whose pets came in without identification, we even included a collar.  We would see time after time the same animal coming  in without the tag that we provided.  In one jurisdiction, I changed the law to allow us to microchip an animal that has  come into the shelter three times without wearing a tag.

Very few animals that come into an animal shelter are wearing any sort of identification.  Most of the identification that is on an animal is worthless.  I had an animal come in with only the animal’s owner name.  I searched the driver’s license database for the surrounding States and found the owner in a neighboring State.  Don’t expect your animal shelter to make those kinds of efforts.  I just like to test my ability to find an owner.  Don’t count on a dog tag to be your primary identification.  I found an old dog tag that was issued by Jefferson County, it had a phone number without an area code.  Do you have any idea as to how many Jefferson Counties we have in the United States.

The biggest mistake that pet owners have is to not update the information on their pets.  Most microchip searches fail because the microchip is  either unregistered or goes to an old address.  Fortunately, the Post Office works with us to locate the owner’s new address.  I have discovered that many veterinarians will microchip an animal for the owner, but not keep a record as to who they sold the microchip to.  If you do not register your microchip, we go back to the veterinarian who was sold the chip.  If the veterinarian doesn’t not keep those records, you wasted you money on a microchip.

So, the trick to helping the finder of your lost pet, you need to have current identification on your pet with sufficient information.  If you put your phone number on the ID, include your area code.  Hint to License Clerks:  never print your phone number on a dog license without including an area code.

Although I don’t like microchips because people put to much faith in them.  I still recommend microchipping your pet because it seems that the  first thing that an animal loses is its collar when running loose.  I figure that a good samaritan finds your dog, takes off the collar to get a better look at the identification tags and while looking at the tags, the dog runs off again.  So a good rule is to place a leash of an animal when taking off the dog’s collar.