Government Contracts

Municipalities are frequently faced with balancing tax dollars between people and pets and the weight of the scales is definitely balanced toward people.  It is not uncommon for a municipality to look for alternate funding for their animal services program and will let their local humane society take over the operation.

For the city or county, they believe that the humane society is in a better position to request donations and run the program using volunteers.  Governments generally don’t want to ask for donations because it calls into question their appropriation of tax dollars.  I have worked in municipalities that refused to allow us to collect donations for our animals, because they claimed it sent a message that the shelter was not adequately funded.  Fortunately,  they would not turn their nose down to charity grants.

Humane societies see the contract as a source for additional funding and having the ability to cherry pick over the animals as the shelter.  It usually doesn’t take the humane society very long to see that the additional funding doesn’t go very far and these contract relationship usually don’t last long.

The biggest mistake that humane societies make is to attempt to keep separate books; they will tout that they are a no-kill shelter while euthanizing eighty percent of the “city dogs.”  Even the most generous of supporters will  realize that an eighty percent euthanasia rate is unreasonable.  I’ve witnessed more humane societies surrendering their government contract when the community saw that the humane society was inflating their placement numbers.  To the community, the shelter numbers represent live animals and they count.

One humane society director learned (the had way) that his protection as a private citizen became void after accepting a government contract; along with the contract the director becomes a public official.  This director decided to sue a volunteer who alluded to his high (80 percent) euthanasia rate.  He likened the volunteer to being a terrorist (okay, a little overkill).  The courts pointed out that accepting the government contract, he had become a public figure and had to suffer the verbal abuse like the rest of us.  The courts ruled that volunteers are allowed to exercise their first amendment rights.

Portland Oregon

Portland was my first experience as an Animal Services Director.  It is a first in other ways as well.  Portland was the first County (that’s Multnomah County) to provide protection to gays.  They were first to provide benefits to gay couples as they did to heterosexual couples.

One day, after attending an Human Resources seminar on job protection status, I came to realize that my gay brothers and sisters in government service had taken a giant leap forward in job protection and I had none.  In order to even the playing field, I decided to come out of the closet.  You would have no idea as to how difficult it is for a heterosexual guy to come out of the closet.  I kept insisting that making me prove that I was homosexual was sexual harassment.  When pressed on the issue, I would finally insist that I was a lesbian; I saw myself as a woman who preferred other women.  That was new in those days, but today, people are allow to see themselves as anything… by gender, or ethnicity or ever breed.  I fear that twenty-five years ago, I started a fad.  Fortunately, I was never fired from Multnomah County, so I never had to put my sexual orientation card.

While serving in Multnomah County, I encountered some strange behavior with one of my animal attendants.  It was reported to me that one of my animal attendants was getting himself invited into the homes of single women with young children to take photographs of them and their newly adopted pet.  It seem an odd behavior and I confronted the employee.  He told me that he was doing this off duty and it was none of my business.   I’m usually a pretty calm person, but this guy hit my switch.

I began investigating this person’s life history and discovered that he had previously been a teacher and was fired for having sex with his students.  How the hell didn’t Multnomah County Human Recourses uncover this in this work history.  Anyway, he was now my employee and he was now my responsibility.   I have to admit that our Human Resources Department was absolutely of no use to me.  If I had done it their way, they guy would still be working for the County and molesting children.

But calm minds must prevail.   Since the employee refused to stop meeting with our clients (and their children), I placed him on leave so that he could not access our files.   I sent him to a counselor and after weeks of interviews, the counselor was intimindated by the employee and refused to release his findings.  That didn’t prevent the counselor from sending us a bill for his efforts.  I told the counselor that he had been hired to provide a risk assessment and he failed to do so; if he wanted to see his fees paid, either provide the assessment or take me to court.

I decided to revisit the time that the employee had been a teacher.  Fortunately for me (I guess), one of the students that had been molested had a parent that was a key player at the school.  In talking with that person, I discovered the name of the counselor that the school had used with the employee.  I was fortunate to that the counselor remembered the employee and he was free to give me a risk assessment.  So off to another few weeks of counseling.

The assessment revealed that nothing in the employee’s life had changed, he was as much a risk as he was when molesting school children.  I took all of my findings to our Human Resource Department and they told me to put the employee back on duty… and to watch him.

What the hell?  I explained the danger that this guy presented and all they wanted is for this guy to return to work.  I told them “Hell no, no child is going to be molested on my watch.  If they want to find this guy another job, fine; I’m going to fire him.”  They were not happy with me, but I fired the guy.

The HR guys claim they worked out a severns package to prevent me from being sued.  I told them they has wasted the County’s money, I would have loved to be taken to court by this guy.

This incident, among others in Multnomah County, taught me that sometimes you have to stop listening to “the professionals” in order to maintain the integrity of your organization.  Do what is right and tell “the professionals” workout the paperwork.

Have you ever had a day that you would like to relive?  One of the happiest days of my life was when one of my employees quit to take a job with the police department.  After a few weeks, the police department discovered what I knew all along that the person was a worthless employee.  She could not go into the field alone unless she was following another employee.  It was a funny sight to see two animal control vehicles following one another in North Portland.  After being fired by the police department, she asked for her old job back.

I told her no and the matter went to the County Commission to make the final decision.  Everything was going well until the County’s Legal Department advised me to not say anything bad about the employee.  I have always beat myself up for listening to them.  How can you depict an employees bad performance if you cannot say anything bad?  I was forced to take the employee back and as I learned with the County’s HR department, they don’t have our best interests in mind.  They are just trying to make their own jobs easier.  As you walk the walk of your profession, you’ll have to decide which battles are worth taking on.  Keep in mind that if you are in municipal services, the advice that you receive will only be fifty percent right.  Doing the right thing, frequently comes with a battle.  But it feels good to win them.

Hospice Care

I recently read about a group of people condemning their shelter for failing to provide hospice care.  In a gentle world, it would be nice to have a group of homes that would care for animals during their last leg of their journey on earth.  The problem arises that there are damn few people who can perform hospice care.

The idea of providing hospice care is to allow an animal to live out its final days in the care of a loving home… allowing the animal to have a natural death.  The person performing this task should understand the process and provide gentile care as the animal drifts away.  But, those kind of people rarely exist; instead, you end out with people who freak out over every event and seem to forget that their job is to allow the animal to pass into death, instead of seeking every avenue to keep the animal alive (and constantly running the animals to a veterinarian)..  Having the wrong caregiver can be very expensive for animal shelter and it is understandable why an anima shelter would rather administer euthanasia than to place an animal into a home where the caregiver will only prolong the animal’s pain.  You usually find these people conjugated on a social media page, being led by their own ignorance and self importance.

In all of the years that I worked in this profession, I only found two or three people who I could count on to be a hospice care provider.  It takes a special person to be able to feel the animals pain and to accept the need to lead the animal home.

Euthanasia Discussion

A few weeks ago, Dave Perry wrote an opinion piece, “End the euphemism for killing unwanted dogs and cats; it’s not euthanasia.”  The point that Mr. Perry was trying to make is that the word euthanasia comes from the Greek meaning “good death.”  Many definitions go further to suggest that the word means to perform this good death to alleviate pain and suffering.  It connotates being a good thing that we administer.

There is nothing good about the fact that we must kill animals because they are born into a world that doesn’t want them.  I know, I know, the no-kill world claims that there is no pet surplus; but, they are idiots.  The surplus of animals differs from community to community.  It is an indicator as to a community’s sensitivity to responsible pet ownership that includes spaying and neutering their animals.

Mr. Perry focused on the usage of the word.  But the act of euthanasia or “killing” takes an emotional toll on the animals and on shelter staff.  Performing this act speaks to the failure that we, as humans, deal with a problem that is caused by us.

I have to agree with Mr. Perry that there is nothing good about the killing of adoptable animals in our shelters.  We can attempt to soften the blow by finding a fancy word to describe our actions, but in the end the animals is dead.  All we have done is to bring the least painful method to killing an animal that is stuck in a small cage.  Those of us who have worked in animal shelters know that the longer an animal sits in a small cage, the more inhumane the confinement becomes.  So the question is to the length of time that an animal must  be held in a cage so that you can justify claiming that you are relieving the animal’s pain and suffering to call its death euthanasia.  The question that is always asked is how long is too long to hold an animal while calling its confinement humane?  That differs from animal to animal and it depends on the enrichment programs that are offered to the animal during its confinement.  The fact that we keep an animal in a cage for two years before it begins to become cage crazy and the animal is “euthanized;” we have to ask if we should look back and claim if holding the animal for such a long period of time, only to be euthanized is humane?  Probably not, but we are always hopeful for a positive outcome.

The no-kill movement doesn’t want us to blame the people responsible for causing the pet overpopulation problem; but, they want to blame the ones who must clean up the mess.

Street Dogs

The other day, I found myself watching Disney’s new version of Lady and the Tramp.  I have no appreciation for Disney’s portrayal of the dogcatcher in any of their movies.  Throughout the movie, the dogcatcher was trying to convince everyone (including himself) that in removing all of the “dangerous” street dogs that he was providing a valuable service.

The dogcatcher’s view on street dogs reminded me of a time in my life in which I was asked to oversee the transition of a government contract from one humane organization to another.  The first humane organization has carried the contract for many years and refused to work with local dog rescues; and as a result, they have an 80 percent euthanasia rate.

Several of the dog groups got together and created a new humane organization and submitted a bid for the government contract.  When they were awarded the contract, they were required to bring in an experienced director to oversee the operation; that is where I come in.

Over a brief period of time, the euthanasia declined sharply.  We were eager to tout our success.  Throughout my employment, I received numerous calls from the board of directors of the first humane organization lambasting our adoptions, convinced that 90 percent of the stray dogs were not worth saving.  To be honest, I was dumbfounded by the idea that these people could be so damn stupid to think that 90 percent of the dogs were a danger to the public. For whatever reasons, they needed to believe that fallacy to justify the killing of the dogs under their watch.

I’d like to say that the first organization was an insignificant organization, but it wasn’t.  It had a national following.  It always amazed me that an organization could have such a national following when their mission was to kill off all of the stay dogs in their community.  Not every stray dog is heroic like Tramp, but you can bet that most of the dogs are worthy of finding new homes.

I am happy to report that the first organization has found its new mission and is doing great things now, in their community.  It is a testament that our profession has evolved well.

Common Courtesy

One of our most important tasks is to notify pet owners that the animal shelter is in possession of their lost pet.  Most pet owners want to be notified as soon as possible, but out of courtesy I never call anyone before 10 AM, unless they have instructed me to do so.  Even keeping to this courtesy, I have apologized numerous times to day sleepers.  I always figured that day sleepers would think to turn their phones off to ward away unexpected phone calls.

Record of each phone call attempt should be documented in the animal’s record.  It is amazing that owners will accuse you of negligence for not calling them, when they are avoiding your phone calls.  A record log of your attempts will allay their accusations.  Although I hate leaving messages on voicemail, a general script should be used, so that you can copy and paste that script into your computer record.  You should also note when leaving a message as to the deadline as to when the pet owner should call you.  A large portion of owners will never call before the deadline, so any disposition of the animal should occur a day or two after the deadline.  It isn’t a bad idea to repeat your phone call attempts several times each day.  You may discover that the pet owner will not be actively looking for their lost pet and how difficult it will be to actually reach them.

If you are able to determine the address of the pet owner, it isn’t a bad idea to send an Animal Control officer to their house to post a notice.  We should exhaust ever effort to get a lost pet back to their owner.  In most areas of the country, pet owners will appreciate your efforts.  If you decide to send out a letter to the owner, make sure you adjust you holding time to accommodate the time necessary for the Post Office to deliver your letter and for the owner to respond.  If the letter returns undeliverable, make sure you record that information in the animal’s record as well.

If after a few days of failed attempts of reaching the pet owner, I throw out my common courtesy and begin calling early in the morning or late at night.  People have odd schedules and many of them fail to set up voicemail on their phones.

I cannot tell you enough how important it is to record all of your attempts to reach the pet owner; one day you might need to present those records in court to prove that you were not negligent in performing your duties.  We live in a world in which the people want to point out negligence in others and not see it in themselves.

Free Cats

A couple of the animal shelters in my area are hoping to reduce their overpopulation of cats by offering them free for adoption.  One of the advantages of living in the northern States is that we experience one less breeding cycle due to extreme cold weather.  That benefit does not seem to hold for this winter.  It is odd to see infant kittens entering the shelter in the winter months in which it gives a reprieved to shelters dealing with the excess cats in the community.  But, it appears that the cats are adapting.

Many communities face the problem of surplus cats and the cause is a result of our own good intentions.  We see a hungry cat at our door, we feed it.  As I have always said, “If there is sufficient food, cats will breed.”  Well, we must be feeding the hell out of cats.

Every time an animal shelter starts offering “free cats,” someone will come out of the woodwork exclaiming that by doing so, we are devaluing cats.  A free cat sends the message that cats have no value and people will treat the cats as having no vlaue.  I have never witness anyone mistreating a cat because the cat was free.  Animal Shelters face the problem of people giving away free kittens in front of shopping malls.  An Animal Shelter would be smart to compete and fill the community with spayed and neutered kittens than to push their community to the free unsterilized cats offered for sale by irresponsible cat owners.

The fact that Animal Shelters are offering cats for free is evidence of the following:

  •  The No Kill Movement is lying to us that there is no pet overpopulation.
  •  Low cost spay/neuter programs are necessary to curb the overpopulation problem.
  •  Trap, neuter and release (TNR) programs are a critical component of reducing the feral cat problem in our communities.
  • The community needs to understand their role in creating this problem.

I wish the shelters well in their efforts.


Broken People

Broken people are those who fail to meet societal norms.  They make up many of the hoarders and homeless people of our nation.  They live beside us and provide little impact to our society; until, they drag other species into their nightmare.

In every community that I have served, my staff and I have had to deal with animal hoarders.  It is the condition in which these animals are kept that force the need for our intervention.  Before responding to the residence of a hoarder, it is necessary that animal control officers have access to the proper equipment upon enter the house.  The equipment should include latex gloves, foot covers, disposable coveralls, face mask (with the ammonia/methane cartridge), and lots and lots of flea spray.  It doesn’t hurt to carry a methane detector to give you probable cause to enter the residence.

In Gainesville Florida, we came upon a hoarding case in which the fire department’s hazmat team refused to enter the house, even in their protective suits.  Sometimes it gets that bad.  Also in Gainesville, we had to deal with one of the largest cat hoarding cases in the United States in which we had to seize nearly 700 cats.  Yes, it gets that bad.

In Salt Lake County, we had quite an effective system in dealing with hoarding cases.  We would arrive on scene with law enforcement personnel and health department personnel.  Hoarders can give you a difficult time accessing their residence, unless you have a health department official condemning the property.  The health department takes lead in returning the house to “living conditions,” that includes removing animals.

In Salt Lake County, I had to deal with a guy living in a delivery truck with five dogs.  The conditions inside that vehicle we not fit for man nor beast.  I tried to use the guys dogs as leverage to get help for him and his dogs.  I could not break through his mental illness.  I eventually was forced to seize his dogs and he dedicated his life to calling me every five minutes to condemn me for my actions.  He was one of the few people that I encountered that I could find no work arounds.  People are allowed to be like him, but laws are in place to prevent him from taking his pets down that path.

The animal welfare profession is a career of working with pet owners to make the lives of their pets better.  Because we are working with people, we are going to encounter broken people who  will show that they are not capable of taking care of themselves, let alone another animal.    It is important to prepare for broken people and their pets.

Washing Machine Incident

I recently came across an article about an animal shelter in my area purchasing an industrial washing machine to handle the needs of their shelter’s load of bedding for their animals.  Their volunteers were delighted.

This wasn’t the case in Roanoke, in which a local rescue organization was providing volunteers to our shelter and were told to complain about everything.  I suspect that they wanted the municipal contract to take over the sheltering operation.  So a lot of the complaints from our volunteers just didn’t make sense.  The biggest example was when we decided to start adopting animals directly from our shelter; the volunteers all walked out.

But, back to the washing machine.  We were attempting to use household washing machines and were constantly wearing out the machines and we had to continuely replace them.  It became clear to us that normal household washing machines could not stand up to the load of being used in an animal shelter.  I convinced our Board to allow us to buy an industrial washing machine and dryer.  The machines would allow us to run larger loads, less frequently.  It was a smart decision.

When the volunteers heard about us spending $20k on the machines, they went nuts.  They thought that any funds used in the shelter should go directly towards the animals.  There was no convincing them that the animal’s lives were improved by sleeping on clean bedding.  There was no convincing them of the fact that the industrial washing machines would save money by not having to be constantly replaced.

Roanoke is a reminder that in our business, every decision that you make in this profession is going to be second guessed.  Every action by your volunteers might be part of another agenda.  And that agenda might not be in the interest of your organization or of the animals.  Stay alert.

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.