Memorial Day

I want to thank all of our military service personnel for their service protecting our country.  While serving in the Philippines, my patrol partner was a military working dog.  I would like to thank my service dogs  Ralph and Bourbon for the months that they walked with me.  Ralph was a sentry dog and Bourbon was a patrol dog.  Sometimes we forget the role that dogs played along side our military personnel.  I’ve never had more loyal friends.  Thank you for your service.

ACOs Looking for RPOs

In this blog, I want to “kill two birds with one stone;” although I, in no way, condone stoning as a legitimate means of euthanasia.  I want to discuss a program I had to reward responsible pet owners (RPOs) and to discuss societies abuse of acronyms.

A great number of years ago, I wanted to change up my patrols of picking up stray dogs by looking for responsible pet owners; people walking their pets responsibly.  I went out in search with a letter from the mayor and a bag of goodies.  I posted signs on my Animal Control vehicle: “ACO looking for RPO.”  Of course no one knew what that meant: Animal Control Officer looking for Responsible Pet Owners.

I would stop people out walking their dogs and looked for a leash, current license, carrying a bag to pick up poop, and evidence that the animal was spayed or neutered.  Shockingly, I actually found a few who qualified.  I quickly realized that the free bag of dog food might have been an excessive gift.

This effort reminded me of the excessive use of acronyms that we use in society, the worst part of reading an article is the fact that most authors actually believe that everyone will know what their acronym represents.  It is as if we have forgotten the rules of engaging readers.  So for everyone’s sake the rule is that if you are going to use an acronym, you FIRST write out the term and follow it with the acronym in parentheses like: “Government funded organization (GFO)”.

Every organization uses acronyms, but it is damn foolish to think that everyone knows what they mean.  We have become a society that tries to shorten our words into very brief communications, but we frequently commit a disservice to our readers.  Please use acronyms responsibly.

Having the Right Tool

Animal control officers have it easier than police officers because we can usually predict the actions of those that we deal with.   Our cliental have their own set of tools, like teeth and claws and we need to have to proper tools to prevent our own injury and protect the animal.  The most important tool is the one that we don’t have.

Catchpole: the catchpole is the most important tool we have to prevent injury to ourselves and to control the animal.  Even used properly, it can be a media nightmare when its use is watched by others.  The trick in using a catchpole is to gently control the animal with minimal force.  The catchpole should be tight enough to keep the animal from escaping, but not so tight as to choke the animal.  It is the one tool that you should ALWAY care with you.  When facing an aggressive dog, the last place your catchpole should be in in the vehicle.   When I would go out into the field with my officers, I always carried my own catchpole because I knew that it worked.  Always keep your equipment in working order.

Muzzles:  as I mentioned previously, using a muzzle on a cat means that you have already lost the fight.  The trick to muzzling dogs is to use the right size; too small and the dog can’t breathe, too large and the dog removes the muzzle.

Gloves:  The only glove that I ever found that worked on cats was the Neptune Glove.  The glove looked like the attack sleeve used in training police and military dogs, but was covered by chainmail.  It was expensive, but paid for itself when I was called to remove a badger from the trunk of a car.   I haven’t seen it on the market for years, but there are a lot of new materials available that claim to be puncture resistant.

Pepper stray:  I used pepper spray once, when I foolishly stepped out of my vehicle without a catchpole.  I discovered that a leash provides little protection from a cornered Rottweiler.  Pepper spray come in many concentrations:  Halt is at .003 %, others are at 5%, 10%, and 20% for bears.  I always carried Halt, but many animal control officers want to use the concentrations used by police officers.  Although it is infrequently used, to keep the pepper in suspension, you need to vigorously shake up the can at least once a month.

Clipboard:  A metal clipboard is the best protection when approaching pet owner’s home.  We have all experience dogs pushing their way past the owner to get at the intruder on the porch.  In these situations, I have yet to come upon a pet owner willing or able to control their pet.  For that reason, the clipboard provides a small shield from the animal.  The dog wants to bite you, so you feed the dog your clipboard.  You keep feeding the clipboard as you step slowly back to the street to your vehicle.   In situations in which two dogs run out at you, you pepper spray them both and use the clipboard to feed to the one that keeps coming.

Snake tools:  snake tongs and snake hooks are valuable for dealing with snakes.  I hate snakes and found that they don’t make 20 foot long snake tongs, you’ll have to work with tongs that are 4 or 5 feet long.

Hazmat equipment:  if you ever have to go into the home of a hoarder, you’ll appreciate having disposable coverall, booties and gloves.  A facemask with the methane/ammonia cartridge will be necessary in the worse cases.  Make sure you keep track of the expiration date on the cartridges.  The facemasks come in various sizes, so it is important to find the right size to fit you.

Flashlights:  remember that using a catchpole requires two hands, so a flashlight that isn’t fixed to your forehead will only get in the way if you need to use your catchpole.

Flex ties:  It is not uncommon to find yourself in a hoarding case that you need to borrow pet carriers.  The carriers are often broken down and the screws are frequently missing.  Flex ties is a good temporary solution in an emergency.

Euthanasia

The hardest part of our profession is administering euthanasia.  We do this mostly as a result of bad pet ownership.  Euthanasia is a two part process: determining which animals are placed on the euthanasia list and then administering the euthanasia.  This is an area of our profession where we are overwhelmed with arm chair quarterbacks.  It is a very volatile part of our business and as a result of the hostility that results in the decision process, I always made the final decision.

It is tough enough for the employees who have to kill the animals that they have cared for; it would be unfair that they have to suffer the consequences for having to decide which animals are selected.  Although people, including volunteers, think that the decision process is abritraty, it is really a thought out piece of engineering.

Euthanasia is the most contentious issue for animal shelters.  It frequently pits volunteers against staff.  At my last shelter, the volunteers went to war with staff over the decision to euthanize two dogs that had become aggressive over their lengthy stay with us.  The dogs would act friendly to a few volunteers, but show aggression to the staff caring for them.  Euthanizing the dogs angered the volunteers and they called into question our decision making process.  The went to board meetings to verbalize their anger.  The board put together a group to investigate our euthanasia process and issued a report.

Given the volatility of creating a euthanasia list and the tremendous number of things that can go wrong as a result of euthanasia, I have created a few rules that I followed in making the decision:

Always keep an animal two days beyond the date that the animal is “supposed” to be euthanize, especially if you are waiting for an owner to reclaim the animal.  I have encountered countless incidents in which an owner shows up to reclaim their pet after the stray hold time has expired.  Although they don’t care enough to timely reclaim their pet, they will blame you for not acting on their schedule.  So whatever arrangement that you make with an owner to reclaim their pet, keep the pet a few days longer because that is when they will likely show up.

Document the animal’s condition when the decision is based on medical or behavioral condition.  It is not uncommon for a pet owner to surrender their pet as a stray to you because of an animal’s medical condition and try to adopt the animal back after the animal has been treated.  Many times the animal may be beyond treatment and the owner will return claiming that he/she has been victimized by you failing to treat their pet.

Always make sure that you use competent and caring staff to perform euthanasia.  The last few moments of a pet’s life should be as stress free as possible.  Since you are using a controlled substance in performing euthanasia, you can save yourself a lot of grief by having employees who can perform simple mathematics.  You would be surprise as to the number of staff that I’ve had who could not subtract numbers with a decimals. 

Don’t ever get talked into adopting out an aggressive animal.  Many shelters have offered an animal a second (or third) chance, only to be sued and raked over the media for putting their community at risk for making a careless adoption decision.  The best community preventative for an aggressive dog is euthanasia. 

Do not allow anyone to bully the staff who preform euthanasia.  It is a tough task and no one has the right to bully them. 

Work and Social Media

Social media has become one of the greatest ways to destroy work relationships.  People post everything that happens to them and what they are thinking on their social media page and then claim they were victimized by a coworker reading their posts.  Some people have not figured out that when you post on social media, anyone in the world can read it.

Work was so much easier when we didn’t know every secret thought of our coworkers.  We knew when to keep our mouths shut; so why have people become so open on a public forum?  I got so tired of people coming to me to complain about what someone else said about them on social media.  Just because a thought goes through your head, doesn’t mean that you need to speak it or post it.  Going on anyone’s social media page, you will discover crap.  We produce a lot of it.

I worked with a human resource director who believed that every social media post had the basis of being rooted in some fact.  She could not understand that many posts have no basis in fact.  If it appeared on her social media account, it must be taken care of.  Do you have any idea how much time is required to manage baseless nonsense?  Social media has proved that our first amendment right is one that we so often abuse.  People feel free to say anything that they want on social media; at least in the old days when you would talk person to person, we developed some skills of diplomacy.  Deplomacy is a skill that our society is quickly losing. 

Many people take advantage of the fact that government employees cannot sue for slander that occurs as a result of their work place.  We just have to accept that suffering lies is a job requirement.  Because we cannot sue,  there is no opportunity for people to learn any lessons for slandering.  Even organizations that have government contracts are in the same situation.  If you are feeding at the government trough, you are facing the same restrictions as other government workers.

Social media is becoming a mechanism in which people are leaving behind their civility.  It is becoming evident in our every day lives.  We see people acting out in public places over the smallest of issues because we are becoming a society that doesn’t teach how to control ourselves.

Online Petitions

We are a society that likes to complain about everything.  For those who complain, we have a way to make things right; even if nothing is wrong.  This post is triggered by a new petition on Change.org to redo the last season of Game of Thrones.  To be honest, I think this is the only petition on the site that has any merit.  As with social media, these sites attract mean people attempting to bully an organization.

I have been the subject of petitions and I have learned that to create a petition, you can invent any truth to serve your purpose.  People want their fifteen minutes of fame and they can gain it by fabricating some story that might strike a nerve is other people.

People go to the website and the site become like a black hole in which the intelligence of the readers are sucked out of them and they will sign their name to any or all of them.  Many of the petitions are scams, but if you get enough signatures, they take on reality.  It is this reality that we constantly face in animal welfare.  In stead of working to solve your community’s problems they decide to armchair quarterback from the comfort of their home computer.

You can do all of the good in the world, only to offend one person and have the entire “change community” shoved down your throat.  There is no forgiveness in our business.

What good will changing the final season of Game of Thrones do after that season has so firmly been burned into our heads?  I am a strong advocate for change, but let’s be active participants in stead of being those mean folks who become keyboard activists.  But if you cannot find yourself climbing up from you keyboard, then at least make sure your claims are righteous.  Find the truth, don’t invent it.

What is the Value of a Pet?

One of the most common issues that animal shelter workers face is pet owners relinquishing a pet due to the cost of ownership.  The most common practice is the surrendering of a pet due to medial costs.  Once a pet is surrendered, those costs now become the responsibility of the shelter.

When a shelter is faced with the cost of caring for an animal that has been abandoned by the owner, many factors enter in to the equations when determining the animal’s plight: resources, animal’s age, animal’s overall health condition, adoptability (breed, temperament, size) and story.

The ability to pay a major medial bill is the most frequent hurdle in making the decision to treat a pet; after all, it is the most common reason that the pet was surrendered to the shelter.  It is not uncommon that a pet owner will surrender their pet seeking free medical care and attempt to adopt the pet back after the care has been provided.  The decision to move forward on an animal is always a difficult one.  Many shelters opt to set a maximum allowance for each pet.  That maximum allowance is determined by the cost at hand and the frequency that pet owners in your community burden you with this problem.

Young animals will be given more weight that senior animals; although their life is no more valuable, we tend to want to offer a young animal a chance at a longer life than treating an animal that doesn’t have much longer to live anyway.

Determining what is wrong with an animal will make the decision much easier.  Are you dealing with a one time injury or is this an injury that is going to have ongoing need for treatment.  Is the illness or injury costly to treat?  How long will recovery be?  Keep in mind that cage space is an issue and recovering animals are a good excuse to create a foster program to deal with the long term care of an injured animal.

Is the dog a pitbull?  I hate to mention breed but the fact is pitbull dogs usually represent over 50% of the dog breeds in our shelters.  Due to rent agreements, they are one of the most likely dogs to never get adopted.  Do you want to throw hundreds of dollars into a dog that will eventually be euthanized?  I would suggest that if a dog has a history of aggression, there is no reason to consider the dog for adoption.  The last thing you need in your shelter is an aggressive dog that has no hope of a future outside your shelter.  Small dogs are the easiest to adoption, so they should be consider first to receive medical treatment.

And finally the animal’s story.  Many of the major animal welfare organizations live off of the donations they receive by posing a pitiful animal on national television.  If it works for them, it can work for you.  Anytime I use the media to ask for funds to help an animal, our intake of funds would always be more than the cost of treating the animal.  It is easier for a person to focus on a specific animal than to donate for a general cause.

Making life and death decisions is the hardest part of our profession.  I helps when you go in with a plan.

Cat Grooming

I was recently asked about muzzling a cat so as to get at the mats in the cat’s fur.  Anyone who has ever attempted to engage in a behavior that is disliked by the cat that you are holding, you know the speed of the cats ability to use its teeth and claws.  Any attempts to control the cat’s head will result in cat paw-like speeds approaching the speed of light.  Like the wind, you see what remains of your hands and arms without seeing the paws move.  These actions will quickly deplete the contents of your first aid kit.

The first rule of grooming a cat is to have someone else do it.  There are professionals who do this for a living and the costs associated with performing this function compensates themselves for engaging is a dangerous activity.  I have done some dangerous things in my profession, but few are more dangerous than grooming a cat.

I once thought that it would be a great idea to put claw covers on my cat’s nails.  This was at a time that I learned that no first aid kit is ever property stocked.  There is no greater feeling of success than to see the angry looks of the cat as each paw is showing a separate color.  Then after a few days, you begin to see each claw bead falling off one by one until it is time to approach the cat with a towel to attempt the process all over again.

I am constantly reminded about my misadventures in animal welfare each time I look at my first aid kit, that is now large enough to stock a small hospital.

Zoonotic Diseases

I saw in the news a report of a person getting Brucellosis from a dog.  As an animal welfare worker, you should already know that you live in a world of animal diseases and some of those diseases can be passed along to you; that is the definition of a zoonotic disease.

From time to time we need to refresh our memories as to this particular aspect of our profession; I was constantly reminded by the staff who loved to go from animal to animal getting doggie kisses.  We preach about fomites (the spread of disease through our hands and clothing) only to see employees spreading it through their mouths.  I get it, it hard to be in this profession and not surrender to a few kisses.  But like your hands, wash your face between kisses.

Animal Shelter staff and the public are the primary vector for spreading diseases within an animal shelter.  It is bad enough that we spread the diseases between animals, but we need to be sensitive to the diseases that we can give to ourselves.

I would like to share an article by Jill Seladi-Schulman, PhD on zoonosis.  We all should practice safe animal handling.

Screwing with Mother Nature

I recently wrote about Australia’s war on feral cats.  In today’s news, we find that the bounty on cats is not reaping sufficient cat deaths; the government has decided that the solution to kill millions of stray cats is by airdropping “poison sausages” according to Australia’s CBS News.

It has been my experience that our “well intended species” always makes things worse when we screw with Mother Nature.  We created the problem with the cats in the first place and now we feel the need to fix the problem by poisoning all of the cats so as to minimize the impact the threat of the cats on native wildlife populations.

I mentioned the problem of non-target species eating the bait.  As I see it, many native wildlife species eat the same food as cats and maybe even a few children.  The plan to poison all of the cats seems to not be very well thought out.

Australia is faced with a difficult problem. Since the introduction of cats by Europeans in 1700, 27 mammals species are now facing extinction.  Even here in the United States cats are blames for impacting wildlife populations.  Australia believes that their are estimated between 2 and 6 millions cats in their country.  Having been in houses hoarding cats, I know the difficulty in getting an accurate count.  Australia has set their goal of wanting to kill 2 million cats by 2020.

So, this is how I think it will unfold:  Australia will successfully kill a whole bunch of cats, but at the same time they will be killing a whole bunch of the species they are trying to save.  A couple children will come across the food and hopefully not eat enough to harm them.  And, all the while the cats will continue to breed and in a few years they will be back where they started.