When I was developing software for animal shelter management, one of the most common requests from our users was to all them to use “mixed” as a primary breed indicator. I refused, knowing that using that term was just an excuse for the user to not identify the breed.
I still feel that way; however, I have to admit that in my early days breed identification was much easier. Something happened since then to cause pet owners to randomly breed dogs into new breeds that were difficult to determine the original breed that they arose from.
One unfortunate outcome arose that most of the dogs had phenotypic characteristics of a wide, thick head of a pitbull, thus exasperating the problem in which half of the shelter’s animals were described as pitbull mixes.
At this time, sterilization is still the best answer to pet overpopulation. Pitbulls have led the way in the problem of shelter overpopulation. I’ve always believed that any breed that overwhelms a shelter should be identified as the breed that pet owners would be forced to spay/neuter.
Due to the restrictions placed on pitbulls, and the fact that pitbulls are in the largest numbers in animal shelters, many shelters have stripped dogs of their breed so as to disguise the pitbull dogs among the other dogs. The shelters see this as giving pitbulls a chance at adoption when potential adopters cringe an the notion of adopting an aggressive breed dog.
This behavior of disguising the breeds of dogs in animal shelters make it more difficult for owners of lost dogs to find their pet. The breed of an animal is the greatest descriptor for identifying an animal.
The fact that an animal shelter disguises the breed of an animal makes you wonder what else they are hiding.
Many animal shelters provide euthanasia services for pet owners. I have had some pet owners give horrible reasons for wanting their pet euthanized; such as, “He is my puppy and I do not want anyone else to own him.” For that reason, when I have worked in an animal shelter, I allow the owner to surrender the pet to the shelter. Once the shelter takes ownership of the pet, we decide if the euthanasia request is reasonable.
I have had owners wanting to argue with me. I have explained that they have the option to take their business to their own veterinarian. Although my shelter exists to service the community, I felt that I had an obligation to protect pets from outrageous owners.
I’ve always tried to maintain a holding period for pet owners to cool off or time for other family members to become aware of the surrender and be able to reclaim their pet that was surrendered in anger.
One of the greatest examples of where we have been as to what we have become is the issue of service animals. As pioneers we crossed our great land in stage coaches holding our therapy chickens for the two week crossing. Today, we feel the need to hold a peacock for a two-hour airplane flight.
The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) created a mess when dealing with the issue of assistance animals. Since people were not required to prove that they were disabled and there were no programs for certifying assistance animals; people took advantage of the ACT to be able to keep their pets, when their landlord discovered that they were violating their lease agreement.
People pushed the issue for taking their pets on public transportation and now have reached the extreme by demanding that their pets be allowed on aircraft. There seems to be a contest as to who can go to the greatest extreme as to the size and type of animal that they choose as a therapy animal.
One of the greatest challenges that we have is to control disease in our animal shelter. The problem begins with a community that fails to vaccinate their pets and allows them to roam to deposit or collect viruses in the community. The animals are then brought to the animal shelter.
Most animal shelters vaccinate pets on intake. The problem is that it takes weeks for the vaccine to take effect. In that time, the animal can be exposed to other pets entering the shelter to spread of collect disease to or from those animals.
The greatest vector for disease in the shelter is people. If staff does not take the proper precautions, they may spread disease from animal to animal while cleaning or feeding their animals. Allowing the public to come in and view animals is the greatest mechanism for spreading disease throughout the shelter; no matter how we instruct our citizens to not touch the animals, they cannot control themselves and feel the need to touch one animal after another, becoming the greatest vector for spreading disease within a shelter.
I often encourage people wanting to surrender their pets to wait until their pet has been fully vaccinated for 30 days, so as to allow the vaccinations to take hold and offer the animal some protection from entering the shelter.
It is a good idea to not move animals around within the shelter. There is nothing worse that to experience an outbreak in your shelter to find that the carrier of the disease had been moved previously throughout the shelter exposing other animals. Outbreaks are the most common in shelter that operate at capacity or beyond capacity. Managing the shelter population aids in managing disease.
Early in my career, I worked out a deal with the local newspaper to accept my photographs of animals that I had in the shelter. It was not uncommon for me to run the same animals week after week in hopes of finding a home for that animal.
I was approached by the Police Chief claiming that one of the City Council had noted that he was seeing animals listed week after week; he saw that as evidence that I was not “cleaning house.” The Chief ordered that I euthanize any animal that had been in the shelter over two weeks.
Today, people get upset if your are thinking of euthanizing an animal that has been in the shelter months or years. Clearly things have changed. The decision to hold an animal depends of many things: your holding space, the chances of adoption for that animal, the mental and physical condition of the animal, the ability to provide diversions for the animal (long walks, socializing, etc.). Just as it is inhumane to kill an animal prematurely, it is just as inhumane to keep an animal caged its entire life.
I read recently about a Michigan man being bit by his pet cobra. I am reminded about the number of venomous snakes that we had to deal with in Milwaukee. I believe that people who own such animals have the deleterious gene for stupidity. We usually discovered the hoard of reptiles after the owner gets bitten. Then there is a frantic call for anti – venom that is in short supply. We need that anti-venom for zoo workers.
It is quite an experience for animal shelter workers when they are forced to house these reptiles, and that is not a good experience. You would be amazed as to the number of people who keep snakes and the number of venomous ones they choose to call pets.
The bottom line on this issue for me is that we are dealing with natural selection. Smart communities ban the ownership of such animals because some people are not born with the sense to know that venomous snakes are not pets.
Working in animal welfare is a very volatile profession. I found it much more stressful than working narcotics on the Mexican Border. At least on the border I could forget about work when I came to the end of my shift.
In animal welfare, you worry about the condition of animals coming into your facility, you worry about animals getting sick in the shelter, you worry about your staff using bad judgment, causing injury to an animal. While you are worrying about all of that, you then have to worry about your volunteers or animal advocate “friends” looking to find something wrong, so they can report it to the media.
You are in a constant state of worrying about whether you should self-treat an animal or run it to a veterinarian. I spent much of my time taking animals home, so that I could watch them overnight. Someone is always in the background wanting to second guess your medical decisions. No one ever second guessed a narcotics seizure.
You never come to realize the stress that you face running an animal shelter until you have had time to decompress from it. You cannot imagine the relief that I feel waking up every morning and not worrying about what happened the night before at the shelter.
There is an old saying, “There are three kinds of lies: “lies, damn lies and statistics.” Our profession is one that lives on statistics. When someone is looking at your shelter, they want to know the live release rate, even if they don’t know what that means. The people that we work for want to know how we compare to the shelter in the next town.
Municipalities became so concerned as to comparing statistics, that in Florida they created the Benchmarking Consortium so as to compare apples to apples when looking at the size and structure of organizations. I was tasked to provide benchmarking for the animal services area.
The easiest way to benchmark is to compare statistics to the population size of your community. It is one thing to say that you had 1,000 adoptions for the year compared to the 500 in the next town, but if your population is double that of the next town your statistics are the same. So in comparing intakes and outcomes by population, you begin to see a better picture as to how communities compares to another.
Benchmarking is a great way to present budgets for under budgeted organizations. City/County Managers are always looking to cut budgets and the animal shelter is on top for cuts. It is easier to show that your budget at $1.23 per capita is low to your neighboring city’s budget of $4.67.
When your local advocates are screaming at you for not doing more, you can use benchmarking to show that you are doing just as well (or better) as anyone else in your area or that you have budget constraints that hinder peak performance. Statistics can be your friend.
We live in times in which people complain that government is too big, but the problem is that people are becoming more and more helpless and ask government to do more for them. The pioneer spirit, that made our country so great, is being replaced by needy people.
People don’t want to spend the energy to find a new home for their pet, so they dump it at the “pound.” Fearing that people will think ill of them for surrendering their pet, they turn the animal in as a stray. So, instead of immediately trying to find a new home for the pet, the animal shelter is forced to spend the first few days looking for the animals owner.
It is not uncommon that we find that surrendering pet owners are not only callous, but also stupid. When surrendering a pet, the owner will forget that they had adopted the pet from the shelter and the pet had been microchipped prior to adoption.
Animal Control Officers will get calls from citizens asking for assistance to help the owner catch his/her own dog. The owner has developed such a poor relationship with their pet, that it is more likely that a stranger will be able to catch it.
One summer in Virginia, we had a problem of pet sitters surrendering the animals in their care. They would get tired of caring for the pet and surrender the animal to the shelter as a stray. They would not even bother to let us know that an owner will be returning from vacation to look for their pet.
But the biggest problem that we faced is people adopting a new pet and losing the pet before getting the pet inside their home. Even after all of the instructions that we provided, people would choose to drop the leash to let their new pet run to the front door on their own. Hey, guess what? After being caged for a long while, being off leash opened opportunities for new adventures for the pet.
The good news is that the few people who have access to money can pay others to help them be good pet owners. Doggie Day Cares exist to exercise and socialize and you can even hire people to come out and clean up the poop in your yard.