Junk Mail

In my last blog, I complained about the junk mail that I receive for donation requests, but the worst junk mail is from vendors.  I am constantly reminded of the mistake that I made in renting the small post office box.  I have discovered that postal employees are deviously clever putting mail into boxes that are over full.  On several occasions, I was tempted to push the mail back, in hopes of them rearranging it so that I could manipulate  it to come out the front.

This bad decision that I’ve made a few years ago, has caused me to called customer service departments and plead with them to stop sending catalogs.  These companies don’t seem to realize that there a people out there that only want to buy one item once and will never ever deal with them again.  But, they are so hopeful that they send you a catalog month after month.

I was so delighted that I got a warning on one of my catalogs that told me that unless I order soon from them, they will stop sending me their catalog.  That was two years ago.   I am ever hopefully that they will honor their threat.

I check my post office box once a week.  I would do it more often, if there were ever anything other than junk.  To be honest, I did get a Christmas Card from my sister.  For some reason, the word has gotten out that I turned old.  I somehow squandered my youth.  And, as a result, there are companies that think I need supplemental Medicare insurance, life insurance, hearing aids, and auto insurance.

In addition to the junk mail, I get spam telephone calls about my extended warranty on a 14 year old vehicle.  My favorite spam call is when they ask for someone (just make up any name) and after you tell them that person doesn’t live here, they say, “Well maybe you can help me.”  I’m not as quick as I used to be and before I can explain that I can’t help them, they are rattling off a script and you can’t get a word in edgewise.  All I can think about is losing my cellphone minutes.  So now, I say, “So? You are looking for Joe?  Hang on a minute, he’s in the bathroom.  I’ll go get him.”  And then hang up.  The best feature on my cellphone is the ability to block a caller.

I’ve spent a lifetime listening to people demanding unreasonable things.  The best part of retirement is deciding who you are going to talk to on the telephone.  My staff always turned the worst calls over to me to handle.  Let face it, I  don’t want their time taken up with unreasonable people, when they have customers who need their attention.  I would love to volunteer to help with the phones at my local shelter, but I am afraid that my governor quit working.  That’s why I blog.

Deciding who you should donate to.

I think I made the mistake this year in donating to the wrong organizations.  As a result, my mail box is kept full of donation requests.  I have a simple rule in which I would like to see my money go to an organization that will use my money wisely, but it seems that I found a few organizations that seem to use the donations to fuel more donations.  We call that the administrative overhead.  The trick to getting your money to go where you want it, it so find a charity that has a small administrative overhead.  If you have a question  about an organization that is asking you for your money, you might consult Charity Navigator to see their ratings.

In my world, I would hate to see my donations used for address labels , calendars, note cards, and journals; but, I have to admit that had I not received a bunch of Christmas cards in one donation request, My sister would not have gotten a card last year.  Regrettably, I did donate to that organization because I was feeling guiltyfor using their cards.  Otherwise, all I see  in those inserts as wasted junk; a waste of funds that could be used for a better cause.

When donating to animal welfare causes, you have to ask yourself if you want to donate to help the animals in your community or to a national organization.  Many people are confused when they see an ad on their local television of an animal in need, that the money, or a portion of it, will go to their local humane society. It does not.  National organizations provide grant funding to humane societies, but not necessarily the one in your community.

Although I like to help the animals in my community, I recognize  that without the help  of donations to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), PetSmart Charities, American Humane, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), I would have been in a world of hurt with dealing with one of the largest cat hoarding cases in the United States.   I and other animal shelter directors reach out to these national organizations when we get into a situation that is over our heads.  In cases like these, our local humane society can provide limited support.  The national organizations are the big guns.

Next year, I will not be donating again to those organizations that filled up by mailbox with the junk; that waste the donations that were given to them. I will give a little leeway to those who just gave a calendar… I can see the point in the calendar reminding me every month the good that they are doing.  I just don’t know what to do with all of them.  It is hard to give always calendars because each year people get more than they can every use.  But those organizations who glue nickels in their letters asking for donations have got to go.  And #### ####*, what the hell where you thinking with the address labels, planner, crossword puzzle book, Farmer’s Almanac, 3 calendars, and the pocket calendar?  Was there anything left to help the children?  Oddly enough, they are rated high with Charity Navigator; but, they missed the mark with me.  I would be okay with just a thank you note, but I would prefer that you save the postage for the kids.

* I decided to block out the organization. I didn’t want my criteria to impact another’s decision to donate to them.  Besides, if you did donate to them, you would be completing crossword puzzles now, instead of reading this blog.  You have to decide for yourself as to your own criteria you want to use when donating.  I believe organizations should use good judgement when using funds given by others, but I also know that some people respond to getting Christmas cards in their donation requests.   So maybe someone might be enjoying a Farmer’s Almanac with receipts for feeding 50 or 100 people.  As I have always said, “We are a funny species.”


Computer Data

I was in college when the world gave birth to home computers. I had been typing all of my college reports on a typewriter. The first computers were little more than word processors; exactly what I wanted. I desperately needed a home computer, but I would have to sneak it into the house without my wife knowing. Some where she read an article of women becoming computer widows. She made it clear that I would never have a computer while I was married to her.

I had a choice to make: leave the wife or hide the computer. When my wife wasn’t looking, I bought an Adam computer. The manufacturer claimed that with the high-speed cassette drives, the computer would boot up quickly. I would turn on the computer and start a pot of coffee. When the coffee was done peculating, the computer would be finished booting up a few moments later. The computer was built around a daisy wheel printer, so the end result gave the appearance of having been typed. The dot-matrix printers at the time produced horrible print results.

Shortly after, the internet was invented and we could access the worldwide web at a dazzling 300 bauds. You could feel yourself grow old while you waited for a photo to download to your computer. When we got computer modems that could reach 5.6k speeds when thought we were in heaven. Now, we complain if our download speed gets below 5mb/s. I got involved with AOL’s Pet Care Forum and managed a couple online forums. I was witnessing my wife’s predictions coming true. Fortunately, the AVMA took over the forums and many of us old timers lost interest and I was spending more time with the wife… I have children to prove it.

The first “real” home computers came with three hard drive size options: 10, 20, or 30 megabytes. We were told that no one could ever use up that much space on these drives in a lifetime. If you know of anyone who has loaded Microsoft Office with 32 floppy disks… these are the old timers. We’ve seen it all.

I stayed current with the evolution of computers; I wrote a couple articles for the National Animal Control Association’ newsletter to help introduce this new technology to our profession. I lectured on computer technology at a conference and gave a final exam in which the attendees would explain a computer sales ad so that they could understand the language used in the new era.

I found myself overseeing technical support for an animal shelter management software tool called PetWhere. I grew to have a great appreciation for technical support people everywhere; well almost everywhere…. Now, you talk to someone who claims that they are speaking English, but you cannot discern a word that they are saying.

I remember providing technical support to a guy that was have problems with our software program and, to be honest, I was losing my patience with him. I spent a half hour trying to teach him the difference between his left and right mouse buttons. I quickly realized that the problem the guy was having with his computer was himself. In a moment of frustration, I asked the guy to walk out to his lobby and see if he could find a twelve-year-old child to bring back to his computer. So, to all of the technical support people out there, I felt your pain. Some people should just not be allowed near a computer keyboard (or a mouse).

I used to love getting data disks from animal shelter with corrupted data: it was a great feeling to save the day. I remember an animal shelter in Texas backing up their data every night on tape, not realizing that those tapes would eventually wear out. They had been backing up their data for years using the same tapes, night after night. There is nothing worse that losing all of your data. Even now, I make backups of my backups. You can easily find an external 4 terabyte drive for under $100. If you have a large database you should save backing up your files after hours, so that you are not bogging down the system while your front counter folks are trying assist people.

Computers today make backing up your data easy. I suggest that you make two backups every night and take on offsite. When Hurricane Katrina hit, one shelter had to evacuate and left behind their computers that were four feet underwater. Can you imagine losing your data? It is always a good idea to have your data replicated to a laptop computer, so that if your network goes down due to power loss, you at least have one working computer that you can query. Don’t think you are off the hook because you have a power backup system in place for your servers, eventually those batteries will stop providing power after a few hours. And, many facilities don’t have their desktop computer with a backup power supply. So much of what we do is sitting on a server somewhere. You need to remember that your data is your weak link. When you lose your data, that is when you figure out how important it is to have a backup plan. Please don’t think the plan of having your data at an online location is the solution either; infrequently the internet goes down as well; but, it can provide one location for your backup data.

In preparing for a power loss, you will find it helpful that your kennel cards, the cards placed on every animal’s kennel describing the animal, should contain sufficient information about the animal that you can discern the status of the animal without the need to run to a computer. Information as to whether the animal is on its stray hold time, or available for adoption are important when all other data is inaccessible. It would not hurt that any medical treatment be posted as well. Many shelters will actually stick the vaccination stickers on the kennel cards to show that the animal had been vaccinated in the shelter. Keep in mind that during disasters and facing possible power loss for an extended period of time, your kennel card should be sufficiently “useful” for the task. Always be prepared with a paper-based system for incoming animals when computers are down.

Drugs used for Animal Welfare

In addition to the vaccinations that we administer, there are a number of drugs that we should have in our toolbox.  When I started in the animal welfare business, no training was provided in the use of drugs; but, I was fortunate that my first place of employment was in Pullman Washington,  I developed a good working relationship with the Washington State’s Veterinary College and I was trained by the head  anesthesiologist.   Now, training is required for those who use these drugs.

Sodium Pentobarbital is the drug that we least like to use, but it is the only preferred method to administer euthanasia. A number of years ago the supply of drug diminished and for several months the entire country had become no-kill. pharmaceuticals can be a fickle thing and that one incident taught us all to maintain, at least, a six month supply.

Years ago, I got into the habit of pre-tranquilizing my animals for euthanasia.  I wanted the procedure to go as smoothing for the animal, as well as myself.  In those days, my cohorts in the profession called me “drug happy.”  Now, it has become common practice to anesthetize an animal prior to euthanasia.

The same drugs are use both in the shelter and in the field to tranquilize an animal.  Much of the training that you find online is geared towards wildlife, but if you use the drugs that offer the a wide margin of safety, the same drugs are safe on domestic animals.  The rule of thumb is that you use double the clinical dosage in the field to overcome the adrenaline that an animal has in a field setting.

Generally animal control professionals create a cocktail of two or more drugs.  Much of my history of using chemicals, I choose a 5-1 mixture of ketamine and xylazine.  I would create the solution by opening a 10 ml bottle of 100 mg/ml of ketamine and injecting 2 ml of 100 mg/ml of xylazine.  The benefit of this cocktail was that it had a wide safety margin and a long shelf life.  One of the problems with this cocktail is that if you stored loaded tranquilizer darts, you would have to make sure that the cocktail did not crystalize in the needle.

The “bible” on this subject was the Chemical Immobilization in Urban Animal Control Work, by Leon Nielsen.  The book was published by the Wisconsin Humane Society and has not been in print for many, many years.  I found a copy on Amazon.  Also the proceedings for the North American in 1982 produced the Chemical Immobilization of North American Wildlife.  It is much easier to find this book, but if you going to be in the business of chemical capture, both books should be on your shelf.

At this point I should add that a large number of animal control officers prefer to add acepromazine.  Acepromazine is a mild sedative and you might as well just add water to dilute  your cocktail.  It is great to use alone to mildly sedate an animal, but reversal is quick when adrenaline kicks in.

I used a blow dart system that used a 3 ml dart.  I could load the three darts with 1 ml, 2 ml, and 3ml for small, medium, or large dogs.  If I got a very large animal, I could load the blow gun with multiple darts.

Today, animal organizations are moving to using Telazol as their drug of choice.  The advantage of Telazol is that it comes in powder form, so that you can increase its strength by adding less water, which is a good thing when your darts are limited to 3 ml.  The problem with Telazol is that it has a very short shelf life.  I have used the drug on multiple occasions and just prefer the cocktail that I grew up with.

There is one drug that I hesitate to mention: succinylcholine.  It is a paralytic drug and provides the quickest knock down, but they have a very narrow safety margin.  Overdosing an animal administers a horrible death.  I was attending a college lecture in which a wildlife researcher was telling my class about his project of shooting deer with a tranquilizer from a helicopter for his research project.  Being the smartass that I am, I asked him what drug was he using.  He said he was using succinylcholine.  I then asked him what his survival rate was.  He said that he had a fifty percent survival rate.  I then asked him how he felt about being involved in bastard research.  My entire class agreed with me that any research that kills half of its research subjects it not legitimate.

I had only one incident in my career in which I considered using succinylcholine; I got a call that a group of dogs were harassing a deer and that the deer’s hind legs were torn up badly.  Since I was not authorized to use a firearm, I needed a drug that would quickly knock the deer down, so that I could immediately euthanize it.

When considering using chemicals to capture an animal in the field, you need to consider the possibility of loosing a dart.  Each time I shot an animal with a tranquilizer dart, I was more concerned as to where the dart went than the animal.  Trust me, missing darts are hard to find and will give you many sleepless nights.  I was fortunate that I recovered every lost dart.  I had a good team working with me.  If I could not find the dart, I would bring in a pair of professional dart finders: my young son and daughter.  Kids are well suited for finding things on the ground, that is why you never, never, ever want to lose one of your darts.

Tranquilizers are very helpful when you need to handle an aggressive dog for examination or euthanasia.  In the kennel area, you can either use a blowgun or jab-stick.  A jab-stick is just a syringe on the end of a long pole.  You have to use care in dealing with a moving animal so that you don’t inadvertently bend the needle when sticking an animal.  You need to apply enough force to plunge the solution in the syringe into the animal.

Dealing with aggressive animals is one of the elements that makes an animal welfare officer’s job dangerous.  Chemical techniques can greatly lessen that danger.  It also lessens damage to the animal when being captured.

Animal Disposal

The best disposition at an animal shelter is through adoption, but not every outcome meets our hope. Due to age, illness, behavior, or overcrowding, we are too frequently faced with the need to dispose of an animal that has been brought to the shelter dead or has been euthanized. The four methods of disposal are landfill, rendering, selling them for research and cremation.  I have always said that the respect in which an animal shelter treats there dead animals is an indicator as to how they treat their animals while they were alive.

Burying the animals at the landfill is the cheapest option and least preferred.  Overtime, landfills have stopped accepting animal remains.  The process requires that someone is available upon delivery of the load of animals to dig a hole and cover it up immediately.  But, beyond the additional work, there is a general feeling among community members that pets should not be treated like garbage.

The ability to use rendering plants and local research companies to “repurpose” the animals are becoming rarer and rarer.  But, these are to two options that provide for revenue when selling off your dead animals.  You’ll have to do a little research to see if these options are available and if your community is open to the idea.

One option that should be mentioned is selling your live animals for research.  When I was director of the a Utah animal shelter, the State passed a law requiring animal shelters to make their animals available for research I was opposed to this Pound Seizure principle.  I spend much of my time finding work-a-rounds to prevent the animals in my care to become research subjects.  It is an issue that you may one day face.  No all research on live animals is bad, but who wants to take the chance?

Cremation is the most preferred method of disposal, but it is costly due to the upfront cost of equipment and the ongoing cost of fuel.  In an effort to reduce costs, some “efficient” crematoriums are constructed with the secondary burner below the primary burner, so the heat from one adds to the heat to the other.

Very quickly, crematoriums have two chambers: the primary chamber is where the animals are placed and a secondary chamber to burn the smoke and debris caused during the primary bury; so in other words, you are burning the fumes.  The primary chamber is usually lined with fire brick called a green coat and infrequently needs to be replaced.  In most models, the secondary chamber is in the smoke stack.

There are two problems with the new energy efficient crematoriums:  your staff will have to lift the animals up into the primary chamber that may cause strain when dealing with large animals.  In these models, the secondary chamber is a bricked chamber area under the primary (thus the need to have to lift animals up to the primary chamber).  To reach the secondary chamber, a person has to climb into the primary chamber to access the area for brick replacement underneath.  I am amazed that anyone can perform that task.  Also, the primary chamber is only large enough for a dozen medium sized animals.

The most convenient crematoriums are the walk in units.   Many are large enough for 50 to 100 animals.  We had a couple oddball crematoriums in Wisconsin that only handed 3 to five animals.  Given the size of those units, two were used.  Since one or the other was always down for maintenance, it was nice to have the other as a backup unit.   I suspect that these units had poor secondary burners, because it was always obvious when the units were in use.  Given the smoke and neighborhood complaints,  I suspect these units barely met EPA requirements.  This is something to think about when building a shelter in a residential neighborhood and decide to cremate.  We frequently had an inspector parked outside our shelter watching for visible emissions.  Emissions or not, we were not a very good neighbor; more money should have gone in to the purchase of better units.

A word to the wise.  If you have a crematorium, you might be approached by your local law enforcement and asked to burn a narcotics seizure.  Unless you are eager to pay the cost of constantly green coating your unit, I would turn them down.  Marijuana burns at a much high temperature that biomatter.  There are special units for burning drugs.  If you want to be the good guy, only burn a few kilos at a time with the animals.

If you have a crematorium, you will be asked to perform private cremations.  Obviously, it is too expensive to fire up the crematorium for just one animal.  Usually a private cremation is set aside of the main body of animals and scooped up separately.  Many shelters will use large steel bowls to confine the ashes.  Once the cremation is complete, you either sift out the larger pieces of bone or you put the ashes in a blender so that the ashes look esthetically like “ashes.”  Many shelters have nice bags or boxes they use to return the ashes to the owner.

The biggest problem associated with crematoriums is that the companies that make these units seem to only stay in business a few years.  As you can expect, as the units get older they require more maintenance; but it might become increasingly difficult to find someone to repair them.  It is surprising how many things can go wrong.  I knew a guy that flew around the country from unit to unit repairing crematoriums  after the company went out of business.  He was the last remaining expert.  That was ten years ago.

In an ideal world, I would outsource the cremations, so as to avoid all of the problems that are associated with running your own crematorium.  However, if your volume is too high, even an outside vender may refuse.  This is one aspect that as communities increase their live placements, the need for costly crematoriums become less needed.

As we began expanding our animal placement efforts in Virginia, we saw the added benefit in cost savings to our budget in firing up the crematorium less.

What should a paycheck buy?

I have always believed that loyalty if the first thing that I should offer as the result of receiving a paycheck.  The security of a steady paycheck should offer plenty of loyalty to those who signed that check.  Many of our new employees do not agree.

Over the years, I have seen an increasing decline in employee loyalty.   Many new employees feel entitled to have a job and have associated employment behaviors to demonstrate that entitlement.  Instead of acting as a team, new employees seem to demand special treatment.  In the last several years, I’ve seen an increase in employees undermining their organization; in small ways, like calling in sick on Fridays or Mondays to extend their weekends; or, in large ways of undermining their supervisors.  It is unfortunate that our hiring processes cannot better identify these people.  A good work ethic seems to have died with the new workforce.

From a political perspective, it is easier to understand how our youth lean towards socialism; in their employment practices, we see them coming to work expecting a paycheck after providing little work.  We are seeing a whole group of people expecting something for nothing.  Fortunately, having managers that are sufficiently diligent in hiring a few good workers to help keep the organization from falling apart; I think, we can partly see how an employee’s love for animals encourages some employees to go the extra mile, if only for the animals.

.It isn’t all doom and gloom, there are wonderful workers out there, it is just becoming harder and harder to find them.


Pet Vaccinations

One of the interesting problems that we encounter is the anti-vaccination folks.  We have laws and policies that require that animals be vaccinated for rabies, but the owner refuses to vaccinate their pet.  It becomes problematic when the animal is impounded for running at large and ordinances demand that the animal is licensed at the time the animal is reclaimed; of course, pet licensing requires that the animal is vaccinated for rabies.

Many shelters have vaccination protocols that provide for animals to be given combo vaccinations upon their intake.  You can imagine the hysterical pet owners when they are told that their pet was vaccinated without their approval and worse, that they cannot reclaim their pet unless it is further vaccinated for the license.

Many ordinances allow for waiving the rabies vaccination if a veterinarian writes a note that the animal’s health would be jeopardized if vaccinated, but their is no provision for people who are on the anti- vaccination bandwagon.

I have found that their are several ways to deal with these owners: allow the owner sufficient time to take you to court to have the courts overrule the ordinance; or, let the stray hold time run out and the animal becomes your animal to deal with; or, vaccinate the animal without the owner’s knowledge; or, return the animal to the owner unvaccinated and issue a citation for an unvaccinated pet and ask for a mandatory hearing.

Allowing the owner to take the lead to take you to court will probably end up with a lengthy stay of the animal in an already crowded animal shelter.  Pet owners will tend to be slow in dealing with the courts and the case will usually end up with such large boarding fees that the owner eventually abandons the pet.

Allowing the stray hold time run out is a good option, as long as the pet owner understands that time is of the essence.   Be prepared to give an extension of the holding period; I would encourage requiring that the owner prepay boarding fees when extensions are sought.

I always like to be open and honest with a pet owner and would not ordinarily do anything to an owner’s pet without their approval.  But, we live in a world of mentally unhealthy people who are not able to make sound decisions, so I leave it as an option.

Issuing the citation to the pet’s owner is a good solution, providing that your court process allows for mandatory hearings.  The order to vaccinate a pet is better heard if presented by a judge.  The pet owner would have to face jail time if he or she decided to violate a court order.

Given the number of animals that get sick in our shelters due to the lack of vaccinations by their owners, you would think that vaccinations would be provided as part of being a responsible pet owner.  But, you have to remember that we have jobs in this field because many people do not come by being responsible freely.

Working Dogs

I was watching a news program the other day and came to realize that the general public knows very little about working dogs.  It is amazing the number of times that someone will asked if you get an animal hooked on drugs to become a narcotics sniffing dog.  The answer is hell no, that would be really, really stupid.  So, here is the 411 on working dogs.  For the record, I trained military working dogs in the Air Force utilizing sentry dogs, patrol dogs and narcotics dogs.  I later trained and utilized dogs on the Mexican Border looking for narcotics for the Treasury Department.  My dog and I had racked up seizures amounting to two tons of marihuana.

Okay, so back to the dogs; there are basically three types of dogs, patrol dogs, narcotics dogs and bomb dogs.

Patrol dogs are people finders.  They use their sight to detect movement,  their hearing to target noise, and they use smell to detect a person upwind or who have left behind a trail-scent on a path of travel.  These dog’s primary task is to protect their handlers.  In the old days dog were not trained to release from a bite; they would keep biting the suspect until the dog’s handler force the dog to stop.  Let me tell you, I had one dog named Sampson that didn’t like me stopping him from biting.  Sampson taught me to be very quick so that I didn’t find my own hands in this mouth.  Sampson was a sentry dog.  Most dogs today are trained to release on command.  These dogs are called patrol dogs.  The advantage of controlling the dogs by voice prevented two dogs going after the same suspect and then getting into a dog fight over the suspect.  Now, one dog can be called off of the suspect and can be directed to a secondary target or recalled.  Using voice command was a critical aspect of utilizing these dogs.  We went through a phase that I call the “stupid phase” in which police departments would hire trained dogs from Germany.  Yep, you guess it, the dogs were trained in German.  When you are in a tense situation, the first thing you lose is your command of the German language.  Besides, dogs are smart enough to learn English.  Or, just keep your mouth shut and the dog will do what the dog does.

I’ve ALWAYS believed that handlers should train their own dogs.  In the training process the handler and dog form a bond and the handler begins to understand the dog’s world.  Anytime I went to search a building, I would be constantly working the air currents; how is the air moving through the building?  To find drugs or a suspect, it was important to think like a dog and to use your environment to the dog’s best ability.

Narcotics dogs are trained to be aggressive towards narcotics and sees it as a game.  Once the drug is found, the handler throws a toy down to the dog and a game of tug-of war would ensue.  Many years ago the US Customs folks attempted to use small dogs off leash to clear ventilation systems of ships; but, the presence of vertical shafts and keeping the dog from biting into the hidden drugs proved that dog teams must be connected by a leash.  Because the dogs are aggressive towards the drugs, dog handlers would carry three vials of Narcan so as to administer to the dog and/or the handler in the event that the handler had not be watching close enough to stop the dog from biting into the kilo of cocaine and the drug became airborne.  We were directed to get the dog to a veterinarian and then seek treatment for ourselves (thus the third vial).  Fortunately, I never heard of anyone needing to administer the narcotics antidote.

Is it possible to mask the scent of marihuana?  Yes and no, given sufficient time a sufficient number of marihuana particles will rise to the level of detection.  You could experiment and spend the a few years in jail,  or you could just move to a State that has legalized it.  One of the common ways that people would attempt to smuggle marihuana into the United States was putting the drugs inside a spare tire.  But, these damn fools could never sufficiently clean off the smell of marijuana from the exterior of the tire before throwing it into the trunk of the car.  Could the smell escape from the interior of the tire, who know?  All I know is that we were constantly tearing tires apart on the Border.

In most cases, the drivers of the vehicles were just as effective as our dogs in telling us that their cars were loaded.  If a car smelled usually strong of vanilla or baby powder, it was probably loaded.  The Mexican Border gets pretty hot in the summers, cars waiting to enter the Border would start to get hot and the marijuana would begin to bake in the car.  We found that most drug smugglers were not too bright.

Bomb dogs are trained to sit when they smell an explosive substance.  This is one of the reasons that dogs are not trained to search for both narcotics and bombs.  It would become rather annoying to have to call the bomb squad every time your dog alerted on a marihuana joint.  When the dog sits, then, like the narcotics dogs, it becomes playtime.

Gainesville Florida

A few days ago, I wrote about an incident dealing with a pedophile employee.  Given our profession of dealing with children, we need to keep a constant vigilence.

While working in Gainesville Florida one of my volunteers began sending  scathing letters to the City Council about an incident involving the adoption of a puppy.  You know the type of incident in which all of your employees and volunteers begin fighting over a new puppy that has come in the shelter.  Many shelters opt to deny first adoption rights to staff and volunteers for such scenes that they make.  Anyway, the guy thought that he could force the adoption if he took his case to the City Council.  The guy wasn’t smart enough to realize that we were a county operation and he should have been sending his letters to the County Commission.

The guy was saying such horrible things about me that I decided to check him out.  It didn’t take long for me to discover that the guy was on the State’s sexual preditor website.  I found it funny that given such a designation, that I would want to keep a very low profile.  It is amazing as to how you can destroy a person’s credibility by mentioning that fact.

He turned his energy towards creating a website.  He did an effective job of superimposing my image into a natzy uniform.  Clearly he had spent a lot of time on the website.  Maybe it was therapy for him.  I could accept the anger that he had directed at me, but I got upset over him going after my staff.  I contacted the company that was providing him the free web-space and asked them how much they vetted the folks using their site.  I explained that his triage was unfairly directed to my staff.  My mind is a little fuzzy at this point, it may have slipped out that they may not want to be known as having a sex offender using their website.  The website was shutdown within days.

I’m not a vindictive person and I have often wondered if I was righteous in approaching the volunteer that he started dating.  She was young and had a couple of young children; I have a strong protective streak.  Clearly, he had not shared that part of his life with her.  As with most sex offenders, she would have seen the large sign in his front yard.  She directed her anger at me, but I think that she was embarrassed that she had exposed her children to this guy without properly vetting him.

In our business we are not just dealing with animals, we are dealing with people.  Animal people are very caring and that makes them vulnerable in today’s world.  You have to ask yourself as to how you would handle the situation; just as I have to keep asking myself if I did the right thing.

To give you a clearer picture of the world that we live in, Google the sex offender registry of your city.  You will be amazed as to the seriousness of our plight to protect our community’s children.  Whatever the reason that earns a person’s profile on the registry, it is clear that they’ll be on that list for life.  That speaks to the concern of our judicial system to keep us safe.

But, the highlight of the Gainesville experience was a long running grant that had been awarded to the animal rescues in our community from Maddie’s Fund.  For the most part, Maddie’s Fund had given up on funding community projects because animal groups just can’t seem to work together.  They were experiencing failure after failure because animal welfare groups could not comply with the first rule of the grant: to play well together.

In Gainesville, the rescue community stepped over our large egos and joined together to form a coalition to save as many animals as possible.  Due to our success, Maddie’s Fund extended our grand several times.  We became a poster project that they could wave as a success, when they were facing so many failures with working with animal shelters.

Due to their unsuccessful experience working with animal shelters, Maddie’s Fund went off in wild directions providing grants that less impacted on community populations.  As a profession, we fail them and our communities.

Gainesville was one of the few communities that could enjoy the presence of a local veterinary college.  Veterinary colleges became a solid source of grant funding when Maddie’s fund gave up hope working with animal shelters.  One of the interesting thing about college projects, there is always a bias toward a specific area of interest; for the University of Florida, the interest was in cats.  If you every ask for a shelter assessment from a national organization or a college, look for the bias of their investigators.  Understanding their bias will help you make better sense of their assessment.

The University had developed a Shelter Medicine tract, thanks to Maddie’s Fund and we had weekly visits by veterinary students walking the halls of our shelter.  As with all of our rescue partners, we had a good relationship with the University.

Gainesville also set the stage for one of the largest hoarding cases in the United States in which we were force to seize nearly 700 cats from a local sanctuary.  As with most hoarding cases, it was a good idea that ended horribly bad.  As with all hoarding cases, the caretakes couldn’t turn off the “off button” on animal intakes.  The Humane Society of the United States was our key partner, but we were assisted by the ASPCA with veterinarians and American Humane with volunteers.  One of the key problems that we faced in handing this case, we discovered that working with a single veterinarian allows the veterinarian to make tough decisions; when you add one or two more, the committee approach to veterinary care becomes extremely expensive.  Fortunately the Humane Society of the United States help defray those costs.

We spend a lot of time matching up feral cats that had been brought into the sanctuary when a nearby jurisdiction thought they had found a solution to their feral cat problem by dumping the animals into another community.  In the animal welfare business, we are good at dumping our problems in other communities; especially when it come to dangerous dogs.  How many times have you heard a judge using old west justice by ordering an animal to get out of town?  No thought given to the new town that just gained a dangerous problem.

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.