The Curse that Comes with Working in the Animal Welfare Profession

If you ever cross paths with a person in the animal welfare profession and you ask them what they do, you might face a rather long pause before they answer you.  The pause gives them time to decide if they are going to tell you their real profession or if they are going to make one up.

For some reason, announcing that you work with animals causes people to think that they want to hear about all of the stories associated with their pet.  People in our profession drown in pet stories.  Pet owners are more likely to tell you about their pets than to tell you about their children… probably because the pet is better trained.

It isn’t that we don’t want to hear about your pet, but after working day in and day out with pets, we already know all about pets and what your pet does is really no different that what any other pet does.  So the next time you come face to face with an animal shelter worker, instead of telling them about your pet, tell them about your last fishing trip… it will be greatly appreciated.

So you want to Surrender your Pet

People have all kinds of reasons for surrendering their pets to their local animal shelter.  We have heard them all, well most of them anyway and they are usually bad reasons that come down to the pet either taking too much of your time or costing you too much money.  If you feel guilty about giving up your pet, you should.

Many animal shelters will try to talk you out of your decision, not because they think you can become a better pet owner, but because they are over crowded and may have to kill another pet to make room for your pet.  I want you to feel guilty as hell, so that you will do the right thing.  When pet owners come to the decision to give up their pet, they usually don’t back down from that decision.  An animal shelter will attempt to talk you out of your decision and they think they made a breakthrough when you walk away with your pet.  But, most of you will just drive to another shelter and try different answers when undergoing the next interrogation.

If you are going to give up your pet, then give your pet a fighting chance at getting adopted.  Many pets do not make it to adoption because their previous owners were too negligent to provide basic veterinary care.  Well in advance of surrendering your pet (usually 30 to 45 days) have your pet examined by your veterinarian and have the pet given all of the regular vaccinations.  Explain to your veterinarian that the dog may be in a long term kennel environment.  Giving your dog the vaccinations and giving the vaccines sufficient time to become effect in the dog will increase the dog’s chances of staying healthy in the kennel.  The only thing that might diminish the dog’s chances is that if the dog is a pitbull breed or a history of aggression.  Having your pet first sterilized (spayed or neutered) will earn good points with the animal shelter.

Pitbull are not necessarily a bad breed, it is just that the breed makes up half of the dogs in any animal shelter and many, if not most, apartment managers restrict the breed.  Many home insurance policies exempt pitbulls as well.  Due to the problems associated with the breed, an owner of a pitbull is a fool to not have the animal serialized.   There are FAR TOO MANY pitbulls and they are difficult for animal shelters to find new homes.

Finally, to increase the chances of your pet getting adopted, offer to pay the adoption fees for the new owner.  This little financial encouragement might be the driving factor of a person picking your dog over another.  Offer to share puppy photos, so the new owner knows that the dog had a real family and was not just picked up as a stray.

If you decide that the time is right for another pet… make sure that it is the right thing to do and that you intend to keep the animal the rest of its life.


Climate for Dogs

I have worked with a bunch of animal control officers who believe that dogs like to live at the same temperatures as their owners. To a small degree they are correct, but they are mostly wrong.

Northern breed dogs like colder temperatures.  My dog’s favorite temperature range is just above freezing.  Cold weather finally makes use of the dog’s fur and allows them to finally cool down from the summer months.

Some dogs, like Chihuahuas seem to never find temperatures warm enough for them.  Every dog is different and it is important as a responsible pet owner to research the temperature range that is best suited for your breed.  Veterinarians are a handy resource.

Just because you own a northern breed dog, doesn’t mean that the dog should be kept out all winter.  Dogs need socialization just as much as they enjoy the cold weather.  A rule of thumb is that if your dog’s water freezes, then it is cold enough for the dog to be indoors, not because it is too cold, but that the dog needs a constant supply of fresh water.  In the winter months, animal control officers prosecute the majority of animal neglect cases due to the owner failing to fresh (unfrozen) water.

Pet ownership is all about people using commonsense.  People make life long careers in animal welfare because commonsense is not abundant in our communities.

Pet ID Tags

It has always amazed me at the lack of identification that is found on pets running loose.  Pet owners go out of their way to make it impossible for animal shelter workers to locate them.  Although most jurisdictions require that pets (mostly dogs) wear a local pet license, few owners actually place the license on their pet.

In an effort to keep pets out of local shelters, many shelters provide free identification tags so as to return an animal back to its owner.  Even with free tags, it is amazing the number of pets that repeatedly return to the shelter without identification.  Fortunately, shelters have staff with good memories and can recognize a repeat customer.  But given the volume of pets that pass through the doors of an animal shelter, it is unreasonable for owners to expect staff to remember their pets… that is why ID tags are so important.

Cats are a different story.  Most shelters only return 11 or 12% of the cats coming into the shelter to their owners.  Cat owners just don’t go looking for their lost cats.  Like dog owners, they choose to not place identification on their pets.  But unlike dog owners, cat owners generally do not begin the search of their lost pet until way after the hold time expires at the animal shelter, so the cat is either adopted or euthanized by the time the cat owner begins the search.

Microchips are a partial solution, but cats that have been trapped by a neighbor are so freaked out inside the trap that the cat appears feral.  Most shelter personnel will only make a cursory scan so as to prevent the loss of their fingers.  It may be several days before the cat calms down enough to attempt another scan for a microchip.

Many shelters have only a 72 hour holding period for stray pets.  That isn’t much time to figure out that your pet is lost, if you are not paying attention.  This short timeframe is a perfect reason to keep visible identification on your pet at all times.

Every city and county that I have ever worked has the cleanest pets in the world.  The excuse for a pet not wearing a collar or tags is that “I just gave him (her) a bath.”  That excuse is getting old.  Very old.  And to be honest, judging by the mud on your pet, we don’t believe you anyway.

Race to No Kill

The live release rate has become the number one statistic that governmental elected staff use to evaluate the performance of their animal shelter.  These folks are deaf to the obstacles that prevent a 90% live release rate, like their citizens breeding their pets like crazy.

One path to No Kill is to get your elected folks so worked up about saving all of the animals that you get them to make a declaration of No Kill.  That commitment now opens all of the doors to fund a solution.  Austin Texas is a good example as to declaring its intent and then being forced to build a new shelter and add new personnel to maintain their No Kill status.  They even experienced the side effect of citizens from neighboring cities and counties bringing their pets to Austin.  After all, if your want to feel good about abandoning your pet, take the pet to a no kill facility.

Most communities cannot afford to keep throwing money at their animal shelter to boast of being No Kill, so an alternate solution is to begin training your citizens to become responsible pet owners: to encourage pet licensing and spaying and neutering.

Pet laws should be geared to impacting the owners who allow their fertile pets from running at large.  Some shelters offer programs that reduce the reclaim rate of bailing your pet out of the shelter if the owner allows the pet to be sterilized.  Those shelters frequently demand that owners who continuously allow their pets to run loose without identification must microchip their pets.  The purpose of these laws are to force bad pet owners into taking responsible measures for their pets.

Where Credit is Due

Every animal shelter has a volunteer who works from the comfort of his/her home computer using social media to move animals.  This person develops a gift of embellishment that portrays the animal in such light that anyone familiar with the animals would not recognize it as the same animal.

Not only do these folks misrepresent the animal, they want credit for all of the animals that have been placed as recognition of their salesmanship.  To them, it doesn’t matter that there is a high return rate, their job is to push animals out of the shelter.  Their placement rate is more important than finding a good permanent home for animals.

It is important for an animal shelter to recognize that having someone like this representing your organization is a detriment and although their enthusiasm is contagious, they place you at risk.  More and more animal shelters are being sued because volunteers or staff have misrepresented an animal to a prospective adopter.


I was working in a facility in Florida that evolved very fast.  We had become a shelter with a high release rate as the result of a Maddie’s Fund grant.  We were all feeling great.  I felt that I wanted to experience that again.

I accepted a position with a low live release rate and rolled up my sleeves to begin the task of directing the evolution of the shelter.  I was unprepared for the anchor.  An anchor keeps a ship from moving.  Our anchor held a supervisory position within the organization and had been with the organization long before the organization was founded.

Nothing I could do could persuade our anchor from opposing change.  The anchor didn’t want volunteers in the shelter or rescue groups.  Although our board of directors wanted to see the organization move forward, they wanted this employee to be happy.  It was clear that I had made a mistake in taking this job.

I saw all of the clues in letters being written about this individual in the media, but maybe my ego got the best of me.  When taking on an organization, it is critical that you research the organization to make sure that the organization is ready to evolve, to move on.  I discovered that even one individual could prevent the organization from moving forward.

Timing is everything.  This organization would have to remain stagnant until such time as this person retires.  Do not take on an organization that is not ready for you.

Good Ole Boys

I never ran into a “good-ole-boy” group until I worked in northern Florida.  I thought the world of the mayor, but his office wanted the mayor’s friends to be treated differently that anyone else.  I am a firm believer that every citizen should be treated the same, but you might be hired by a community (usually in the south) that subscribes to a system of good-ole-boys.

When taking a job, it is important for you to preplan as to how you will deal with situations in which the mayor’s office will call you and ask that you treat an individual differently than what your ethics dictates.

The program became so severe in this city, that they created an Ethics Office to help head off complaints.  I think when the budget got tight, the Ethics Office was first to disappear because it became an inconvenience for the mayor. As I see it, ethics is a lot like integrity, you either got it or you don’t and if you need to create an office to keep you straight, then your value system is all screwed up.

When dealing with ethics issues from those that hire you, you become very good and distinguishing between the letter of the law and the intent of the law.  Although you can be bullied into acting against your belief system, you can find ways to that those decisions uncomfortable for those who direct your activities.

For some mayors, it is hard for them to believe that some of us answer to a higher calling.

Hurricane Preparation

It is the day after the hurricane made landfall and the media is reporting that  hurricane victims are complaining that FEMA has failed to knock on their doors with food and water.  Two events are at play: the first is that the people had the opportunity to evacuate and failed to do so and second, they choose to shelter-in-place without preparation.

Why would a person weather out a storm and not be prepared?  Have we become so foolish to believe that no matter what life mistakes that we make, someone will be there to fix them for us.  And if FEMA doesn’t show up to fix our mistakes, we immediately run to the media.

No matter how prepared FEMA is for a storm, if you are going to sit out a storm, you need to be prepared to care for yourself (and your pets) for a week.  It is the commonsense portion of your disaster plan… you know, the plan that you should have made before the storm…. before running to the media.

We have become a society of victims.  We are too shortsighted to recognize that we become victims of our own foolishness.

Dog Bites

The leading cause of dog bites are dog owners.  Most dog owners are oblivious to the fact that their dog has the potential to bite and callous of the conditions that might lead up to their pet biting.  For that reason, one of the most common phrases that a dog bite victim hears prior to being bitten is the voice of the dog’s owner yelling, “Don’t worry, he won’t bite.”

This is one of the greatest threats to our community in which dog owners fail to step up and accept responsibility for the dog bite potential that their pet presents.  Failing to accept that responsibility places people at risk.