In Search of the Illusive Responsible Pet Owner

One of the lamest campaigns that I ever conducted was “ACOs looking for RPOs.”  I grew weary of being in a profession in which I patrolled the streets for law breakers.  I decided to turn things around and began a short-lived campaign to look for responsible pet owners.

My first mistake was putting signage on my vehicle:  you cannot expect people to understand an acronym unless it is known to them.  Most people quickly figured out what an ACO is, but I had them scratching their heads with RPO.  As is human nature, they took the acronym to a bad place.

My second mistake was actually thinking that I could easily find RPOs.  Maybe my criteria was too steep.  I wanted to do it big, so I had our Mayor to sign a bunch of declarations and had toys, treats, and bags of dog food.  I hit the road looking for people walking their currently licensed dog on leash.

The leash part was easy, anytime a dog owner saw the animal control truck driving towards them, they instinctually put the leash on their dog.  The dog license was another matter.  People did not appear geared to  license their dogs.  Years later, I found myself writing animal control ordinances that required a dog to be microchipped after having been impounded on numerous occasions to be found without identification.

Most communities have laws that require that a dog (and sometimes cats)  to not be released from the shelter without a current license.  For shelters that have a veterinarian on staff to  give rabies vaccinations, this is an easy task.  For shelters without veterinarians, the task isn’t so easy to fulfill.

I had an incident in which the dog owner was so obsentant, after multiple times of failing to take his dog to his veterinarian for a rabies vaccination that I required that he make his veterinarian make a house call at the animal shelter to vaccinate the dog prior to reclaiming his dog; otherwise, he would never had complied.

In the end, my month of searching for an RPO resulted in me finding one person walking their dog on leash with the dog wearing a current dog license.  The dog license seems like such a small thing until an animal control officer drives up to a scene of an injured dog that was hit by a car.  The animal control officer has to decide if the  life of the dog can be saved.  Due to budget limitations, most animal control departments do not have the funds to treat every critically injured animals without any known indication of ownership.  When the dog is wearing current identification, the animal control officer is relieved of that decision.  The dog will be transported to an emergency veterinary clinic and kept stable until the owner can be contacted.  The license can be the difference between life and death for their animal, and yet it is only found on five percent of the lost dogs entering animal shelters.

Maintaining Shelter Standards

When I began in the animal welfare profession euthanasia rates were over 90 percent.  35 years later, we are experiencing placement rates at 90 percent.  We have come a long way and there are plenty of people wanting to claim credit for our success.  Many animal shelters have euthanasia rates under 5 percent.

Ten years ago, Delaware created a law that prohibited a shelter from having any empty kennels; I was opposed to Delaware’s law, it created a crisis every time that an Animal Control Officer brought in a stray animal, because there were no empty cages.  Experience teaches every shelter manager to know the number of cages that must be empty to accommodate intakes.  In addition to the number of animals that are delivered by officers, the public is at your front door delivering animals.  No one is going to ask a person to hold on to the animal until someone can go back and “make space.”

Colorado decided to go further, animal shelters cannot euthanize, even if they lack cage space.  Since no  kill has become a moot issue in our shelters as the reach or exceed 90 percent placement rates, politicians are eager to move shelters to the next evolution of animal sheltering:  for the shelter to become a “socially conscious shelter.”   A shelter that does not concern itself with the practical side of animal sheltering but look only to the needs of the animals.  On the surface, this sounds like a great idea.  A socially conscious shelter doesn’t have to worry about cage space.  Whether or not there is cage space, you find a spot for the animal.  And then, try to provide care.

The concept of “just one more animal,” is the premise that starts every animal hoarding situation.  I had to oversee a seizure of 700 cats in which the organization started with just a few and just kept accept “just one more” cat.

The politicians like to get their faces in the media showing their support for saving the animals.  When they are done, they leave one more unfunded mandate and leave the local jurisdictions responsible for administering the mess that they have created. Every community is difference; they allocate different budgets and enjoy different mores.  Due to the uniqueness of communities, they should be allowed to enact their own laws.

What role will the State of Colorado have when they have to deal with shutting down rural animal shelters for either failing to comply with the new law or that they have become hoarders and have insufficient funds and staffing to care for the newfound burden placed on them by the State.

Animal Shelters have a responsibility to care for the animals that come to them.  Forcing them to start hoarding animals is going to diminish the general care that they can provide.  Under the right circumstances, this new law will have unintended inhumane consequences as animal shelters are force to hold  animals beyond their capacity of space and staffing.

The Blog of Shame

The mention of skunk oil in the last blog caused me to have a twinge of shame.  Early in my career I received a call to remove a skunk from a leg hold trap.  The caller was using a leg hold trap to catch his neighbor’s cats.  He caught a skunk instead.

Most cities or counties have animal control ordinance that prohibit leg hold traps.  It is pretty callous to put such a trap where children and pets can be harmed; to be honest, I don’t think much of them being used in the wild either.  I only have mixed feeling about them with rodents.  When I got the call, I was pretty angry.  I was so full of self righteousness  that I wanted to teach this person a lesson.

I discovered that I could get the skunk to spray towards me six times.  For this, I admit my shame.  For months, maybe six or eight, I would drive through that neighborhood and smell the results of my actions.  Although I was new in my career and didn’t know what I was doing, a half of squirt would have  been more than effective in sending my message.  Of course the caller just assumed that the smell was associate with the act of removing a skunk from a leg hold trap… which, it was.  He was just happy that he had someone else to call to clean up his mess.

I fear that the rest of the neighbors were collateral damage.  They never came to know that their cats were being trapped, but they had to suffer the consequences of my actions.  Even releasing the skunk into the wild gave me no comfort.  I carry that shame.  However, I was never called to that house again.

I guess it would be appropriate for me to now have a tutorial as to how to remove a skunk from a leg hold trap.  But, in life, some things are best learned by doing.  Just one word of advice, don’t step in any area in which the skunk sprays.

The Evolution of Riot Control. When are we going to learn?

This is an odd topic to be found on this blog, but images of the “peaceful protects” that I’ve seen on the nightly news appear similar to watching a dog fight.   As an old cop, I am puzzled as to the current state of police officer tactics in performing crowd control.

I entered the field of law enforcement as a military cop in the early 70s. Crowd (riot) control was administered by pushing crowds using psychology; military personnel put their bayonette on their M-16s and used a technique of “stomp and drag” to maneuver the crowd. Stomp and drag was how the military personnel moved, by stomping their left foot forward and dragging their right foot up to their left foot. The cadence was very effect, but hard on the sole of your right boot. Even sheaving the bayonette, it was an impressive sight.

The next iteration was using shield and batons to physically push crowds where you want them. This is the technique that I think police are attempting to use ineffectively because they are missing the most important element of using water cannons. Modern day looters like to set fires, fire trucks are the perfect solution to today’s crowd control. Water cannons (fire hoses) can be used to push rioters back, while putting out the fires that the looters started. I am sure that politics play into the role, or lack of role, of bringing fire trucks in at the start of riot, but wait until the neighborhood is in flames. I have to say that water cannons were the most effective crowd control device of all times. As a K-9 officer, we and our dogs were pale in the face of the effective use of those cannons. Although, I have seen the effect of turning loose a dog to get the attention of a crowd.

As best as I can tell, the current technique in crowd control is what I would refer to as a “snowball fight.” A snowball fight is where one side lobs over a bunch of “snowballs” and then the other side lobs some back. In the old days, kids would cheat by putting a rock inside a snowball; now  people put gasoline inside bottles. The side with the most snowballs won.

A rule that seems to be forgotten is in the old days, if you showed up at a snowball fight, you were a participant. Today, we have a new term of “innocent bystander.” So, a person can decide at will if they are an active participant or step back from the action and call themselves an innocent bystander. The media seems to think that if they are in the midst of a snowball fight, they are protected. If you stand on one side, you might get tear gassed or hit with a rubber bullet; but, if you stand on the other side, you get hit with gasoline, fireworks and blinded by lasers. Protesters are cleverly disguising themselves as media personnel in hopes of using that as camouflage to get closer to the police lines.

So, politicians have stepped up to determine the rules of engagement, limiting the types of snowballs that the police can use. So you take away all of law enforcement’s snowballs and you are left with a lopsided playing field. The politicians have not even asked that the protesters put down their maultoff cocktails because they don’t want to recognize that the protests have become violent.  As some politicians call it, “A summer of love.”

After we have learned our lesson from the idiot idea to defund our police, I hope that when we restore the police to their rightful place and that we give them the tools to property do their jobs. I suspect that companies that sell riot control vehicles are going to make a lot of money as we look back to our current failure in handling angry mobs. We were ill prepared and the politics worked in favor of mob rule.

If, on the off chance that you came across this blog in a search for your new riot control vehicle.  I have found that the water hoses mounted at bumper level appear to be most effective.  It is like playing pool in which you put the rioter “in the corner pocket.”  These vehicles make is safer for the police and less harmful to the mob.

Since this is my blog, I would like to make some recommendations:  paint ball guns can be used effectively in riot control. Police can “paint” the rioters with permanent dye or skunk oil (or both).  The dye helps identify who attended the riot and the skunk oil helps the rioters decide if they want to come back the following night.  A word of caution, skunk oil will cause the riot area to stink for months, as anyone would know who has driven a country road.

Covid 19 and Animal Sheltering

Animal shelter personnel have always had to face the danger of passing diseases throughout their shelter.  We know that the most likely transmission of diseases between animals is through human contact.  The worst offenders are our staff and volunteers.  Some of our staff are just predisposed to kissing each animal that they come into contact with.  During the Covid 19 outbreak, this practice has to stop.

We need to remind staff that their duty is to care for the an animal until the animal’s owner comes forward to reclaim the animal.  It would be horrible to find out that shelter staff is the cause of spreading the Covid 19 virus from them, to the animal, and then to the animal’s owners.

Once an animal is made available for adoption, the risk of infection becomes greater in that multiple people will come into contact with the animal as it is presented for adoption.

As we have always concerned ourselves with the spread of disease within our animal shelter, we must now take further measure to in sure that we don’t let our guard down in spreading disease outside our shelter.

What do you do when your pet is missing?

Let face it, even the most careful person might find themselves faced with looking for their lost pet.  Losing a lost pet can be an emotional disaster.  So, we should prepare for losing our pet as we would any disaster:

Always keep a current photo of your pet on your cell phone.

Keeping an image close will later help in creating flyers and showing people what your pet looks like.  With the interbreeding of animals, breed descriptions are becoming less and less helpful in describing a pet.  We live in times where most pets are described as “pitbull mix.”

Microchip your pet.

As much as I dislike microchipping as a means of identification, it might be the main course of action in getting a pet returned.  When you move, make sure you update your registration with the microchip company.  Always remember that a microchip is invisible to anyone who might find your pet.

Always keep a collar and identification on your pet.

Identification on a pet is the surest method of getting a pet returned.  Having spent many years working in an animal shelter, I know that very few pets are picked up wearing any form of identification.  Make sure the information is current.  Do not depend on the dog’s license alone, many City Clerk maintain ineffective records.

If your pet becomes lost:

Immediately call your local animal control/shelter. 

They can field calls that come in, if someone calls them about finding your pet.  One of the biggest mistakes that most people make is never going to their local animal shelter to look for their lost pet.  Many finders of lost pets will take the pet to the shelter to register that they found the pet.  So if they don’t surrender the pet to the shelter, they will have provided a record to shelter personnel that they have found the pet.  Those found reports are frequently posted on a bulletin board in the lobby of the animal shelter.  Visit your animal shelter daily.

Check lost and found boards on the web.

Many animal shelters will post on their website images of the animals that have been delivered to them.  Many manage a lost and found board where people can post finding a lost pet.  Many communities get carried away with lost and found websites, so check with your shelter to see if there is more that one in your area.  It is not uncommon to have a half dozen websites serving a community and you’ll need to check each one.

Post lost flyers in your neighborhood.

You are more likely to find your cat in posting within a block of your home.  Dogs travel greater distances.  Many grocery stores provide an area in which people can post announcements. Fliers can be found online, here is a random one that I found.

Notify people.

If your pet is microchipped, notify the microchip  company that your pet is lost and use that call to confirm that your contact information is up to date.  Most to animal Facebook groups in your area that your pet is lost.  Notify area veterinary clinics of your missing pet.  The classified section of your local newspaper will have an area to post for lost property (animals).  Many animal shelters have software systems that will  allow you to register your microchip with them, so in the even that your pet is ever brought in, you will be recognized as the owner.

Never give up.

There are countless incidents in which a lost pet is returned weeks, month, or years later.  Don’t give up hope.

Anger

I’ve noticed that the world has become an angrier place. We see people getting in fights over the most insignificant things.   Fights in fast food lines.  Fights over the wearing of face masks.  Fights over encroachment of one’s personal space.

We are entering a new anger phase in which gun sales are increasing. Some communities are reporting a shortage of bullets.   

It should come as no surprise that guns and anger don’t mix.; and yet, we are seeing an increase of violence in our larger cities. This demonstrates the biggest problem with our 2nd Amendment, it allows for the purchase of guns by crazy people. The percentage of crazy people are increasing. You can spot them on the news every evening.

More guns, More crazy people. Defund the police. We have become a society of idiots. The purpose of this rant is that it is becoming more and more dangerous dealing with pet owners. If you have followed along, for any length of time, in reading this blog, you know that I have mentioned that ours is a very volatile profession. And now, you will be interacting with people who have developed shorter fuses and may be armed.

The best part of being an anima control officer is being able to back away from a situation that is starting to get out of control. Since most animal control officers are not armed, backing away is a good strategy. Due to police shortages, you may be out in the field without police backup. Talk to your police department to make clear when and where they will pull your bacon out of the fire.

More than ever, you must me aware of your surroundings. You need to read the situation and accept the situation when the person clearly isn’t going to listen to you. If you find yourself in a fight, you have failed.

So, everyone fails once in a while, so as you are watching your surroundings, you should always be looking for tools to  help you get out of the situation. Never stand where you become boxed in and become acquainted with the tools that you carry. Tools that you carry to protect your from dogs can be effective on people; but, please don’t use my name when you are talking to the media about putting a catchpole on a person. However, the catchpole, clipboard and cans of Halt might aid you in getting back into your truck. Don’t just sit in the truck, drive a few blocks away to put distance between you and the angry person.

Animal Welfare is a wonderful profession, but it requires that you be constantly aware of your surroundings. Be safe out there.

Why is the most simple solution so complicated?

I once lived in a small town bordering Canada. We were a close knit community. Except when it came to the local dog. My neighbors would get so angry when the dog was out chasing deer through the community. Some of them talked of killing the dog. The dog’s owner knew how everyone felt, but he just could not find it in himself to make any effort to control his dog.

This is the common theme that we deal with as animal control officers, we see the same people committing the same infractions. It isn’t the dog’s fault, but try convincing the owner of that fact.

Owners seem to be more upset with you impounding their dog, than to appreciate their role in the chain of events. I have encountered numerous times in which the owner just throws up his (or her) hands and just decide to teach the dog a lesson and let the dog sit in the pound (I know, I hate that word too), “to teach it a lesson.”

I have had the opportunity to write a lot of city/county codes on animal ownership and one of my favorites is the ability to charge a person with animal abandonment for failing to reclaim their pet at the shelter. Some people cannot find it in themselves to do the right thing, so government has to force the issue.

The longer that I have been in the animal welfare profession, the more that I questioned if pet ownership is a net gain for the pet. We hear about all of the ways that pets are good for us, but how effective are we in being good for the pet? Especially when we cannot bring ourselves to do the most simple thing of keeping our pets out of trouble.

Working in an animal shelter, you will see incidents of a pet showing such devotion to their owner while their owner abuses them. You will see incidents in which owners will decide that it is easier to kill their pet than to provide basic care. You will see these things and ask yourself, “How did we become the dominant species.?”

God wanted us to be good stewards of our world. It is hard to find a single area in which we followed that directive.

The Risk of Pet Socialization.

One of the greatest gift that you can give to your animals is providing socialization with humans and other animals. We generally refer to this as providing enrichment. However, this can become one of the best ways to pass diseases from one animal to another.

All of the policies and procedures for volunteers and staff to follow between returning one animal and getting another will be insufficient. “Fomites” is the word that we use to describe the problem presented by disease passing from one animal to another  through our clothes, utensils, or furniture. Let’s face it, no volunteer is going to undergo bathing, an exchange of clothing, and sanitation of the room and toys between each socialization event. We had a struggle getting volunteer to wash their hands and change out a leash between walking dogs. That still doesn’t account for any virus left on the volunteer’s clothing.

Disease aside, another issue is dogs bonding to one or two volunteers, only to become aggressive towards everyone else. We had a group of volunteers rebel when the decision was made to euthanize a couple of dogs who became too aggressive for staff to handle. The dogs could only be handled by the two or three volunteers who daily socialized with the animals; the dogs clearly became a threat to everyone else. As more and more shelters try to move to no kill, they are finding that their extremely long holding times are causing a mental deterioration to their dogs or as we call it, “going crate crazy.” Enrichment programs are intended to prevent or delay this mental deterioration.

I am not suggesting that you stop socializing your animals; I am saying that you have to accept the risks. It is critical that we make the time, that an animal spends in our care, as less stressful as possible. You can minimize some of the risks by making sure every animal is vaccinated at intake and that volunteers engage with staff when they are socializing an animal. Whenever possible, staff should take a moment from their busy schedules to socialize with the animals showing the most stress. And monitor each animal to guarantee that insure that every volunteer and staff is protected from a potentially dangerous situation.

Cancel Culture

I believe that social media laid the fertile ground for what we now know as the cancel culture. I see social media as the ossuary of the human mind. It might help that we explore the evolution of this culture.

I witnessed a group of insecure people looking for validation among people who they wanted to be their friends. In the animal welfare movement, people found kinship in animals. To garner attention, people would get themselves talked into adopting animals and later cast out for returning the animal that they were ill prepared to care for.  In an effort to be liked, they were cast off. 

Next came the Me Too movement that was intended to give women a voice,  Clearly something that everyone should embrace; but it gave forum to women who abused their new found authority to showcase that men were seen as people with uncontrollable toxic masculinity; thereby untrustworthy. Woman had the upper hand and even their lies would ring true.  This movement said that only women could be trusted.

We have entered the Black Lives Matter culture, one that I embrace because I believe all lives matter; however, this movement was hijacked to push the message that it is wrong to be white and the police are evil. Oddly, every time people protest on behalf of black lives, violence breaks out and looting begins. The only way that you can truly express your support is through acts of destruction.  This hijacked movement says that it is wrong to be white (and books have been written to help us understand our failings) police need to be eliminated..

It is not surprising that crime is on the rise. Communities are now instructing their citizens to surrender to an assault and give the criminals what they want. I am sure that telling people to back down is not going to decrease the crime.  This movement says that police cannot be trusted.  The best way to control our police is to eliminate them.  In my mind, only criminals would support such a concept.   The problem in government service is that training is the first line item to be eliminated during budget cuts.  If there is a problem with a few police officers, then funding needs to be increased for training and for greater supervision.  

We are being asked to now cancel our lives. Allow ourselves to be victims and hope that we are not killed in the process.  But I digress, this is a blog about animal welfare, where we have been engage in the cancel culture for years.

Pitbull dogs can relate to the Defund the Police movement, in that a few bad dogs paved the way for cities to completely ban the breed.   That is the problem with our cancel culture; a few bad eggs cause the carton to be thrown out.  Of course, in our current age of overreaction,  the chicken coop is burned to the ground and looted.

We are all subject to this cancel culture.  I started boycotting a company that wanted to show how Woke they were by attaching their company to the cause de jure.  When you ostracize half of your customer base, you have to expect to lose some customers.  Some of us are so hard headed that we find it difficult to find a middle ground.

Sometimes we just need to step back, take a breath and try to find that portion of our being where our conscience resides.   We need to rise up against the insanity of our times.   If a cause is worthwhile, then it should be protected from those that would abuse it.