Record Keeping During a Disaster

Only after experiencing a natural disaster do you find how prepared you were.  One of the areas most missed with animal shelters is dealing with the paperwork when the animal shelter loses electricity.   When the shelter’s database goes down, you lose access to animal records: intake dates, owner information, vaccinations, and histories.

Many databases allow for a single computer (preferably a laptop) that can replicate the database for such purposes.  Most animal shelters cannot operate with just a single laptop, so it is essential that an animal shelter create a paper backup system to deal with animal intakes during a period of power loss.

Data backup is a big issue in areas that flood.  With today’s option of Cloud services, you can send your data off to the Cloud in addition to your usual storage of data offsite.

First Adoption Rights

In rare occurrences, an animal will come into the animal shelter that becomes the battleground for first adoption rights. It is incumbent on shelters to create adoption policies that minimize adoption conflicts.

Finders

To encourage finders of a lost pet to surrender a found animal to the animal shelter, animal shelters will award first adoption rights to them. The reasoning is simple: a pet owner is more likely to find their lost pet in the animal shelter than in the home of the person who found the pet on the streets. If a finder is interested in keeping the pet, giving the finder first adoption rights might aid in the finder coming forward to report the pet found.

Shelter Staff and Volunteers

Most shelters operate on a first come first serve bases for pet adoptions. Animal shelter staff has an advantage because they work at the shelter and will know about the animal when it first comes into the shelter. You might wish to give your staff the same access to pets as other members of the community, but you must ensure that shelter staff does not take advantage of their position as employees of the animal shelter.

Animal Shelters should require their staff and volunteers to undergo the same adoption screening as any other potential adopters and place a limit on the number of pets that they can adopt from the shelter. If you require home checks prior to adoption, then your staff should be required to undergo the same check. You do not want your staff to undergo public attention when it is discovered that one of them is an animal hoarder or is selling pets out of their homes.

Other Animal Rescue Organizations

Many “rescues” will want to pick the most adoptable animals because the highly adoptable animals are the ones that draw potential adopters to their organization. It is not uncommon for people to complain that their animal shelter only has pitbull dogs available for adoption because the rescues are selecting the best animals for their organizations. If the animal shelter wants people to come to their facility to adopt, you are going to want to keep a couple of these desirable animals to draw people in. Although you want to encourage animal rescues to come to your shelter; you do not want to discourage your community from coming because the rescues have taken all of your choice animals.

If you are adopting the first come first serve adoption policy, you’ll need to decide when you will start gathering names of potential adopters. I would suggest that you begin when the animal first comes into your possession. Although the animal isn’t available for adoption, that doesn’t mean that you can’t start taking names. I worked in a shelter that wouldn’t take the names of potential adopters until when the animal became available for adoption. Due to that policy, people were sleeping in their cars at the animal shelter waiting for the doors to open when an animal came available for adoption. After getting your list of potential adopters, you need to decide how long you will give a person to adopt the animal before moving on to the next person on the list.

Owners

You might be asking yourself why I would put a section for owners. Murphy’s Law applies to pet owners. It is a common occurrence that pet owners will show up sometime during the application process for their lost pet. Even with stray hold times that exceed 10 days, an owner will begin looking for their lost pet on day eleven. In dealing in these situations, I have always allowed the owner to reclaim their pet IF the adoption process has not been completed. If I have transacted the adoption then the pet is no longer mine to decide. The pet legally belongs to the adopter.

You can make the owner’s plea to the adopter, but the decision is theirs. If the owner asks for the adopter’s contact information, you should treat the request as a Freedom of Information request and consult your local policies in processing the request. Since contact with a previous owner can be volatile, you should contact the adopter to advise that you have been required to give out that information. It is the right thing to do so that the owner just doesn’t unknowingly appear on their doorsteps demanding the dog back.

If you are in the position to allow the dog owner to reclaim their pet, keep in mind that you ARE Not adopting their pet back to them, you are allowing them to reclaim their pet. It is very rare that I would ever waive any of the fees, including boarding fees, in such situations.

It becomes more difficult when the animal has been handed off to a rescue organization. Keep in mind that when you completed the paperwork for the animal, the animal is no longer the property of the shelter. Most rescue groups do not share my feelings about returning a pet to the owner who has been so severely negligent. The rescue has the property rights to the animal and the decision is theirs to make. If you earnestly believe that the animal should be returned to the owner, then the only tool at your disposal is to offer a sweetheart deal for some future rescue as an incentive for the organization.

Legal Note

Under most jurisdictions, lost pets are treated as property and come under laws that govern lost property. It has always been a contentious issue as to when a person takes possession of a lost pet and when that pet becomes their own property. It is quite possible that the animal never becomes their property by law. Only animal shelters can lawfully take possession of an animal following their prescribed stray holding requirements.

The short of it is that if an owner appears years later, that only an animal obtained through an animal shelter gives the person legal status as the owner that overrides that of the previous owner. These laws are not well known but few people go to court to battle over a long-lost pet.

The Problem with Long-term Dogs

With the advent of the No Kill Movement, animal shelters began holding animals much longer so as to facilitate positive outcomes.  Animals were no longer kept for days or weeks but held for months or years.  We began to see new dynamics arise within our walls.

Animals do not respond to long-term confinement the same.  Some accepted their fate, but others did not.  We had to begin wondering if the decisions to hold an animal were in the animal’s best interest.  We called it, “cage crazy” when an animal becomes more aggressive the longer that we hold the animal.

Cage crazy comes in many varies.  In Roanoke, we witnessed several dogs acting aggressive toward our staff but were gentle toward a couple of volunteers who walked them.  The dogs were too aggressive for adoption.  The decision to euthanize the dogs created an outcry from the volunteers.  Our decision to euthanize the dogs was a good decision, but our mistake was not videotaping the dogs to support that decision.

The pressure to hold dogs, even aggressive dogs, forces animal shelters to make bad decisions.  Those bad decisions put animal shelter employees at risk when public safety should be our primary focus.  When shelter staff can no longer safely interact with an animal, the quality of care for that animal is greatly diminished and we have to ask ourselves if we are providing humane care.

The decision to hold an animal should be based on a shelter’s ability to meet the needs of that animal and insure the safety of its staff.  The decision should not be made so as to keep a couple of volunteers happy.   We need to keep reminding ourselves that the primary mission of an animal shelter is to protect the community.  When animal shelters switch their priority to insuring that every animal gets adopted, it then places its community at risk.

I have mentioned previously that in Virginia, it became so common for shelters to lie to potential adopters about an animal’s past behavior that the Commonwealth had to create a law that prohibited lying.   Shelters were willing to give up their integrity so as to claim that they were a No-Kill Organization.  The fact is, that it was actually better for potential pet owners to avoid getting their pet from an animal shelter in Virginia because you couldn’t trust what they told you.  On top of that, the adopters were criticized on social media for returning the aggressive animal back to the shelter.

The fact is, that few shelters know the past history of an animal.  The people who know are the ones that turned in their pet as a stray.  If animal shelters decide to commit to long holding times for animals, then they must be willing to share what little knowledge that they have gained about the animal.  Many jurisdictions have created Pet Lemon Laws that protect an adopter from purchasing a pet from their shelter.  We have learned that what people imagine in their minds as to what it is like to be a pet owner often doesn’t meet the reality of bringing a pet home.

In recent years, animal shelters were sued because they thought it was more important to adopt an animal than to keep the children in a family safe.  Being truthful about an animal should be an animal shelter’s only option.

Pet Identification

The primary pathway for a lost pet to return home is the identification that the pet carries. This blog is to discuss the various forms of pet identification and determine the benefit and weaknesses of each of them.

Pet License

Most jurisdictions require a pet to be licensed with an accompanying tag. Pet licensing helps defray the cost of animal control services in the community and provides confirmation that the pet is currently vaccinated for rabies. Most jurisdictions offer a reduced pet license fee for those pets that are spayed or neutered.

Cons: Most jurisdictions pick aluminum tags that do not stand up well to long-term use. If the license is issued for the duration of a 3-year rabies vaccination, the tag may not hold up for that period of time. Many jurisdictions don’t realize that people travel and consider the information on the tag for local use only. For example, I once got an animal in with a Jefferson County dog tag. The tag provided a telephone number to call, but fail to list an area code. There are a dozen different Jefferson Counties in the United States. The tag was practicably useless. Many pet owners will place a previous pet’s tag on their new pet.

Pros: If a current tag is placed on the correct pet, the tag indicates that the animal is currently vaccinated for rabies.

Cons: Aluminum tags do not hold up well.

Rabies Vaccination Tags

Many veterinarians provide a rabies tag when they vaccinated an animal for rabies. Like the pet tag, the rabies tag is usually made of aluminum.

Cons: Many veterinarians maintain poor records and the vaccination tag may not be traceable through the phone number on the tag.

Pros: Like with the pet tag, if the tag is current and on the correct pet, the tag is an indication of current rabies vaccination.

Microchip

Microchips have become the standard in pet identification for animal shelters. Mainly because pet owners are really poor at keeping identification on their pets. Although few pets lose their microchip, it is a very poor form of identification.

Cons: Microchip companies never standardized the frequencies of microchips in the United States and as such, it is nearly impossible to find microchip scanners that will locate all of the chips offered for sale in the US. Those scanners that do scan for the various frequencies can only scan one frequency at a time and unless you are scanning the pet very slowly, you might pass over the microchip in a pet while it is scanning for the alternate frequency. Anyone working in an animal shelter knows the difficulty of scanning a factious. animal. Many domestic cats in a cat trap will appear feral to the person trapping the cats in his/her neighborhood. Microchips are implanted between the shoulder blades of the animal; however, those microchips may migrate through the animal. I found a microchip in a Great Dane that had traveled over three feet to the animal’s front left paw. Many animal shelter staff might not find a microchip that has traveled that far. Due to the high possibility of not finding a microchip in an animal, my shelter would scan an animal three times: at intake, during medical examination, and at disposition. It is surprising the number of times we found the chip while preparing the animal for euthanasia. As such, I consider the microchip as the identification of last resort. To further complicate the issue of finding a microchip, pet owners are very poor about keeping the contact information current. Many fail to register their microchip or purchase the microchip through their veterinarian, who fails to track microchip information. It is not uncommon for a pet to come in with a microchip tracked to a previous owner. The fact that there are news reports of an animal being found by its owner many years later is a testament to the weakness of microchips.

I have encountered people who believe that by having a microchip in their pet that it is unnecessary for them to have to look for their lost pet. These poor fools believe that their microchipped pet will magically return home. And that, my friend, is the main problem with microchips. We inadvertency make them available to idiots.

Pros: It is the one piece of identification that the pet can’t lose.

Personalized Pet Tag

One of the things that I found most disappointing with pet owners is having their pets arrive at the animal shelter without identification. Fortunately, some of the animals were such frequent flyers, that we started recognizing the animals on sight. In our business, we meet all of the negligent pet owners in the community. Less than 10% of the animals coming into the shelter were wearing any identification. Less than 12% of the cats coming into the shelter were ever reclaimed by their owners. So, cat owners generally do not put identification on their cats, but when the cat comes up lost, they don’t go looking for the cat either.

The problem with identification is a big problem at shelters. Animal shelters are always crowded and a pet ID allows get the animal home quickly. In several of the shelters that I worked for, we would create a personalized pet ID for every pet that is reclaimed. We preferred the animal going home, rather than coming to the shelter. I would like to report that the program was a huge success; but no, it was a waste of money. Even with the ID tags that we sent home with the owner (collar included) the animal would return to the shelter without identification. The problem was so persistent that I rewrote the ordinance to require that we microchip an animal that has been impounded three times without identification. This was a serious problem and you know how I feel about microchips. I used to say that a microchip is the next best thing to having no identification. And I was right, at least the animal now had a microchip…. now, if we can only find it.

So the biggest problem with a personalized pet ID tag is putting it on your pet. If you can manage that, then the personalized tag is your best option. On that tag, you can put your home phone (with area code) and address. With that available to the person who has found your pet running loose, you are likely to get a phone call. There are two things that cause personalized ID tags to fail: the first is if your pet is always running loose and is a nuisance in the neighborhood, then the finder will want to teach you a lesson by calling animal control. Animal control will likely swing by your home, but you might expect a citation. The other problem with personalized ID tags as is the problem with all tags is making sure that the information is current. A very large percentage of the 10% of the animals coming into the animal shelter with tags is that the information is too old to follow up on or cannot be traced.

Pros: It is the best form of pet identification.

Cons: It is no good if the pet isn’t wearing it or the information is outdated. Like license tags, the tag may be aluminum and will need to be replaced every year or two. If possible, opt for a brass or stainless steel tag.

Tattoos

Years ago, people used to have a tattoo placed in their pet’s ear. They would tattoo either a registration number or the person’s Social Security Number. Tattooing never really caught on because no one merged as the predominant register. And there was no one that you could call to find out the owner of a Social Security Number.

Pros: Permanent.

Cons: Tattoos blur over time. Most people don’t look for ID in an animal’s ear. No solid registration method.

If you are worried about your pet getting lost and your pet is microchipped or tattooed, contact your local animal shelter and provide them with that information. Most reasonable animal shelter software programs provide the ability of shelter personnel to input multiple forms of identification for animals.

Do You Own the Pet that You Adopted?

Many rescues that adopt animals would have the new adoptor believe that the rescue has first ownership rights to the animal.  The notion is that rescues always believe that pet owners are the weak link in the adoption process.  The rescue wants you to believe that they have the right to take back the adoption in the event that they become dissatisfied with the care that the adopter is being provided.  In the minds of the rescue, the animal is just “rented out” for the period that the rescue believes that the animal is being well cared for.  The adoptor takes on all ownership responsibilities while the rescue may recall the animal at any time.

Is this legal?

In my past life, I would have said, “no.”  But the legal status of animals is now in question.  Many animal advocate organizations wish animals to rise above the notion of being “owned” and given individual rights.  However, in most States animals continue to be called property.  And in reality, the animal is actually better protected under these laws.  Pet owners are accountable for the care of their pets.

Back to the adoption.  The first question is whether the rescue organization had ownership rights in the first place.  If the animal was delivered to the organization as a stray, then under local laws the animal in their possession is owned by some unknown person in the community.  For ownership to take place, the original owner must relinquish their ownership to the rescue organization.   The ONLY exception to this is a stray animal picked up and delivered to the municipal animal shelter.  Most jurisdictions have laws that stray animals become the property of the jurisdiction after a 3 to 10 day stray holding period.  This ownership transition only occurs at the city/county animal shelter.

Since space is always an issue at public facilities, many rescues convince their jurisdiction to allow the rescue to be an alternate stray holding site, so that the rescue can be afforded the same status as the animal shelter when receiving stray animals.  Although this is a smart idea, few rescue organizations think to do this.  So any adoption of a stray animal is performed illegally by the rescue, UNLESS, it is performed using the localities found animal provisions of their laws.  The rescue, as any finder of a lost pet, may assume legal status if they follow the steps outlined in the provisions of their ordinances for the Finders of Lost Property,  Most of these laws are posted in State Statues.  So if the rescue has not performed each step towards ownership, then they cannot legally adopt the pet.

A person finding a stray has the same ability to claim ownership of a found animal, as long as they complete the tasks required of a finder.  Those tasks include contracting the local animals and reporting the found pet, posting a public notice in the local newspaper, and holding the animal for the required length of time (usually three to six months.).

Contracting for Animal Shelter Services

Animal shelter budgets are one of the most precarious budgets found in city/county budgets. The battle is between whether the city/county administration wants money to go to animals when budgets are thin for humans. In one Florida county, I was faced with a Country Administrator whose mission it was to slash our animal control budget. He made it clear to me that the fight was between helping animals or helping babies. Of course, the battle wasn’t that simple. Every budget cycle I would be asked to prepare budgets with various reductions. Our County Administrator didn’t recognize the our support with the County Commission. The Commission saved our budget each year.

Many local governments look for ways to save money and usually the concept of contracting out their animal control services will arise. It is not uncommon for the government to contract with their local humane society to provide for animal shelter services. During the pressure years of the No Kill Movement, many humane societies failed under the new pressure that was placed on them to save the strays.

I was hired twice to oversee the takeover of a humane society’s operation of the “pound.” In the first incident, a group of animal rescue organizations came together to bid against the humane society for the contract because the humane society didn’t play well with rescues and seemed satisfied with a ninety percent euthanasia rate (which was common in public animal shelters at that time). The humane society would cherry pick (picking the best) animals for adoption and kill the rest. The group of rescues were awarded the contract and I was asked to oversee the newly formed organization.

I would get phone calls from the humane society’s board of directors telling me that I was putting the community at risk for adopting out dangerous dogs. Oddly, they actually believed that only 10% of impounded stays were worthy for adoption. They were committed to the belief that a 90% euthanasia was acceptable. And would boast of their fine adoption record.

In the second incident, the humane society had boasted of being a No Kill organization with a ninety percent adoption rate while having a ninety percent euthanasia rate in the “pound” side of their operation. Basically, the community didn’t buy their story of the fact that they could call themselves no kill by ignoring half of their operational deaths. The humane society wanted to rid themselves of the stigma of being a “kill shelter” and asked to give the contract up. I was hired to retake the shelter and bring it under government control. We were able to reach a 90% save rate by working closely with animal rescue groups.

The dynamics were perfect for us, in that the community became so vocal against the humane society that local jurisdictions did not baulk at our request for more funding for veterinary services. If you want to see your adoptions increase, cover the medical expenditures (including sterilization) for rescue groups accepting your animals.

The reason that governments wish to contract out their animals shelter operations is that it is a pain to run them. I once had a county commissioner tell me that he got more complaints about animals than any other issue. Given the uproar of the killing of animals in shelters, animal shelters have become more expensive to run. It is no wonder that government look for someone else to run their programs. They figure that a nonprofit could get donations to supplement the operational expenses of running an animal shelter. The costs of maintaining animals longer so as to increase adoptions is often beyond many shelters financial means and the contract falls apart.

I worked in one public facility in which the administration would not let us conduct fundraisers because it gave the appearance that we were not properly funded. Which we weren’t With this kind of mentality, it is no wonder that governmental administrations wish to surrender their animal shelters to other entities.

The benefit of contracting out an animal shelter operation to a humane society is lower costs. The problem with contracting out to a humane society is that they frequently under estimate their budget needs and generally do not work well with other animal rescue organizations. As such the animals do not get the care or adoption opportunities that they should.

Many animal control/shelter operations fall under the jurisdiction’s police department. Wtih recent public demands to defund the police, the animal control portion of the police budget becomes even more at risk as police are forced to reduce their budgets. The issue becomes making the decision to have animal control officers on the street picking up stray animals, or police officers fighting crime. There will probably be an increase in outsourcing the shelter’s operation. In a few years, when budgets stabilize, the shelter’s contract will likely return to government control.

A pet license is an insurance policy.

I frequently tell people that pet licenses are an insurance policy.  Animal Control Officers are frequently dispatched to injured animal calls.  The Officer has to make a decision as to whether the injuries are within the allotted cost of their organization’s budget.  If the animal is wearing a current license, that makes the officer’s decision easier.

Additionally, many animal shelters choose to increase the holding period for animals wearing licenses.  Although you can’t expect a license to be a free ride home for your loose pet, it usually affords you a free call home for your pet.

Under Control

One of the most difficult concepts in Animal Control Ordinances is to get pet owners to understand what it means to have their animal under control. In many ordinances, the concept of being under voice command is the same as being under control. Anyone who trains dogs knows that once a dog is off-leash, the handler never maintains 100% control. That control jumps to 0% if a rabbit jumps up in front of the dog. In Eugene Oregon, we provided for verbal control if while in one of the city’s parks if the owner could call their dog and have the dog leashed within 20 (or so) seconds. Many dogs, distracted by ducks and geese, demonstrated that their owner had no control over them.

So, most ordinances claim that to be under control requires a leash. But a leash is not sufficient. If you have ever watched a child walking a large dog on a leash, you can clearly see that the child has no control and probably won’t for another several years. Thus, ordinances have to indicate that the person on the other side of the leash is competent to restrain the dog. I was approached by a guy walking his Saint Bernard dog the other day, and that dog decided that it needed to sniff me. I could see that the guy didn’t have the ability to stop the dog’s actions. He appeared competent, but he had little physical control of his dog.

So, in addition to being on a leash, the ordinance must indicate the person’s competence and ability to maintain physical control. When those things don’t exist, the dog has the ability to be unconstrained by his own desires. If that Saint Bernard dog had decided to bite me, I could make a case that although on a leash the dog was not under control.

Most of the problems associated with pet ownership is the inability of owners to keep their pets under control. Although a cute puppy or baby snake is fun when they are small; does the potential owner consider what the animal will be like in five or ten years. Possibly, one rule of thumb is to never purchase an animal that can one day become larger than you. Before you horse owners start to jump down my throat, keep in mind that horses only become a problem when they are not kept in agricultural areas. And don’t get me started on pigs.

Why didn’t you put my dog back into its yard?

A pet owner frequently asks why their lost pet wasn’t placed back into their yard when the animal is found running loose.  After all, that is an expected outcome for a pet that is wearing an ID tag or license.  The problem arises that when an Animal Control Officer picks up a loose pet, he or she becomes responsible for that animal.   The dog owner would be the first to blame the Officer if the animal was returned to its yard and got out again only to be hit by a car.  After, all it escaped from the yard in the first place.

Social Media

The best that I can describe society is that we are dimwits. We are just discovering that social media is destroying society and I have been preaching that truth for years. Social media allows the voice of one to sound like many. People will align themselves behind any cause, whether the cause is real or imaginary. The problem has never been the fault of social media itself; it is the idiots that blindly follow anything that they read or hear. It isn’t that we don’t have the capability to research an issue, we just don’t want to be proved that our cause isn’t real. We are not lazy, we just want to be a part of a crowd that believes the same way that we do. They don’t seem to care if it is righteous. To them, the cause is its own truth. Finally, people are seeing social media for the first time and understand that they have been lied to the whole time. Well, it is about time. Maybe we can get back to being a society that can think on its own.