Getting into their Heads

As animal control professionals, we spend a lot of time trying to get into the heads of the animals that we are preparing for adoption.  When we are not inside the heads of animals, we are inside the heads of their previous owner.  All of this “head time”  frequently leads us down the wrong path.  We often mistake signs of behavior problems to incidents of abuse.  It is much easier to excuse an animal’s behavior, if we wish to believe that the animal was abused.

Claiming an animal is abused frequently helps us on the adoption front whether or not the animal was actually abused; the animal could simply be stubborn.  A prospective adopter would be more willing to accept an abused animal into their household than accept a stubborn one.  We live in a society in which people are in constant search for public praise, so posting to social media that they “rescued” an animal carries more points that claiming they “adopted” an animal.  More points are given to those who take in an “abused” animal.

Shelter staff recognize this social media obsession with “likes” and we feed into that that.  We are quick to post that an animal has been adopted on our Facebook page and even post a photo of the person leaving the shelter with their new pet.  This social media posting does two things: it celebrates one fewer animal in our shelter and it sets the stage of making it more difficult for the new owner to return  the animal.  For a society that seeks praise, we have a low tolerance for people disliking our actions.  Believe me, people can be pretty cruel to other people when their adoption doesn’t work out.

To understand a failed adoption, we have to get inside the minds of an adopter.  Social media has created a group of people who rescue animals in order to receive public praise.  Only in actually adopting an animal does the person find that caring for an animal requires more than praise, it means work; more work than is  necessary for posting on social media.

Too many people adopt animals for the wrong reason and when they find out that they are not ready to bring a new pet into their family, they have to face the wrath of their social media “friends” for turning the animal away.  This social media craze makes it all the more important for adoption screening; but the earnest desire for public approval will cause the worst candidate for adoption to appear as one of the best.  Adoption screening is more necessary than ever and adoption staff needs to look beyond moving an anima out of the shelter to making sure that they are placing animals into the best homes.  Our screen process must consider the possibility that the adopter’s purpose is only to seek out the public approval that the adopter is desperately seeking; these people generally make poor owners and then have to later face a public beating.

Shelter Photos

One of the most important aspects of an animal shelter’s operation is the quality of the photos that are taken of the animals entering your shelter.  It speaks volumes of about your public image: some people will equate the quality of the animal’s photo to the actual care you take of the animal in your care.

I would get frequent complaints about animal control officers photographing cats through livetraps or the plexiglass doors of feral boxes.  Let’s face it, a photo on your website sometimes determines if an animal will be found by its owner; many owners will not make the effort to look for their pet at the animal shelter.  Pet owners will always have an excuse to not search for their pet; today’s pandemic has finally given them a good excuse.

When an animal first enters the animal shelter, a photo should be take of the animal’s head and body for the purpose of identification.  If you cannot safely get a good photo, then describe why in the animal notes and go the extra mile in writing the animals physical description and where the animal was found.   Once the animal has settled down, you’ll want a better photo to encourage the animal’s adoption.

Getting the glamor shots is a good job for volunteers.  Most volunteers will take the animals out on bright sunny days so as to set the  camera’s exposure to gain the greatest depth of field.  Active animals will require the brighter days so as to catch them at a faster shutter speed.  On gloomy days, many shelters will set up studio lights in the shelter to photograph the animals under the better lighting conditions.

Photographing animals can become a contentious issue with volunteers; as they compete against one another for first “photo” spot.  I have had incidents in which the volunteers become hostile against one another.  The purpose of the photos is to improve the chances of an animal being found by its owners or getting adopted; the best photos that you post on your website should depict the animal’s best side and not who took the photo.

Getting Media Attention

This morning, I read a “Lost Dog Finds a New Home” article from a major news outlet.  Animal adoptions occur in our animal shelters every day.  So it is incumbent on animal shelters to be available to your local media on a slow news day.

The media is always looking for news.  If you don’t  provide it to them they’ll make it up.  You can take advantage of slow news days to bring heart warming stories to your community about your animal shelter.  I worked in an area where government officials were fearful of the local media.  I believed that developing a positive relationship with the media would help in times when things go bad.  Since I was the only government official in my county that maintained a good relationship with the media, it was not uncommon for me to sit next to a local reporter during county commission meetings.  The commissioners noticed.  Knowing that I had a good relationship with the media may have helped my organization during budget meetings.

Anytime you are contacted by a reporter concerning a story at your shelter, groom them to see if they are an “animal person.”  Reporters want you to be their go to person when they are looking for a story.  You need to groom them into becoming your go to person when you are seeking media attention.

I’ve always wanted to provide warm and fuzzy stories to the media, but hard luck stories seem to have the greatest impact.  It is okay to report that your shelter is at capacity; it might cause a family that is on the fence about adopting an animal to come to the shelter.  However, announcing an adoption event will bring out people who think adoption events are a good time to surrender their dogs.  I’ve experienced times when we received more animals than we adopted at an event.  You need to be prepared for that.

Always make your stories educational.  When reporting about an animal being hit by a car, let the community know the importance of confining their pets and that having a current license on their pet might make the difference in whether emergency medical treatment is provided at the scene of an accident.  It is always difficult to decide if a critically injured stray dog should received treatment costing several thousands of dollars only to never get adopted; but, if the dog is found with a known owner, it is much easier to send the dog off to the emergency veterinary clinic.  Pet owners need to be constantly reminded that pet ownership is like being a parent; they need to reminded of their responsibility to keep their pets safe.  If you decide to take a chance on an unidentified stray dog, use the media to make a plea for financial assistance; I have never had an incident in which the cost of medical care was not covered by donations.

It has been my experience that new reporters are easiest to approach, they want to make a name for themselves and are eager to be your go to person for their station.  People like pets stories, but it is a lot of work to maintain a good impression.  Always make sure your kennel is clean and fresh smelling (yeah I know).  You want the media and potential adopters to feel good about animals and bad smells and piles of poop distract from that good feeling.

Many animal shelter work out a deal with local television stations to bring an adoptable pet on the morning news.  Well mannered pets are always adored by the cast and crew.  Make sure you take the time to bath a dog in advance; you don’t want the cast to cover their noses during a live taping.  Putting a bow or scarf on the pet is a good touch.  Make sure the pet is tolerant of people’s attention; it is not a good time to test a feral cat with people.

The media can be your friend, you just have to make the effort to maintain that relationship.

Spammer and Hackers

If you have left any footprint on the World Wide Web, you have experienced unwanted emails and phone calls.  The spammers are really worried that I have allowed my automobile warranty to elapse.  In is interesting that each time they call me, they have spoofed a new phone number in my area code.  Spoofing is when the spammer is calling, say from a foreign country, and the caller ID is showing that it is a local call.  I block each number as they call, but spoofing gives them assess to an unlimited number of phone numbers.

I once got a call from someone who claimed that I had just called the.  I had to explain to the guy that spoofing provides spammers any number of phone numbers and my phone number just came up on their list.  He was smart enough to recognize the truth of the matter.  That is why it is fruitless to attempt to return a spammer’s call.  Just let it go.  If the call is important, the caller will leave a voicemail message.  Many people who refuse to leave voicemail messages are faced with a similar crowd that blocks any number that doesn’t leave a message.  If you cannot get through to your friends, you might be blocked.

Those of us who have websites should know that our domain registration is available to the public, unless you pay the extra fee to make the registration private.  Many of the spamming attempts that I have received is a result of my domain registration.  As such, the spammer knows my name, my phone number, and the name of my domain host.  It is not uncommon that I receive emails telling me that I must click on a link to preserve my domain password.  The nice thing about emails is that spammers have no concept of visual arts; all spamming emails look like they were created by five-year-olds.   However, lately, I’ve received phone calls from a person claiming to be from my domain host.  The idea is to try to convince me to upgrade my subscription  or to add new services.  This has a higher chance of being successful because, as I mentioned above, they have my name, my phone number, and the name of my domain host.  My little brother like to talk up a storm with spammers, just to waste their time as they have wasted his; but, I am not on an unlimited cellphone plan and simply say, “If you have any expectations that at the end of this phone call that I am going to give you my credit card number, you are wasting your time.”  That statement is a call killer.  I  had one caller get upset with me for wasting his time by saying anything.  He said that he is just used to people hanging up on him, anything beyond that is a waste of his time.  Poor guy!  Also be on the alert for people claiming to be website developers.  Keep in mind that we didn’t create our websites to allow someone else to take over them.

Almost every animal shelter has a website.  If you are a nongovernment shelter, you probably have created your own website.  Be on the alert for spammers who will attempt to use your domain registration information to fool you into giving them more information, like a credit card number.

Porch Safety

As an Animal Control Officer, the household porch can be one of the most dangerous places that we face.  You must arm yourself in preparation to protect yourself.

If you are approaching a porch and there is a dog on the porch, using an ultrasonic device will aid your in determining the dog’s behavior as you approach.  I most cases, the dog will move away from the front door and allow you to approach.  You need to keep in mind that an ultrasonic device is your least effective tool to keep you safe.

A metal clipboard is the best defense in protecting yourself if you are attacked.  You might be attacked by a dog at the door when you approach or when the dog owner opens the door and the dog escapes through the open door.  It is important to use the clipboard as a shield and offer the board to the dog as it attempts to bite you.

It is not uncommon that you might be attacked by more than one dog.  Pepper spray is your best approach in dealing with multiple dogs or if you are finding your clipboard ineffective.  It is important to shake up your can of pepper spray once a week to make sure the pepper is evenly suspended in the container.  Pepper spray comes in various concentrations from .003% concentration to 20% concentration.  The 20% solution is sold to hikers to use on bears; but it appears to be a big hit with protesters; it produces a nice wide spray and comes in a larger container…. thus it will protect you longer.

If the dog pursues you to your vehicle and continues the attack, you should have a CO2 fire extinguisher available to  keep the dog at bay until you can call for backup or until you can reach for your catch-pole.

As with the clipboard, the catch-pole is an effective shield to keep the dog at bay, but it is an ineffective tool if do don’t open the noose.  If you cannot get the open noose over the dog’s head, you might consider letting the dog bite the noose and chinch the noose closed on the dog’s muzzle.  You can then  feed a second catch-pole noose over the first catch-pole and work the noose down the catch-pole and over the dog’s head.

Using a catch-pole usually causes a scene and in today’s society, capturing the dog will likely be videotaped and put on social media.  You have the way your capture method decision against being injured by the dog.

The Wild West

I previous blogged about an incident in which a young lady came into the animal shelter carrying a gun on her hip as a means of intimidation to get her dog released.  We are seeing more incidents of public intimidation as people carry AR-15s to protests.  The worst part of that intimidation is that people are looing for an excuse to shoot someone.

We are entering a world of gunfighters; people going from town to town to stir up trouble and test their shooting skills against other gunfighters.  This world is also becoming short tempered.  We are seeing more and more incidents of aggressive behavior on our roads and in our shopping malls.  Unfortunately, people with short tempers are the first ones to purchase a handgun.

I recently saw a You Tube video in which a guy claims he saw the guy in the next car with a gun, when the car pulled in front of him,   He started shooting at the passing car.  He clearly wasn’t smart enough to realize that his own windshield was in the way.  People who shoot out their own windshields should not be allowed to own guns.

Anger, self-entitlement, and guns don’t mix.  As part of any animal shelter disaster plan, your staff needs to know in advance as to how to act in an active shooter in your shelter.   Develop a relationship with your local law enforcement so that they become familiar with the layout of your shelter.  We live in troubling times and you need to prepare for it.

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.