Equipping your Field Staff

Some of the best training films for Animal Control Officers have been provided by Hollywood. Nothing sets the scene better for preparing for an on-scene arrival than watching Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds; or the 1998 reboot of the movie Godzilla. Let’s not forget the entire Jurassic Park series. Nothing gives me goosebumps better than watching a couple of animal control trucks arriving on the scene BEFORE the Army has been called out.

The success of a “mission” is best determined by the equipment that is available for each officer. The maintenance of animal control equipment is of paramount importance. My first ride along with my field staff showed me the need for me to bring my own equipment. Nothing puts fear in you better than confronting a vicious dog with a catchpole that hasn’t been properly maintained. I still carry my own catchpoles wherever I go because I refuse to ever use the equipment maintained by anyone else.

Every time you debrief from a call, you should consider the items that you could use to have made the call easier. From these debriefs you come up with ideas for the equipment that you one day might need. I remember formulating the idea for an inflatable beach ball that could be pulled through draining pipes to help round up stray kittens that have fallen into the drainage systems. I created a 50-foot catchpole with an infrared camera to lift dogs that had fallen down wells or deep holes. The funny thing about creating these devices, you find that you’ll rarely ever use them, but when you do, nothing else works.

Something as simple as having a head-mounted flashlight helps at night when both of your hands are needed to handle the catchpole. Depending on your budget, which is often the most limiting factor, net guns, tranquilizer guns, and snake tongs are always helpful when the need arises. Always go in with the right equipment and ensure you know beforehand how to use it. Always think things through; it doesn’t do any good to have snake equipment if you don’t have the proper container to put the snake in after you catch it.

Also, keep in mind the laws of physics. If you ever use one of those nice long extension catchpoles to remove a cat from a tree; you’ll soon learn how you lose the advantage of leverage with the weight of a cat on the end of a long pole. At best, you can hope for a controlled crash when bringing the cat down to earth. Don’t let your heroic efforts harm the animal you are saving. Always conduct your business as if it might become viral on YouTube because there is a good chance it will. Keep in mind that using a catchpole doesn’t always look humane on video because its primary intent is to keep the person on the other end of the pole safe. But it is sure a lot better than trying to wrestle a dog on the end of a leash.

I know that some of you are saying that you have not been in the business as long as this guy and won’t encounter a Velociraptor in your lifetime. At this point, my eyes glass over as I contemplate my old war stores. There is nothing like rehashing the old stories, whether they are real or imagined.

Wildlife Relocation

One of the strategies that we use with nuisance wildlife is to relocate the species to another area.  This strategy is problematic when disease is spread from one population to another—specifically, distemper in raccoons.

Distemper cycles through raccoon populations every seven years.  It is nature’s way of population control.  When you introduce an animal on a different cycle, you disrupt the natural cycle of that population thus triggering an additional cycle and causing an over-correction of the population.

Responding to a wildlife nuisance complaint can trigger increased deaths in the wildlife population if you do not consider the consequences of your actions.

The Deadliest Animal in Each State

I came across an article, The Deadliest Animal in Each State by Michelle Ranken that I found interesting.  Twelve States report insects as the deadliest, eight States report dogs as the deadliest.  I’ll let you read the article to go down the list.

So, according to Ms. Ranken, if you live in Alabama, Arizona, Michigan,  New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Virginia, dogs are the biggest danger that you will face.  So, if you are out looking for a new job, these States probably need as many Animal Control Officers as they can get.

If you are a business person in any of these States, there could be money in selling pepper spray.

 

Deep in the Trenches

In previous posts, I mentioned the risks involved in working in the field of animal welfare. Those risks included getting fired. I have been fired. Multiple times. I hold them as trophies for doing the right thing or for just being pigheaded. You decide.

I was the animal control officer for a neighboring town while completing my degree. With a diploma in hand, I began my job hunt.

Lane County, Oregon: I was hired as the Field Supervisor. The job required that I work 11 or 12-hour days and then handle all of the emergency calls at night. It is amazing how quickly a new job can wear you down. Animal Control fell under the Finance Director. You can imagine that the only interest he had was numbers. And so it was. He placed a citation quota on all of the animal control officers and only those who met his quota of 40 citations a month would see promotions or offered the new trucks or equipment. I was opposed to this. I think we should use more than one tool in dealing with pet owners. My boss disagreed. I lasted three months. I remember the sense of joy that overwhelmed me when I realized that I didn’t have to go back to working there.

Lesson learned: sometimes it is better to be fired when you are not smart enough to leave.

In my next job, I was hired as the Chief Field Supervisor serving Portland Oregon and the gal who hired me claimed that having been fired from Lane County was a very big mark in my favor in getting the job.

Jacksonville Florida: Jacksonville Florida was in the middle of major layoffs. Animal Control was under the Environmental Services Department. We shared that Department with Sanitation Services. The Sanitation folks were undergoing the greatest number of layoffs, so our boss decided to lay off the entire administrative staff of Animal Services to make room for his buddies in Sanitation. If it is any consolation, the Sanitation folks discovered they were unprepared for working in Animal Control and I got to watch my old organization tank in the media. Working in the South forces you to face the dynamics of the “Good-Ole-Boy” system. Although located in Florida, Jacksonville is the southern end of the old South. Coming from the North, sometimes the old South is a hard pill to swallow when you believe that the laws should be distributed evenly for everyone.

Lesson learned: You’re either a good old boy or you are not. Stay away from working in the South. And as I once was told, “maintain a firm grip on your Northern ethics.”

Milwaukee Wisconsin: At some point in my career I wanted to take on a challenge. I had spent years enjoying our adoption successes in Gainesville Florida and wanted to turn a high-kill shelter around. Milwaukee claimed that they wanted to experience an evolution in their policies and wanted to become more progressive. I started bringing in rescues and volunteers into the shelter only to have been met with resistance by a couple of employees. One of the employees had worked there for 30 years and he fought every effort to improve the place. Clearly, I could not get around this obstacle and found myself unemployed. Again!

Lesson learned: Sometimes your ego prevents you from seeing a bad situation. Don’t be fooled by organizations that claim to want to evolve when they are impaired by immovable forces within their organization.

Roanoke Virginia: I call this “out of the pan and into the fire”. One of the local private animal shelters in Roanoke was trying to get me fired before I set foot in the county. I remember an early meeting that this group called to discuss the animal shelter; when I arrived they would not let me attend the meeting. I think the only time I was ever invited to their shelter was when they wanted to lynch me. In the previous post, I talked about turning this shelter around from having a 10% live release rate to over 90%. We were adopting out all of our adoptable animals, but that wasn’t enough for our volunteers. They were demanding that we release dangerous dogs out for adoption. Not on my watch! The people that I worked for were all peacemakers; I had to go. Let them deal with damage control. I came to meet some of the nastiest people working in the animal rescue field here. But, despite their behavior towards humans, they made up for it, in their efforts towards animals. Even dangerous animals.

Lesson learned: I am old-school animal control; where I believe my primary obligation is to protect the community that I serve. There is no place for us old guys because the profession is evolving in which the animals come before the community. I’d rather be fired than have to work in a place that considers placing potentially dangerous animals out for adoption. Didn’t I warn myself about working in the South?

So there you have it. The whole purpose of my blog is to prepare people who want to get into the animal welfare profession. It isn’t all about playing with kittens all day. But, those kittens come in handy on a stressful day.

I enjoyed my career and I count my terminations as trophies. I have to live with myself and I feel like I did my part in keeping each community that I worked for safe. And to think that I studied Wildlife Resources in College so that I could man a fire watch tower and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Either way, in both professions I would have had to deal with ticks.

Pack Behavior

The best way to cement your next budget is to have a pack of dogs running loose in your community. There is an interesting dynamic that exists where two or more dogs begin hanging out together on a regular basis. As the pack grows, the pack takes on more confidence. As the confidence in a pack grows, it risks becoming more aggressive. It only takes one dog to turn aggressive in any situation to trigger the remaining dogs to become vicious.

It takes a few incidents of vicious dogs running loose for a community to gain an appreciation for their local Animal Control department. Add in a few fatalities and you can even gain new equipment, like tranquilizer guns and traps, for your Animal Control Officers.

Down through the years, we have witnessed humans taking on pack behavior. We see it in looting, protests, and in our youth. Given the increase in human hostility, you can be thankful for the Police Officers who protect us. Oops, didn’t we go through a period of defunding our Police? Boy was that stupid.

Just a few minutes into our nightly news programming to see that humanity has lost its ability of self-control. With fewer people being held accountable, more people are manifesting their rage in public.

If you have read any of my earlier blogs, you know that I think social media is going to be our downfall. Social media tends to wind us up and then is used to direct people to locations to let loose their rage. It seems that the intelligence of any crowd is determined by the dumbest person in the crowd. That is the person who acts out and triggers the rest of the crowd to become a mass of stupidity.

You can always predict one of these pending acts of stupidity when you see people wearing face masks. No longer are the face masks needed for COVID, but are now needed to protect the identity of someone preparing to do something majorly stupid. Why else would that gather with other like-minded people?

You can witness the parenting of children when you see flash mobs robbing stores or attacking people by our youth. A recent incident of ten children, between 13 and 17 years of age, killing a schoolmate over some stupid thing. Parents have given up their parenting responsibility to the schools that are really doing a poor job. In fact, the schools are exacerbating the problem. Instead of teaching our children life skills, they are taught to become outraged over preferred pronouns.

Animal Control officers have vast experience in handling dog packs. The trick is to break up the pack and drive the animals home where they can deal with their owners. The Police could learn from Animal Control when humans are the plague of our communities.

Dealing with pack behavior

I’ve always felt that using paintball guns using a mixture of pepper, skunk oil, and dye-pack ink would ensure that the pepper would stop their activity, the skunk oil would make them rethink their pack behavior, and the dye would evidence the animal’s involvement of being caught “in the act.”  If this method became effective for Animal Control Officers, Police could later adopt it for their own use.

Shortcuts to No-Kill

Disclaimer: Although this blog is intended to be a joke, it doesn’t mean that animal shelters have not used these techniques.

Never announce your plan to become no-kill. The City of Austin is a good example of being too eager to announce to the world that they’ve become no-kill. When the word got out, pet owners from surrounding counties began delivering their pets to them. Austin had to throw tremendous resources out to maintain their no-kill status and eventually had to build a new animal shelter to meet the new demand.

I’ve seem incidents in which the announcement of having an adoption event created the problem of pet owners seeing your adoption efforts and decides that this is the best time to surrender their pet to their animal shelter. The best way to keep your animal shelter free of guilt-ridden pet owners is to constantly remind them that you are “a kill shelter.”

The formula for becoming a no-kill animal shelter is that your live outcomes have to equal or exceed your live intakes. Obviously, dead intakes don’t count. If you are one of the few remaining animal shelters that do not sterilize your animals before adoption, you might as well give up on becoming a no-kill shelter. The spaying and neutering of animals is the primary tool towards no-kill. Of course, if you don’t spay or neuter before adoption, you probably are not so progressive to be thinking no-kill anyway. Sure sterilization costs money; but you cannot trust adopters to shoulder the responsibility to perform this task on their own. Sending a shelter pet out to reproduce more animals is just insane.

Years ago, we were going to put a State initiative out to require animal shelters to sterilize pets prior to adoption. The jurisdictions with the greatest populations were all for it. The smaller jurisdictions claimed that it would require higher adoption fees and thus reduce adoptions. We passed the law based on the “class of the city.” It was a worthless law because the larger jurisdictions were already sterilizing their animals and it appeared that the smaller jurisdictions would not. They were blinded by the fact that they were just adding to the problem in their communities.

Create a policy that you’ll only allow intakes when you have an open cage. Of course this means that your animal control officers will be unable to pickup stray dogs. I remember reading about the outcry of citizens in a large Texas city that complained about packs of dogs were running their streets because their animal control officers were ignoring them. Fortunately, Texans are not opposed to carrying guns for their own protection.

Delaware was one of the first States to ban euthanasia for space. The reasoning was that as long as cage space was available, euthanasia was unnecessary. The didn’t have the foresight to realize that banks of open cages would be necessary for animal control officer to drop off animals. It didn’t make sense that animals would have to remain out in the trucks until space was made for the animals. This is the mistake that politicians make listen to animal rescue groups who don’t have a clear picture as to what the real world is really like.

Forgive me, I am now going to go off on a tangent. It’s my blog, so? Politicians in Utah were convinced that pet liability insurance should be the same for all animals. They were convinced that the cost of Pit Bull insurance should be the same as Poodles. They turned a blind eye to the fact that one breed was outweighing the insurance costs of other breeds. So, if you live in Utah, you will have to pay more for pet insurance to cover the cost that result from Pit Bull ownership. I guess you could liken it to the cost of groceries in which we have to pay more as a result of those who cater to thief. Okay, I got that out of my system…. let’s move on…..

Delay responding to dogs hit by car (HBC). The animal will either die or possibly picked up by a good Samaritan. Although there is a risk that the good Samaritan might think to bring the animal to the animal shelter. Put up the Closed Sign and hope for the best.

Destroy your night drop off cages. Night drop off cages are a great way to increase your intakes; you don’t want that. I worked at a location that we placed a camera to record the nightly drop offs. We witnessed an animal control truck, from another jurisdiction, dropping off animals. I have no idea as to how they report that in their monthly statistics. We once pulled out a homeless man from the same cages; which were protected from the weather. Fortunately for us, the guy walked off; I have no idea how we would have reported him on our statistics.

Require appointments for animal surrenders. This was one of the first “go to” policies when no-kill became a thing. The policy stopped last minute notions of people wanting to get rid of their pets; but saw an increase in the number of people turning in “a stray” animals. Policies frequently backfire.

So…. require an appointment to turn in a stray dog! Of course, that causes an increase in the number of dogs abandoned in the community or tied to the front door of your building. But, as I suggested earlier, don’t patrol for stray dogs.

Let’s not forget about cats. Cats make up one of the largest groups that lead to euthanasia. Many shelters started limiting their intakes to “domestic dogs.” I guess they were worried about some non-domestic dogs showing up.

I think you are now catching the drift: stop any process that takes in live animals that will render them dead. You can start with stopping the euthanasia service you offer to pet owners. Veterinarians provide this service as well and don’t have to report it as a statistic. Due to the notion that pets are personal property, many pet owners believe that they can have their pet killed on a whim. I always had a policy that pet owners could surrender their pet to the animal shelter, but could not demand the euthanasia of the animal. I would explain that in order for my shelter to kill an animal we had to own the animal. As the new owner of the animal we would decide the animal’s fate. This stops the notion that a person can demand that they pet be killed so that no one else could have it. I know, this sounds crazy, but it has happened many times. I am not going to kill a puppy because the owner doesn’t want anyone else to own it. Now, if the puppy has eaten a couple family members, I might reconsider.

Keep in mind; I am not suggesting that you do any or all of these things; I am just reporting options that are available to you. After all, we have a reason that we call this dark humor.

One of the problems that I’ve faced with animal control officers is that many of them prefer to impound an animal rather that return the animal back to the owner with a ticket. I hate to say that I’ve had these officer working for me and I did everything that I could do to get rid of them. The problem is worse when the animal control officers are not employed by the animal shelter, but are employed by the local police department. This is quite common and poses quite a problem. One of the last places that I worked, the animal control officer intentionally over stressed the animal shelter by identifying colonies of sick cats and delivering them to the animal shelter. Obviously, it hurts your statistics when you have to euthanize the animals as well as it impacts other healthy animals in your facility. I only bring this up to show that not everything is under your control. Outside forces will influence shelter statistics. As well as inside forces.

When I first started in the business, City Council members started noticing that I was listing animals available for adoption in the local newspaper. One of those members reported to the Chief of Police that I had listed the same animal multiple times. I got called into the Chief’s office and was told to euthanize any animal that was over its stray hold time even though space was not an issue. The lesson to learn is that if you work for a bunch of buttheads, give your animals new names when they are listed in the newspaper.

Probably the most effect way to move animals out of your shelter is to give rescue groups sufficient motivation to take your animals. The first step is to prepare the animal for adoption. Give the animal all of its vaccinations and perform the sterilization of the animal. If that isn’t enough to stimulate rescues to take your animals…. pay them.

Maddie’s Fund offered community grants in which they allowed us to pay our rescues to take our animals. Oddly, we may have been Maddie’s Fund’s only success story. Because Maddie discovered how difficult it is to get animal shelters to work with one another. It seems, for them, anything you got two shelters together, all they did is fight. Our group in central Florida was a different story. We overcame our issues to work together to get animals adopted. It was a noble cause and money flowed. Maddie’s Fund extended our grant numerous times because, I think, they liked to have a project that they could point their finger at that was successful.

It is too bad that more shelters couldn’t get along. One success story failed to keep that funding going. Maddie went off in other directions. Humane groups cannot seem to get along with one another even when money is at stake and animal’s lives are at stake.

Some of the national humane organizations provide funding for animal transport services. The notion is that if you can’t adopt animals in your community, maybe they would be welcome somewhere else. Unfortunately, Pit Bulls have pretty much saturated the country.

This is when I dust off my harebrained ideal of forcing pet owners to sterilize their pets. I think that anywhere an animal shelter is overcrowded with 50% or more of a specific breed that the community should force the owners who have that breed to sterilize their pet. People who are selling the breed should be forced to sterilize the dogs that they sell.

Let’s face it. Pit Bull owners are still some of the most irresponsible pet owners around; otherwise, why are they still being bred when our animal shelters are overwhelmed with them?

So? You have a shelter full of Pit Bull dogs and they are hindering your efforts to maintaining your No-Kill status. You begin paying a rescue from another State to come rescue your dogs. Let’s say that the rescue that you are using has a very poor live release rate. So in fact you are paying a rescue to come in and euthanize your dogs. In hind sight, I always looked at the live release rate of rescuers that I worked with; but that doesn’t mean that others do as well. The whole point of being No-Kill is that of your own statistics. No one really looks at the statistics of the rescues that you use. Well, until the news finds out about it.

Let’s face it. There is so much pressure on shelters becoming No-Kill that it is easy to see the shelter’s administration making stupid decisions. Many of those decisions become obstacles to the primary mission of the public animal shelter to protect the people of their community.

One of the risks that you face is that even when you meet the status of being a No-Kill shelter, volunteers will cause an uprising when you refuse to adopt animals that clearly would put the public at risk. The people who determine your employment might hold the volunteers in higher esteem than protecting the public. I’ve always said that doing the right thing frequently puts your job at risk, but keeping your community’s children safe is a higher goal than keeping your job.

Sorry, that must have hit a nerve with me.

Every shelter should do whatever it takes to find homes for the animals in their care, but you should not take that goal so far as to put the community at risk. Currently, animal shelters are full of unadoptable animals that remain in cages because the shelter is worried about its statistics. At some point, someone must point out that keeping an animal in a cage for the rest of its life is inhumane.

No Speak English

We are seeing an increase in the number of people who are non-English speaking in the United States.  More and more companies give priority to hiring bilingual applicants because of this problem.  It is difficult to carry out our jobs when the problem dog owner is claiming to be a non-English speaking person.

We are living in an era in which technology can come to our rescue.   There are cellphone apps that provide translational services.  You might opt for an app that translates text, but you run the risk that the person might not be able to read in his/her own language.  If you search for an app, look for one that can translate conversations.  If the person has children, you might have greater success in using the children as translators; frequently, children might speak English when their parents can’t

Keep a list of translation services when you are trying to bridge the gap of understanding.

Rabies Test

This morning, I read an article claiming that a dog was euthanized after being tested for rabies.  On the surface, that seems reasonable because rabies is 100% fatal.  However, the rabies test is also 100% fatal.  The rabies test requires that sections of brain tissue be sectioned for viewing under a microscope for infected cells.  The process of accessing those cells in the brain caused the animal’s death.  The media confuses the issue when reporting the news of a rabies test, making it sound like a simple procedure.

In most cases, health departments that conduct rabies tests don’t want to dispose of the animal’s body and ask that the sample be delivered to them containing just the head.  Only the head.  So, it is clear that animals are not euthanized “after” a rabies test.

This is one of the risks that pet owners take when they decide not to vaccinate their pets; should the animal bite a child; the only way to see if the child didn’t contract rabies is to “test” the animal.  And now, we know what that means.  A rabies test is a surefire way to stop an animal from biting any more kids.

Be a Good Steward

As the director of an animal control/sheltering organization, I encourage you to be a good steward. Being a good steward goes beyond being frugal, it means making the best of your resources.

Community

Be a good steward of your community’s resources. Use your tax dollars wisely. Create laws that keep the community safe from animals and keep animals safe from humans. Make the laws fair and balanced. At the end of your budget year, return unused funds, or set them aside for future emergencies; don’t go into a buying frenzy to increase your surplus. I understand that this is difficult to do because future budgets are weighted against past spending. Government budgets cater to excessive spending to prevent a shortfall in a future year. Budgets fluctuate from year to year, but government budget processes don’t adapt to fluctuations.

Protect your community from dangerous animals; do not adopt potentially dangerous animals into your community. Protect your community from pet overpopulation; make sure that all adopted animals are sterilized prior to being adopted. You cannot trust the pet’s new owners to fulfill that duty. It is your duty to keep the owners of dangerous animals in line.

Too often, animal shelters lose their first priories to protect their community. We are under such pressure to adopt any and all animals that we forget that our first priority it to protect our community. It is a hard lesson, but the most effective way to protect the community is to euthanize potentially dangerous dogs. Anytime you consider the adoptability of an animal, you must weigh it against the animal confronting a neighborhood child.

Hire the right staff. Many staff enter our field to protect animals and they need a strong Executive Director to prevent them from making stupid careless mistakes. As an Executive Director, you will often feel alone because the people you hire do not always share your priorities.

Animals

Be good stewards or the animals in your care. Keep them safe and provide for their basic needs. If you cannot provide for their continued health, then give them a humane death. Do everything that you can to ensure that stray animals are returned to their owners. Teach their owners what is necessary to be a good pet owner.

Do not adopt good animals to bad owners. The worst that you can do for an animal in your care is to give it to a family that will abuse it. You have a greater priority to keep your citizens safe over any obligation to an animal.

Always remember that your job is to provide temporary care of animals. As such it is a waste to buy the most expensive pet food; but you should not provide the cheapest. Find a well-balanced pet food. And realize that the long-term holding of animals is inhumane. Often our statistics get in the way of being humane.

Integrity

Be a good steward of your organization’s integrity. Be open and honest with people. Too often we lie about an animal’s prospects to spare the family’s conscience. If we make it too easy for a family to give up their pet, then they are not given the chance to see how the decisions they make have consequences.

When dealing with the media, do not report the good image that you want people to see; but, report the truth. You have to make tough decisions; so, let the media know how irresponsible pet ownership impacts you and your organization. If your shelter is overcrowded, then report the consequences of having an overcrowded shelter. Shelters are more than a “feel good” place, they are frequently the places of tragedy.

Staff

Be a good steward to your staff. It is becoming harder and harder to find people willing to work. Today’s schools are teaching students to perform at the level of the lowest performing student and thus are not preparing them for the workforce. You need to quickly identify low-performing workers so that they do not become a burden on your higher-performing workers. The quicker you terminate low performers, the faster they can learn what the world expects from them in the workplace.

The most important resource at your animal shelter is your staff. Although budgeting for your staff was the most difficult task at budget time. The greatest gift you can give to your staff is staff training; but, staff training funds are always the first thing that is on the chopping block. Since training resources are scarce, it is important to let your staff know when attending training that they are an ambassador of your shelter at conferences. I had a whole group of staff attend a conference that embarrassed themselves. I don’t remember ever allowing them to attend another conference after that.

We are experiencing a time in which some employees feel a sense of entitlement to their jobs and feel victimized when they are fired for not doing their job. Your priority is first to your community over that of your staff. It is important to weed out early potential staff who wish to push their own personal agenda over that which is good for the community. The same is true of volunteers who work at the shelter. I’ve gathered an entire chest of war stories about volunteers taking extreme risks with dangerous animals. Again, it is the Executive Director’s job to be engaged enough within your organization to see the warning signs.

There is plenty that can go wrong in an animal shelter. You need to take time to reward those employees who are not trying to drift the shelter into the rocks. Within the groups of employees who are opposed to working, there are members who just live day to day to push their own agenda or look for opportunities to claim they have been victimized. Just get rid of them. Otherwise, you’ll be spending all of your energy dealing with them and not managing your shelter.

Yourself

Be a good steward to yourself. Do what is right and live a guilt-free life. It never hurts to have God watching your back.

Population Dynamics in Animal Welfare

Wild Populations

One of the main goals of engaging with feral cat populations is to bring the number of cats down to the carrying capacity in your area. Pretty simple. Or is it? Basically, carrying capacity is maintaining the number of animals to a level that is not detrimental to the animal’s population or the environment. Pretty simple stuff; keep the animal population to the level that the land can support it. Oh, but there are so many things that can go wrong.

Several years ago, communities were trying to understand how their local efforts at Trap, Neuter, and Release or TNR were failing, in spite of all their efforts to sterilize all of their free-roaming cats. One of the big obstacles was little old ladies in white tennis shoes (LOLWTS). Who can watch an animal starve? So, these folks began changing the dynamics of the carrying capacity of their neighborhoods by feeding the feral cats that come into their yards.

As long as there is a food source, animals will breed. Even though the communities have spent a small fortune in sterilizing their feral cats, there are always enough fertile cats to join the cause to breed. Most of the fertile cats were indoor/outdoor cats owned in the neighborhood or abandoned by a previous owner. TNR programs failed when they believed that they had their feral cat problem under control. The current population of cats increased as cats immigrated into the area and others were abandoned by their owners. Soon, these fertile cats started causing the population to climb again.

The climbing population of cats resulted in neighbors calling their local animal control officer to trap and remove the cats. Those trapped cats create an unnecessary burden on the animal shelter and place the shelter’s animals at risk. Feral and outdoor cats are largely unvaccinated. When an unvaccinated animal enters the stress of being trapped and caged, the animal becomes susceptible to disease. We had an extremely difficult time maintaining the health of our cat population in Roanoke because the animal control officers in one jurisdiction kept rounding up the sick feral cats in their jurisdiction which provided a constant source of sick cats to the animal shelter. As a result, many potentially adoptable cats were prevented from finding new homes because of the constant quarantine conditions that the shelter was experiencing.

In Jacksonville, we were so effective in removing the nuisance feral cats in one neighborhood that neighbors began to complain of the rise in the rodent population. Jacksonville is home to a Norwegian Rat that grows to the size of a large cat. The neighborhood didn’t understand the benefit that their feral cat population provided and incurred larger problems in the removal of the cats.

Mother Nature provides a great equalizer for population control. Her efforts are frequently disturbed by human intervention; whether it is backyard feeding or animal removal programs. Ironically, as the shelter fills up with sickly feral cats, the carrying capacity of the area where the cats were removed opens up to new arrivals.

TNR is a short-term solution. It just seems like it takes forever. But when you announce your success and curb your TNR efforts, mother nature will begin to swart your original efforts. TNR isn’t a won-and-done proposition. Since you have already interfered with the carrying capacity of your program area, you’ll will need to continue those trapping efforts to ensure an ongoing effort to keep those cat numbers to a minimum.

I have always believed that the solution to the feral cat problem is an oral sterilant, that was used in controlling wildlife populations. The advantage of an oral program is that it treats both wild and domestic free-roaming animals. The offside is the effect that it would have on young children that seem to pick up and eat anything they find lying on the ground. Adding a rabies vaccination to the bait would help keep rabies under control and help minimize children running around biting one another.

Shelter Populations

A veterinarian once told me that the best way to keep disease down in your shelter is to keep the population of animals to a minimum. As the population of animals increases in an animal shelter, the stress of the animals rise. Stress weakens the immune system and disease outbreaks become common.

A feral cat may keep an illness under control until that cat undergoes the stress of being captured, caged, and confined. Illnesses in feral cats begin to manifest after three or four days in captivity. Then shelter staff, in their routine of feeding and cleaning, inadvertently begin spreading the illness to the rest of the cat population in the shelter. Then you have an outbreak.

Disease within an animal shelter population is generally spread by direct touch. Shelter staff need to clean themselves between cleaning each cage. Shelter visitors need to keep their hands to themselves. It is not uncommon to watch a visitor going down the line of cages petting one animal after another. Each touch creates an avenue for disease to spread.

When dealing with internal and external population limits, animal welfare staff have to consider what is in the best interest of the community’s people and animals. And always remember that Mother Nature (and well-intended people) will be constantly battling you along the way