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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Impact on Animal Welfare in Defunding Police Departments

Many animal control programs are under police department’s management.  in the current efforts to defund police departments, many cities will make token efforts to support taking funds away from their police departments.  Police departments will begin eliminating or reducing staffing in noncritical areas.

Most police departments consider their animal control program as a noncritical area.  It is a strongly held belief that protecting people is more important than protecting pets.  Who can disagree?

As police struggle to meet new funding challenges, they will be force to reassess funding for noncritical services.  Police departments may find it necessary to  stop responding to calls relating to animals and only respond to calls that are an immanent threat to people.

When calls are received about vicious dogs, Police officers may be forced to respond because their trained animal control officers have been fired in the forced reduction in force (RIF).  The untrained police officers will not have the skillset to capture the dog(s) alive.

The reductions to our police departments are going to change the safety of our communities and change the way communities deal with animal welfare issues.  Many communities will lose the buffer that protects them from the elements that would cause them harm.

I have to admit that I have encountered many folks who could not resolve their own problems.  It disturbed me that we have become far removed from our pioneer ancestors.  Many in our communities have become helpless.  If any good comes out of eliminating  services, maybe these people will be force to start to start taking care of themselves and not depend on others to do it for them.

Continuum of Force

The continuum of force is becoming a greatly debated issue with police tactics.  It might be best to illustrate the continuum as a ladder that requires a person to start at the lowest rung to reach a desired goal.  Although police officers and animal control officers have different job duties, they both use the continuum to complete their job.  The greatest difference between the two professions is that animal control officers can back away, if the job places them at immediate risk; they can always call a police officer to protect them.  Although this post is not to discuss the pros and cons of animal control officers carrying guns, it demonstrates that as long as police officers carry guns, it is not so necessary for animal control officers to do so.

It all starts with the uniform.  When I first started in the animal control profession, my boss, the Police Chief, wanted me to wear a uniform.  He had boxes of left over uniforms when the department updated their uniforms.  I convinced him to allow me to wear an off-the-shelf work outfit from JC Penney’s.  I wanted a uniform that I could easily wash and made me look more like a UPS driver than a cop.

The Police Chief insisted that I wear a badge.  He didn’t see the humor when I showed up with a tie-tack as a badge.  I explained that I  crawled through bushes and might lose “a real badge.”  We agreed on something that was larger than the tie-tack and smaller than the police officer’s badge.

I bring up this war story to show that the uniform is the first rung of the continuum.  In most circumstances, the uniform is sufficient for most reasonable people to accept the authority of the police officer and in recognizing that, no further force is necessary.  Unfortunately, we have stopped being reasonable people.  People now go out of their way to escalate their engagements with police officers.    As such, the officer needs as many  nonlethal tools as possible.

Given recent protests, people are complaining about the nonlethal tools that the police officers are using on looters.  The looters are complaining that they don’t like to be hit with rubber bullets or sprayed with pepper spray.  So, City Councils are banning the use of many nonlethal tools.  The fewer the tools, the more that can go wrong.  In the military, we used firehoses to breakup riots, unfortunately, those firehoses are needed to put out the fires that are started by the looters.

You might be saying that many peaceful nonlooters were harmed by rubber bullets and pepper spray.  I would think that if you are standing in a crowd that is looting and burning buildings, you are pretty stupid standing around to watch.  When people get out of control, it is a good time to pack up your protest and go home.

People go out of their way to confront police officers.  It is all the more reason that animal control officers should not dress up like a police officer.  We are not trained to verbally deal with those altercations.  Given how people are trying to push police officers up the steps of the continuum of force, animal control officers are ill prepared.  Given that City Councils are taking away the tools that are necessary for police officers; police officers are finding that as they are be pushed up that continuum, many  rungs or missing and the jump to lethal force is becoming shorter.

I have encountered many animal control officer who want to become police officers.  Our profession is a good stepping stone to that honorable profession; but, now is not the time to make ourselves look like police officers.  We are witnessing a major increase in the number of crazy people wanting to harm them.

The  best thing that we can learn from the recent interactions that the  police are facing is to know when it becomes necessary to back away.  Unfortunately, police officers are not in a profession in which they can take our lead.

In our profession, we have the following steps:

  1. Verbal – coaxing an animal to come to us.
  2. Snare – using a snappy snare to catch a shy animal.
  3. Ketch Pole – using a ketch-pole to handle a potentially dangerous animal.
  4. Live Trap – to catch an animal that we cannot get close to.
  5. Tranquiller dart – to catch the animals that cannot be caught by any other means.

In looking over our list, maybe we could loan a few of our tools to the police.  Kidding!  (Or am I?).  I know, I know, in this day of people carry around a chip on their shoulders, some would say that I am suggesting that we treat people like animals.  I just might be suggesting that we need to treat people in a way that keeps them and the police from getting hurt.  Like the way things were done when the police officers could use pepper spray.  Which, by the way, is an excellent tool for animal control officers for self defense.

Techniques for Catching Stray Dogs

I want to share a few techniques that I used to cut down on the time you spend on dealing with shy stray dogs.  The first thing that should go through your mind when seeing a dog that you think is running loose is to decide if your assessment is correct.  Is the dog really running at large?

Many laws state that an animal that is not constrained within its owner’s property is considered at large.  It makes perfect sense because an unconfined dog can rush out to harass a child on the sidewalk; however, I would discourage impounding the dog unless you see the dog leave its yard.  I think a citation or warning is better suited to these situations.  You do not want to develop a reputation in your community for stealing dog from their property, even if it is lawful.

For dogs that you see running loose in the street, you should first attempt to chase the dog home.  I have witnessed many animal control officer choose to impound all loose dogs and take them to the animal shelter so that they don’t have to deal with the dog’s owner.  If an animal control officer is not doing everything in their power to return a dog to its owner, then he or she is just a dogcatcher.  Using citations in the field is an effective means to keep your animal shelter from becoming overcrowded.  Also, a large segment of pet owners will abandon their pets.  Returning a pet to the owner helps prevent owners from abandoning their pets.  Even if they refuse to take their pet back, they still violated the law and deserve a citation.

As per my writing style, I am going on a short tangent.  Many animal control officers want shelter staff to issue citations when the owners come into the shelter to reclaim their pets.  If you are charging pet owners impound fees, then I believe a citation for the dog running at large is a duplicate charge and is unnecessary.  The same goes with licensing violations; if you require the purchase of a dog license when the animal is reclaimed, then issuing a citation for a license violation becomes a moot issue.  Most judges would throw out the citation and it becomes a waste of everyone’s time.

Okay, back on topic.  I usually carry SMALL chocolate chip cookies with me on patrol  They make for a good treat to encourage a dog to come over to me as I gently place a leash on the dog.  I know what you are thinking, but I have never lost a dog to chocolate poisoning.  The chocolate chip cookie is such an effective method for catching dogs that I have encountered dogs that would come out to my truck to get his cookie.

Another technique that works with the chocolate cookie is driving up beside a dog and opening your car door and asking the dog if he or she wants to go for a ride.  Just like using the cooking, I have had dogs that would come out to my vehicle to ride around with me in the front seat.

Having a dog riding with you makes it easier to catch other dog.  If you see a stray dog, you can climb out of your vehicle and start playing with your dog.  When the other dog sees the fun that you are having, he or she might want to get involved in the play.

Anytime you see a group of dogs together, you might assume that one of the dogs is in heat.  If you identify that dog, the other dogs will follow you anywhere.  I once picked up a group of seven or eight dogs using this method; that is why you need to carry a bunch of leashes with you when you get out of your vehicle.

A snappy snare is one of the most effective means to catch a running dog.  Ketchpoles are not effective catching a running dog; they are best used when you have a dog cornered.

If you use livetraps in catching hard to catch dogs, when a food attractant isn’t getting a dog to enter the trap, you might considering capturing urine from dogs in heat on gauze pads.  You can keep the gauze pads in baggies in the freezer for when they are needed.

Using chemical capture techniques should only be used when the dog presents a threat to public safety.  It is important to maintain your proficiency when using this method.

Keep in mind that no matter what technique you use, if you do not make the capture a fun activity for the dog, you may never be able to use that technique again.

Budget Comparisons: Is it apples to apples?

One of the reoccurring methods that we have used during budget deliberations is attempting to show how our budget compares to “like” jurisdictions.  It is our hope that making an apples to apples comparison with a similar  jurisdiction might help get us a larger apple.  Unfortunately, in making many comparisons, we find many oranges thrown into the mix.

The first hurdle  to overcome is realizing how an organization’s infrastructure is manifested on the budget sheet.  Many infrastructure items, like fleet management, Human Resources, and IT are covered by other departments.  If funds have not been allocated for those, but are covered by those department’s budgets, then you are not going to see the true picture of the cost burden that animal services poses to the community.

One of the best indications of determining costs is to create a per capita evaluation to determine how organizations compare.  In the early days of comparing statistics between organizations, we began to understand that far too many oranges were mixed into our fruit  salad  of statistical comparisons.  In Florida, I took part, working with other service areas to try to create a even  field of statistical comparisons as part of the Florida Benchmarking Consortium.  Although we found the per capita bases solid, we based our statistics on number of events per 1,000 population.  In this way, smaller organizations could be compared against larger organizations.

When I was working out a contract with another jurisdiction for animal control services in Salt Lake County, I encountered one jurisdiction that felt that they should only have to pay for the added cost of providing services to their city.  They knew that we already had an infrastructure in place and felt it unnecessary to pay into an existing infrastructure; thereby, not paying their “fair share”

This type of thinking is what goes on in the heads of government officials when they begin looking for a nonprofit to take over their animal control program.  They want to pay less and getting an organization willing to fundraise to keep services flowing is just what they are looking for to cut costs. Too often a nonprofit organization will become over eager to assume the task of running an animal control program, only to find that they have walked into a battle of funding the program fundraising long term.

It is a challenge when taking on budget comparisons.  It is important to see the picture as to how line items are allocated.


People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) gained their early notoriety  with shock and awe tactics.  Their campaigns to end the use of animal pelts as articles of clothing revealed the naked bodies of many of their volunteers at public and private functions.  Obviously  it was an organization that you can get behind.

My first encounter with PETA was early in my profession when one our community’s pets mauled a young girl.  As the decision was being made as to what to do with the dog, I got a phone call advising me that if any harm came to the dog, I would be killed.  The caller identified himself as being from PETA.

I notified the local press, because I wanted to discredit the mentality of that caller so as to prevent any further foothold of people in my community to stand behind an aggressive dog over the life of a child.  The newspaper called PETA for their response.

I have  to admire Ingrid Newkirk for her response that PETA values all life and it is inconsistent with their mission to harm a human.  She advised the reporter that her organization has many volunteers who fail to follow strictly their organizational values.  In the years that followed, her words were a prophecy that I witnessed over and over with my own volunteers.

Over the years PETA has been criticized for their tactics that seemed inconsistent with their mission of doing no harm to animals.  Recently, I caught a CNN article claiming that they wanted to eliminate the term “pet.”

The Oxford Dictionary already includes animal in their definition of PETA’s new word for pet: “companion”.   PETA has declared the word “pet” as being derogatory.  Anyone who has ever cared for a dog will know that a dog isn’t debased by the term “pet”.  Cats, on the other hand, view humans as servants and being called a “pet” by our cat would be the closest thing to a kind word ever offered by a cat.  Lovers often call one another by pet names.

I understand where PETA is coming from; we live in a “woke” world and words have new meanings.  We have become a society in which words are used to declare our awareness of the plight of the world.  But the people who chain up their dog in their backyards are no where near being the woke people who PETA hopes that they are.

PETA’s latest adventure into the woke world is to believe that their plight in fighting for animals  is much like the plight of fighting against racisms.  Although I am not convinced that Black Lives Matter would agree.  One of PETA’s latest efforts is to make people woke on using animal names to describe  people.  For example: calling a person a “pig” is an injustice to pigs.  Of course people have tried to point out that pigs really don’t have any feelings about this.

I think PETA’s greatest accomplishment was getting people to rethink their behavior toward eating animals.  They made a great impact on creating a world of Vegans.  However, many vegans worry that PETA’s efforts to piggyback on every passing cause will only diminish the vegan cause due to the craziness of these side issues that PETA engages in.

Broken People

Broken people are those who fail to meet societal norms.  They make up many of the hoarders and homeless people of our nation.  They live beside us and provide little impact to our society; until, they drag other species into their nightmare.

In every community that I have served, my staff and I have had to deal with animal hoarders.  It is the condition in which these animals are kept that force the need for our intervention.  Before responding to the residence of a hoarder, it is necessary that animal control officers have access to the proper equipment upon enter the house.  The equipment should include latex gloves, foot covers, disposable coveralls, face mask (with the ammonia/methane cartridge), and lots and lots of flea spray.  It doesn’t hurt to carry a methane detector to give you probable cause to enter the residence.

In Gainesville Florida, we came upon a hoarding case in which the fire department’s hazmat team refused to enter the house, even in their protective suits.  Sometimes it gets that bad.  Also in Gainesville, we had to deal with one of the largest cat hoarding cases in the United States in which we had to seize nearly 700 cats.  Yes, it gets that bad.

In Salt Lake County, we had quite an effective system in dealing with hoarding cases.  We would arrive on scene with law enforcement personnel and health department personnel.  Hoarders can give you a difficult time accessing their residence, unless you have a health department official condemning the property.  The health department takes lead in returning the house to “living conditions,” that includes removing animals.

In Salt Lake County, I had to deal with a guy living in a delivery truck with five dogs.  The conditions inside that vehicle we not fit for man nor beast.  I tried to use the guys dogs as leverage to get help for him and his dogs.  I could not break through his mental illness.  I eventually was forced to seize his dogs and he dedicated his life to calling me every five minutes to condemn me for my actions.  He was one of the few people that I encountered that I could find no work arounds.  People are allowed to be like him, but laws are in place to prevent him from taking his pets down that path.

The animal welfare profession is a career of working with pet owners to make the lives of their pets better.  Because we are working with people, we are going to encounter broken people who  will show that they are not capable of taking care of themselves, let alone another animal.    It is important to prepare for broken people and their pets.