Animal Limit Laws

Our species is unable to live a life of moderation.  For that reason, laws are made so that our lack of moderation does not adversely effect the quality of life for our neighbors.  Pet limit laws are a good example.

Barking dogs is an area in which a pet owner can be in possession of one or more noise nuisance animals and the owner just ignores the adverse effect that their dogs have on their neighbors.  Clearly the more uncontrolled animals that a person owns makes the conditions untenable for the neighbors.  The fact that pet owners care so little for their neighbors requires that communities create laws that limit the number of animals per household.

The formula is different for each community.  Many communities will allow more animals per household if the animals have been spayed or neutered.  We’ve even allowed fostering of animals from the local animal shelter to be exempt from the animal count at a specific household.

The formula becomes even more complicated when you are looking at single family housing verses multifamily housing.  Exceptions are made for underaged animals, so that infant animals can remain with their mother until such time as they are eating on their own.

Kennel licensing is a method in which you throw out your pet limit law to allow people to house greater numbers of animals.  The issuing of kennel licenses are frequently the case of neighborhood disputes.  Animal Control Officers should use great care in determining if a person is able to care for a large number of animals without impacting their neighbors.

I have frequently found that in dealing with animal complaints, people who have lived in the neighborhood the longest seem to believe they have more rights than people who have lived in the neighborhood the shortest period of time.  They are always shocked to learn that their seniority offers no perks over that of their neighbors.

Animal ownership is one of the major factors that limit the livability of a neighborhood.  The more callous the pet owner, the greater need for laws.   If pitbull owners had proven themselves more responsible, breed bans would not be considered in communities.  It is unfortunate that a few bad pet owners make things harder on everyone else.

Police Officer Shootings

Recently, in the news, a police officer shoots a dog running at large.  The officer claims that the dog, a pitbull, came at him in an aggressive manner.  We’ll never know what the dog was thinking.  The problem with a pitbull dog is that when they are running at you in a friendly way looks the same as if they are attacking you; it isn’t until the reach you that you determine their intent.

This particular officer has previously kill three other dogs in the line of duty.  Since the dogs cannot give their story, we will never know if this is the result of an over zealous police officer.

The local media is demanding the police department’s  “policy” of dogs running at large.  They believe that if there is no policy that allows for a police officer to kill an attacking dog, then that isn’t an option for the officer.  The request is pretty stupid.  Any rational person would understand that if the police officer feels he is in danger or feels that he needs to protect another person, then a rushing dog might as well have a target painted on it.

When an officer’s first response is to reach for his or her firearm, then they have failed the part of their training that teaches the escalation of force.  Pepper spray works most of the time on dogs and a taser is effective, if the officer can hit a small moving target.  Because the officer’s first thought is to reach for his gun; if I were his Chief, I would order him to take more training.

The real lesson to learn here is about training police officers.  It is about getting dog owners to accept their responsibility of keeping their dogs properly confined.  If I lived in a community in which loose dogs are shot, I would probably keep my dog safely indoors.

As I have always preached, all dogs have the potential to bite.  Even if your dog is friendly, some people have a fear of dogs and that fear is shared by a lot of police officers.  Unless you are looking forward to a law suit or your dog being shot, a smart dog owner keeps their dog under control AT ALL TIMES!   The problem is that we just don’t see enough smart dog owners., as demonstrated by the dog owner in this incident in which she is more concerned about the police department’s policy towards shooting loose dogs than accepting her role in allowing her dog to run loose.

Just Doing Their Job

Recently, a Tennessee teenage was maul and killed by a “pack of dogs” as she was approaching the home in which the dogs lived.  The sheriff’s report of the incident quoted the owner as saying, that the dogs were “just doing their job.”  I wonder what this guy owned that was so valuable that it was worth killing over.

I have repeatedly claimed that the owners of aggressive dogs are idiots.  It is unfortunately that we only become aware of these people after someone has been injured or killed.  Dogs are a lot like guns, they are dangerous in the wrong hands.

As with any dog attack, the prosecutor is struggling through possible charges; the first that always comes to mind is reckless endangerment,  especially when the expectation of the owner was for the dogs to attack innocent children that approached his home.

Fee Waivers and Deferments

It is frustrating in our business that people will not have a second thought of allowing their pets to run loose,  but have second thoughts when it come time to bail their pet out of the shelter.  In an effort to maintain the highest live release rate, we have bent over backward to get pets back to their owners when the owners don’t want to pay impoundment fees.

Returned in the field:  many shelters have a program which an animal found running at large and is wearing a current license, the animal control officer will return the pet home.  If there is someone home, the animal is simply handed off.  If the owner is not home, the animal control officer should not attempt to secure the animal in a fence.  All you need is to return the pet and then have the pet escape again and be hit by a car.  If it is observed that you returned the pet, then you will be blamed for any harm that comes to the animal later.  It is important to track returning pets home, so pet owners don’t abuse this service.  When I first started in this business, a Black Lab would come out and greet me and he and I would patrol his neighborhood.  I would give his owners a break because he helped me capture the other dogs that were running loose (hint: it is easier to catch a dog if you have another dog with you).

Fee deferment:  fee deferment is a program that works with your finance department in which pet owners are offer an opportunity to set up a fee schedule to pay back the fees that they are owed.  Since many people will not honor a payment schedule, the finance department can apply it to their property taxes, whether house or auto.  Don’t waste your time sending non-payments to a collection agency, they will tell you that there is no money in it for them.  It is not like they are going to reprocess their pet; besides, you’ll see the animal back in your shelter in no time.

Fee waivers:  a fee waiver is a partial or complete reduction in the fee.  This is usually a case in which the owner can demonstrate that the impoundment was beyond his or her control or that they can show an extreme financial hardship.  Like everything, you have to decide if they are telling the truth.

These waivers will have one of two outcomes: that you have coddled the owner and the owner learns nothing from the experience, except to scam the system.  But, there are times that it is a educational experience and the owner learns a little more about being a responsible pet owner.

Personal Narrative

From the moment that we are born, we are creating our personal narrative.  As we get older, outside forces begin to boister or corrode that narrative.  It is too bad that many fail to follow the teaching I learned in the Boy Scouts to be “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, courteous,  kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”  As we age, we begin to carry two personal narrative:  the real one and the one that we put out to others.

Our real narrative is the one that determines if we have the good qualities of our species, like integrity.  Oddly it one of the traits that I see less often.  We are all born with the same amount of these good qualities and many of us start selling the off through life.

As you choose to loose those better qualities, we create a narrative that we project to others; these are the kind of things that we put on our Facebook page or on a dating app.  Social media is a good place to determine the kind of person you are.  Do you post to get attention or do you post to make the things better.  Do you push your agenda on the world with truths or lies?  Are you supportive or are you destructive?  This is your public narrative.   It is the one that most people see.

For many people they create their public narrative, the embellish it, and when told a sufficient number of times, they begin to believe it.  In your narrative, you can become the hero or the victim.  I’ve noticed a growing number of victims because they have started believing their public narrative.  In stead of taking responsibility for their lives, they want to blame others for their failures.

What kind of narrative are you creating?

Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)

Breed specific legislation is all about treating every breed as equals.

Miami started the fad of banning pitbulls, thinking it was a public safety measure.  Many communities followed.

Does banning pitbulls make your community safer?  Yes, but so does banning Cocker Spaniels and Chihuahuas.   Most dog bites are the result of irresponsible dog owners, but poor ownership qualities become more noticeable as the size and the power of the breed increases.  A bad Chihuahua owner is hardly noticed because the bite of a Chihuahua rarely needs medical attention.  Bites caused by pitbulls are increasingly causing fatalities… thus the decision communities take to ban them.

Are Pitbulls getting a bad reputation?  Yes and no, Pitbulls are very loyal dogs, but they attract the worst pet owners; on top of that, genetics play a role that makes the dogs predisposed to aggression towards other animals.  Many humans are bitten trying to protect their pet from an attacking Pitbull.

People always find their way around the BSL laws.  When Pitbull owners discover that their breed has been unmasked, they simply respond saying that the dog is a service animal.  You already know how I feel about the abuses of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) concerning service animals; but, now you have communities dealing with the dilemma of dealing with Pitbulls as an ADA issue.

The chant opposing BSL is, “The deed, not the breed.”  The idea is that if a dog is aggressive, it will display that aggression by biting someone.  Given that every dog has the potential to bite, you don’t arbitrarily ban a breed without proof of aggression.  In theory, this sounds fair, but the problem arises that someone now has to be bitten.  The idea of BSL is to prevent bites before they occur.

We now live in a world in which people want to champion the cause of the under dogs and as such we are seeing a movement to rescind BSL laws in many cities.  Some State have created laws prohibiting breed specific laws.  Although this movement will not sway the insurance companies that have banned these dogs from homeowner insurance polices or stop apartment managers from renting to owners of specific breeds.

The underlying problem is that in the wrong hands dogs, any dog, presents a risk to society when the owner of that dog decides that his right to own a potentially dangerous dog out weighs the rights of his neighbors to live safely.  Pitbulls can live in our community, only if their owners can recognize the potential threat that they may pose and take the necessary steps to prevent them from causing harm… this also applies to Chihuahuas as well.

Although Pitbulls are finding good pet owners, they are prominently still falling into the hands of the worst owners, as evidenced by the volume of Pitbulls that are overwhelming our shelters.  In leu of a ban on Pitbulls, I would recommend legislation that requires the sterilization of the breed; it is our only hope of getting our shelter populations under control.  As long as pitbull breeds fill over half of the kennels in our shelters that are and will remain a problem in our communities.

A few years ago, after Denver banned pitbulls, people began identifying their  pitbull as a service animal.  As you have read in other posts on this site, the laws concerning service animals had gotten way out of control and Denver was dealing with that abuse as people fought for their banned pets.  In February of 2020, the City of Denver overturned the previous ban and provided for passage of pitbulls to be treated like other pets, following a two year probationary period.

States started transitioning away from breed specific legislation and began banning laws that don’t treat all animals as equals.  In our WOKE society, the breed laws were decried as racist and “didn’t follow the science.”  Many states began passing laws directed at insurance companies who first discovered that paying out insurance claims differed from breed to breed.  Given that some breeds were responsible for the greatest number of serious bites and fatalities, they decided to not insure those breeds.

As governments start pressuring insurance companies into accepting all manner of breeds, it will be interesting to see how these companies will respond to being forced to pay out claims for animals that they see as high risk.

Anyone who has been bitten by various breeds knows that all breeds are not equal.  Smaller breeds are more likely to bite more often, but larger breeds inflict the most injuries.

Bad Fences Make for Bad Neighbors

One of the most frustrating thing that we face in our profession is determining the risk of a failing fence.  I have had countless conversations with owners of perceived aggressive dogs as to the state of their fence line.  We are not in the insurance business, but we know a accident waiting to happen.  The problem we face is that the owners of aggressive dogs are not the brightest tool in the box and as Animal Control Officers, we cannot take action until the dog actually escapes the yard.

The other day, 9-year-old Emma Hermandez was killed by three pit bull type dogs in Detroit after Emma’s father spoke to the dog’s owners about  the sad state that his fence was in.   The owner was arrested, but the article stated that the “prosecutors are determining what charges, if any, their owner may face.”  The problem with prosecutors is that they rarely deal with fatal dog cases and can’t think objectively.  Every dog has the potential to bite, but few have the ability to kill.  Dogs are like a loaded weapon, some are like BB guns and other are more like a 45 caliber.  Having been warned about the neighbor’s concern and failing to take action, the owner should be charged with reckless endangerment.  If the Animal Control had received and acted on previous complaints, the owner should be charged with murder.

As with guns, there are no laws that keep dogs out of the hands of idiots.  You can usually tell when a neighborhood has one of these dog owners, the rest of the neighborhood knows that a gun will trump a dog anytime.

I have advised neighbors to know the response time of their police and go on record filing a complaint with both the police and animal control.  A person needs to build a case for themselves as to the necessity of the actions that they have taken to protect themselves.  You may one day be in court trying to convince a judge that your actions were necessary.  A person needs to keep their wits about them, even an experienced police officer can fail to hit a vital organ.  My shelter dealt with a pit bull dog that had been shot by the local police officers 19 times and lived through the experience.  The best shot comes when the dog is running directly at you, presenting that large forehead.  If you miss, offer up your forearm and you are in perfect position to line up for a perfect shot.  If you work for the police department, volunteer to catch your canine dog on a wrap.  Plenty of “wrap time” can get you to see for yourself the opportunity that is made available to you.  If you find it necessary to shoot the dog, remember that in all of the excitement, you must always insure that you have a safe background behind the dog.

Why would you consider shooting a dog?

  1. You do not carry the necessary equipment to capture the dog alive without risk to yourself.
  2. It is a quick solution to a problem that demands an immediate response.  Let’s face it, the longer that a dog is allowed to chew on a child, the less likely the child will survive.
  3. It is a permanent solution to a problem that you cannot trust the dog’s owner to fix.

In the case with Emma, a neighbor shot one dog and the others were later captured by animal control; but, it was all too late for her.   As with any of these fatal incidents, there will be someone wanting to save the dogs.  They might even hire a “dog expert” to justify the dog’s actions, these guys are paid well to spin a yarn, they’ll even make the case that it was the victim’s fault.

The Case for Pookie

In 1995, a 2 year old girl was playing in her yard, when she decided that she wanted to pet the neighbor’s dog, Pookie.  She began climbing the chain link fence so that she could reach over and pet the dog.  As she climbed the fence, the dog grabbed on to the toe of her shoe and began pulling her toes, then foot, then leg through the fence.  A witness at a nearby bus stop reported that the dog look like a land shark, trying to pull that child through the fence.

The dangerous dog case against this dog was thrown out because the judge ruled that when the child’s toes crossed the plane of the fence, the child was trespassing and determined that the child’s actions triggered the attack upon her.

This incident became a landmark case in Portland Oregon because it set the stage for a local attorney and his wife to turn the local animal shelter into a prison as they appealed dangerous dog cases that came their way.  Anyone who has worked with the courts know the lengthy process and the attorney used this lengthy process to punish the shelter by forcing them to hold dogs pending the appeal process.  The appeals serve to keep the animal shelter full of “dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs,” and where the dogs become the victims of being caged for a long time.  Many debate as to how humane it is for a dog to be caged for years pending a court resolution.

The war between public safety and the rights of animals has been constantly waged in Portland Oregon for years.  This attorney and his wife have repeatedly stated that there really is no reason to declare an animal as dangerous, it is a human problem.  As with any cause, there are people at the extreme left and extreme right.  The people who live their lives in the fringe of any cause do not accept those of us who try to remain balanced and stay in the middle.   Working in the animal welfare field, you are going to be constantly called on to take one side or the other.  If you are a government employee, you have to understand that even though we got into this business because of our love for animals, our primary purpose is to protect our community.  In spite of what people will tell you, there are animals that are too unsafe to live in our communities.  Sure, most of them became unsafe as a result of their owners; so, even though it isn’t their fault, they are still a public safety risk.

The purpose of people like this attorney and his wife is to intimidate us.  They believe that if they are persistent long enough, we will cave to their will.  Along the way we are going to lose a case or two, but we will carry on because we have a higher calling: to keep our children safe.

Animals in Hot Cars

A summer doesn’t go by without news of a child or dog dying in a hot car.  People do not seem to comprehend how quickly a vehicle can heat up.  It is tragic t loose an animal in this fashion.  For that reason, animal control organizations need to have policies in place to make sure that animal control officers are not guilty of committing the same acts, especially if those officers are using unairconditioned animal control boxes on their vehicles.

In creating a policy, the organization must determine the ambient temperature that will trigger the policy; eighty to ninety degrees seems to be a good temperature range to work with.  When the temperature reaches that threshold temperature, the policy is triggered that sets the maximum time that an animal may be in the vehicle; 60 minutes is a good length of time, providing that the carrier box pushes air through each kennel.

If an animal seems hot during pickup, that holding time should be reduced to 30 minutes and the animal should be given water and wetted down prior to transportation.  Animal Control Officers need to be smart enough to park in shaded area and to constantly check on the animals onboard the vehicle.  Frequent stops at gas stations might be necessary to keep the animals hosed down and kept cool.

There is no excuse for an animal control officer leaving an animal onboard his/her vehicle for extending period of time in the summer; but, every year we hear about an officer forgetting about an animal that is left on the vehicle over night.  Officers need to get into the routine of checking their vehicle at the end of their shift and cleaning the vehicle for use the next day.  One stupid mistake can bring to an end of your animal control career.

Keeping animals safe in the summer is a matter of common sense.

Having the Right Tools

Being an animal control officer is much easier than being a police officer; I’ve always been able to predict the behavior of an animal, but I am still trying to figure out people.  Given the tools that are available to animals (teeth and claws), it is necessary for animal welfare workers to have the right tools.

Muzzles:  as I have mentioned previously, if you need a muzzle for a cat, you have already lost the battle.  However, muzzles are effective tools for potentially aggressive dogs.  It is important that if you see the need to put a muzzle on a dog, that you use the right size.  A muzzle is useless if it doesn’t stay on the dog.

Catchpoles:  a catchpole is for the safety of an individual.  Anyone who has used a catchpole knows that it can be a public relations nightmare.  Many dogs have never been on leash, so you can imagine how they will respond to a pole.  Using a catchpole on a cat is much like using a muzzle; it is always hard to watch.  It is too easy to harm a cat, so make sure that you catch one of the front legs; otherwise, consider using a net.  Catchpoles are one of those tools that you should ALWAY carry away from your vehicle.  I walked up on a Rottweiler with only a leash and quickly discovered how stupid that was.

Pepper spray:  pepper spray is extremely important to carry if you are stupid enough to get out of your vehicle without a catchpole.  On a side note, the owner of the Rottweiler filed a complaint against me for using pepper spray on her dog, she should have file a stupidity complaint against me.  I had the right tools but didn’t have them immediately available.  Fortunately for me, the sergeant investigating the incident was attacked by the dog and was nearly shot.  I received no disciplinary action other than the verbal abuse I received from myself.

Nets:  nets make me think dogcatcher.  I hate using nets on poles.  My officers use giant nets in Atlanta.  I hated them, but I saw that they were very good at using them and the animals were safe… I overlooked my objections.  Nets are really the only way to catch and control aggressive cats.  The problem is getting a cat out of net and into a carrier.  I have found most gloves insufficient for handling cats.  It is also very hard to find an experienced person willing to test a new set of gloves on a cat.

Metal clipboards:  other than a brick wall, there is no better protection to keep from getting bit than a sturdy clipboard when by an aggressive dog at the owner’s front door.  When the dog rushes out the door, the clipboard is what you feed it.  You use it as a shield.  You continue feeding it until you can back away and get into your vehicle.  I’ve rarely found the owner willing or able to control their pet during one of these incidents.   If two dogs come rushing out at you, you pepper spray both and hope that the spray stops one of them.  The clipboard may be your only protection at the door, so make sure you spend the extra money to get a metal one.

Snake tongs:  I hate snakes.  The first tools I purchased when I started work as an animal control officer was a snake tong and snake hook, even though I had never encountered them in my work.  No sooner did I have the new tools in my vehicle that I got my first snake call.  So, be careful what you order.

Gloves: one of the most useful tool that I ever had was a Neptune Glove.  You probably have never hear about them because I may have been the only one who ever bought one.  It looked like an attack sleeve used in training police and military dogs, but had an additional covering of chainmail on the outside of the glove.  Although the glove was expensive, it paid for itself the night that I got called out to remove a badger from the truck of a car (long story).  Chainmail is used on smaller gloves for people working with knives.  There are gloves rated for animals, but I have never gotten anyone to test them on a feral cat.

Flashlights:  when working at night, remember that it takes two hands to work a catchpole, so make sure you get a light that you affix to your head or pole.

Duct tape and cable ties:  I can’t think of any use for duct tape while working, but it is still a useful tool.  Maybe you can tape your flashlight to your catchpole.  In a disaster, duct tape usually fixes anything… like an emergency repair to a animal carrier that lost half of its screws.  Which reminds me that cable ties are handy when you’ve lost all of your carrier screws.

CO2 fire extinguisher:  This is one of the most effective tools in breaking up dogfights.  The extinguisher provides a momentary shock to the dogs that will hopefully break up the dogfight… once administered, it is important to quickly move in with leashes or catchpoles.

The most important tool is the one you decide you need when you don’t have it; so, in each situation, think about what tools would make your job easier (safer).