Helping the Helpless

We live in times in which people complain that government is too big, but the problem is that people are becoming more and more helpless and ask government to do more for them. The pioneer spirit, that made our country so great, is being replaced by needy people.

People don’t want to spend the energy to find a new home for their pet, so they dump it at the “pound.” Fearing that people will think ill of them for surrendering their pet, they turn the animal in as a stray. So, instead of immediately trying to find a new home for the pet, the animal shelter is forced to spend the first few days looking for the animals owner.

It is not uncommon that we find that surrendering pet owners are not only callous, but also stupid. When surrendering a pet, the owner will forget that they had adopted the pet from the shelter and the pet had been microchipped prior to adoption.

Animal Control Officers will get calls from citizens asking for assistance to help the owner catch his/her own dog. The owner has developed such a poor relationship with their pet, that it is more likely that a stranger will be able to catch it.

One summer in Virginia, we had a problem of pet sitters surrendering the animals in their care. They would get tired of caring for the pet and surrender the animal to the shelter as a stray. They would not even bother to let us know that an owner will be returning from vacation to look for their pet.

But the biggest problem that we faced is people adopting a new pet and losing the pet before getting the pet inside their home. Even after all of the instructions that we provided, people would choose to drop the leash to let their new pet run to the front door on their own. Hey, guess what? After being caged for a long while, being off leash opened opportunities for new adventures for the pet.

The good news is that the few people who have access to money can pay others to help them be good pet owners. Doggie Day Cares exist to exercise and socialize and you can even hire people to come out and clean up the poop in your yard.

Staff Training

The first thing removed from the budget during lean times is staff training.  It is probably the last place funds should be touched.  The best way to invest in your organization is through decent salaries and staff training. A few days ago, the newspaper picked up on a story that animal control staff returned from a conference and wanted to implement TNR (Trap, Neuter and Release) program.  The newspaper talked like this was something new and our community would be cutting edge by trapping cats. Communities have been performing TNR for years.  The fact that our community is starting it now only means that we are just catching up.  If we had invested in staff training years ago and had the will to manage our community cats, we would be further along to become no kill. Conferences are the place where our staff catches up with the rest of the world.  It is important to send our best staff to training.  If you were to pick a single conference to attend, I would suggest the Animal Care Expo. The best gift that you can give your staff is training.  There are not many opportunities for training animal welfare staff, so it is important that you follow when and where the training occurs.

When sending your staff off to training opportunities, it is a good idea to remind them that they are ambassadors of your organization.  I have encountered incidents in which a few staff saw training as a party opportunity and embarrassed themselves and our organization.  Depending on your staff, you might consider always sending a member of your management team who has the authority to send the offending member of your staff home.

If sending staff off to conferences is outside your budget, providing Animal Sheltering magazine is a good alternative.  I would suggest getting a subscription to the magazine for each member of the staff and extras for your volunteers.  When you are seeking grants for your shelter, consider obtaining training grants for your staff. Inhouse training can be supplemented by contacting organizations, like Animal Control Training Services (ACT), to conduct various levels of training as needed by your staff.  Usually these services discount training costs for the organization that will host the training event.  ACT’s website has many resource materials for those looking for a specific need or wishing to create a new form. Another “ACT” is Animal Care Technologies that provides training for shelter staff and volunteers in animal care and veterinary services.  If found this online training particularly beneficial in scheduling animal care training to new animal attendants and volunteers.  

COVID-19 put a real crimp on annual conferences, but it opened the door to national organizations rethinking their approach to providing professional development to their members.  The National Animal Control Association saw that their annual national conferences were no longer viable in today’s pandemic world, so they created online courses.  The online courses cannot make up for the peer to peer contact with others in their profession that makes conferences so great, but they provide an economic training opportunity to animal control staff who would not ordinarily be able to attend training.

If you think that staff training is unimportant, remember that much of the problems that the police face is that many of their officers have clearly demonstrated their lack of training when arriving on the scene.  As a result, many cities are cutting police budgets when they should be throwing more money towards better staff training.  The same is true of giving your staff the equipment they need to perform their jobs correctly.   As with the police, the more nonlethal equipment that you give to the officers, the more tools the officer has to bring a peaceful resolution.  

Community Cat Programs

The biggest problem that communities face with community cat programs is that no one takes responsibly for the medical needs of the cats. It is one thing to feed a neighborhood cat, but quite another to take on the responsibility to sterilize and vaccinate those cats. Many cat owners don’t do that for their own cats, let alone cats running loose in the neighborhood.

Although feeding these neighborhood cats is a humane act; that food creates at artificially high carry capacity for the neighborhood and triggers breeding. Within a few years the neighborhood population of cats explode, resulting in complaints to animal control. Generally, animal control doesn’t care about cat problems until complaints arise and then they set about to reduce the population to zero: resetting the population for the cycle to begin again.

A few communities have active Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR) programs to attempt to bring about community wide population stability. Those programs are only as successful as the staff and funding to constantly trap fertile cats. Feral cat colonies exist within communities to attempt to maintain a population stability in small pockets; however, cat owners see those colonies as a dumping ground for their own pets when they decide to abandon them.

You might imagine that finding homes for these “wild cats” might be the biggest issue for animals shelters; but, the disease that they bring into the shelters is the biggest problem. These unvaccinated cats become stressed by trapping and relocation to the shelter that trigger the expression of disease.

It is not uncommon to read about disease outbreaks of Feline Panleukopenia in local animal shelters. These outbreaks are usually the result of animal control personnel loading the shelter with feral cats. The disease is quite contagious and will spread quickly, when people come into the shelter wanting to touch every animal.  In 2016/17, my shelter would get one outbreak under control, only to have animal control bring in more infected cats; we lived from one outbreak to another.  Having animal control and the animal shelter under one department helps the two organization into moving in the right direction.

Most people, including TNR folks, are only worried about rabies, so the other contagious diseases are not addressed in the community. People who allow their cats to go outside should vaccinate their cats as directed by their veterinarian.

Many animal shelters vaccinate animals on intake, but the onset of protection is too slow to prevent an outbreak within the shelter.  Control of shelter disease must start in the community.  A good strategy for people wanting to surrender their pets is to request that the animal is fully vaccinated 30 days prior to surrender.

Why?

In a few days, I will celebrate one year of retirement.  The past year has allowed me to settle down and reflect on animal welfare as a profession.  I witnessed the era before pitbulls and social media.  This profession is much more challenging today for those who wish to make a career in this profession.  The purpose of this blog is to prepare a person for the world of animal welfare.