The Wild West

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

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

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

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

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.

Covid 19 and Animal Sheltering

Animal shelter personnel have always had to face the danger of passing diseases throughout their shelter.  We know that the most likely transmission of diseases between animals is through human contact.  The worst offenders are our staff and volunteers.  Some of our staff are just predisposed to kissing each animal that they come into contact with.  During the Covid 19 outbreak, this practice has to stop.

We need to remind staff that their duty is to care for the an animal until the animal’s owner comes forward to reclaim the animal.  It would be horrible to find out that shelter staff is the cause of spreading the Covid 19 virus from them, to the animal, and then to the animal’s owners.

Once an animal is made available for adoption, the risk of infection becomes greater in that multiple people will come into contact with the animal as it is presented for adoption.

As we have always concerned ourselves with the spread of disease within our animal shelter, we must now take further measure to in sure that we don’t let our guard down in spreading disease outside our shelter.

What do you do when your pet is missing?

Let face it, even the most careful person might find themselves faced with looking for their lost pet.  Losing a lost pet can be an emotional disaster.  So, we should prepare for losing our pet as we would any disaster:

Always keep a current photo of your pet on your cell phone.

Keeping an image close will later help in creating flyers and showing people what your pet looks like.  With the interbreeding of animals, breed descriptions are becoming less and less helpful in describing a pet.  We live in times where most pets are described as “pitbull mix.”

Microchip your pet.

As much as I dislike microchipping as a means of identification, it might be the main course of action in getting a pet returned.  When you move, make sure you update your registration with the microchip company.  Always remember that a microchip is invisible to anyone who might find your pet.

Always keep a collar and identification on your pet.

Identification on a pet is the surest method of getting a pet returned.  Having spent many years working in an animal shelter, I know that very few pets are picked up wearing any form of identification.  Make sure the information is current.  Do not depend on the dog’s license alone, many City Clerk maintain ineffective records.

If your pet becomes lost:

Immediately call your local animal control/shelter. 

They can field calls that come in, if someone calls them about finding your pet.  One of the biggest mistakes that most people make is never going to their local animal shelter to look for their lost pet.  Many finders of lost pets will take the pet to the shelter to register that they found the pet.  So if they don’t surrender the pet to the shelter, they will have provided a record to shelter personnel that they have found the pet.  Those found reports are frequently posted on a bulletin board in the lobby of the animal shelter.  Visit your animal shelter daily.

Check lost and found boards on the web.

Many animal shelters will post on their website images of the animals that have been delivered to them.  Many manage a lost and found board where people can post finding a lost pet.  Many communities get carried away with lost and found websites, so check with your shelter to see if there is more that one in your area.  It is not uncommon to have a half dozen websites serving a community and you’ll need to check each one.

Post lost flyers in your neighborhood.

You are more likely to find your cat in posting within a block of your home.  Dogs travel greater distances.  Many grocery stores provide an area in which people can post announcements. Fliers can be found online, here is a random one that I found.

Notify people.

If your pet is microchipped, notify the microchip  company that your pet is lost and use that call to confirm that your contact information is up to date.  Most to animal Facebook groups in your area that your pet is lost.  Notify area veterinary clinics of your missing pet.  The classified section of your local newspaper will have an area to post for lost property (animals).  Many animal shelters have software systems that will  allow you to register your microchip with them, so in the even that your pet is ever brought in, you will be recognized as the owner.

Never give up.

There are countless incidents in which a lost pet is returned weeks, month, or years later.  Don’t give up hope.

Why is the most simple solution so complicated?

I once lived in a small town bordering Canada. We were a close knit community. Except when it came to the local dog. My neighbors would get so angry when the dog was out chasing deer through the community. Some of them talked of killing the dog. The dog’s owner knew how everyone felt, but he just could not find it in himself to make any effort to control his dog.

This is the common theme that we deal with as animal control officers, we see the same people committing the same infractions. It isn’t the dog’s fault, but try convincing the owner of that fact.

Owners seem to be more upset with you impounding their dog, than to appreciate their role in the chain of events. I have encountered numerous times in which the owner just throws up his (or her) hands and just decide to teach the dog a lesson and let the dog sit in the pound (I know, I hate that word too), “to teach it a lesson.”

I have had the opportunity to write a lot of city/county codes on animal ownership and one of my favorites is the ability to charge a person with animal abandonment for failing to reclaim their pet at the shelter. Some people cannot find it in themselves to do the right thing, so government has to force the issue.

The longer that I have been in the animal welfare profession, the more that I questioned if pet ownership is a net gain for the pet. We hear about all of the ways that pets are good for us, but how effective are we in being good for the pet? Especially when we cannot bring ourselves to do the most simple thing of keeping our pets out of trouble.

Working in an animal shelter, you will see incidents of a pet showing such devotion to their owner while their owner abuses them. You will see incidents in which owners will decide that it is easier to kill their pet than to provide basic care. You will see these things and ask yourself, “How did we become the dominant species.?”

God wanted us to be good stewards of our world. It is hard to find a single area in which we followed that directive.

The Risk of Pet Socialization.

One of the greatest gift that you can give to your animals is providing socialization with humans and other animals. We generally refer to this as providing enrichment. However, this can become one of the best ways to pass diseases from one animal to another.

All of the policies and procedures for volunteers and staff to follow between returning one animal and getting another will be insufficient. “Fomites” is the word that we use to describe the problem presented by disease passing from one animal to another  through our clothes, utensils, or furniture. Let’s face it, no volunteer is going to undergo bathing, an exchange of clothing, and sanitation of the room and toys between each socialization event. We had a struggle getting volunteer to wash their hands and change out a leash between walking dogs. That still doesn’t account for any virus left on the volunteer’s clothing.

Disease aside, another issue is dogs bonding to one or two volunteers, only to become aggressive towards everyone else. We had a group of volunteers rebel when the decision was made to euthanize a couple of dogs who became too aggressive for staff to handle. The dogs could only be handled by the two or three volunteers who daily socialized with the animals; the dogs clearly became a threat to everyone else. As more and more shelters try to move to no kill, they are finding that their extremely long holding times are causing a mental deterioration to their dogs or as we call it, “going crate crazy.” Enrichment programs are intended to prevent or delay this mental deterioration.

I am not suggesting that you stop socializing your animals; I am saying that you have to accept the risks. It is critical that we make the time, that an animal spends in our care, as less stressful as possible. You can minimize some of the risks by making sure every animal is vaccinated at intake and that volunteers engage with staff when they are socializing an animal. Whenever possible, staff should take a moment from their busy schedules to socialize with the animals showing the most stress. And monitor each animal to guarantee that insure that every volunteer and staff is protected from a potentially dangerous situation.

Cancel Culture

I believe that social media laid the fertile ground for what we now know as the cancel culture. I see social media as the ossuary of the human mind. It might help that we explore the evolution of this culture.

I witnessed a group of insecure people looking for validation among people who they wanted to be their friends. In the animal welfare movement, people found kinship in animals. To garner attention, people would get themselves talked into adopting animals and later cast out for returning the animal that they were ill prepared to care for.  In an effort to be liked, they were cast off. 

Next came the Me Too movement that was intended to give women a voice,  Clearly something that everyone should embrace; but it gave forum to women who abused their new found authority to showcase that men were seen as people with uncontrollable toxic masculinity; thereby untrustworthy. Woman had the upper hand and even their lies would ring true.  This movement said that only women could be trusted.

We have entered the Black Lives Matter culture, one that I embrace because I believe all lives matter; however, this movement was hijacked to push the message that it is wrong to be white and the police are evil. Oddly, every time people protest on behalf of black lives, violence breaks out and looting begins. The only way that you can truly express your support is through acts of destruction.  This hijacked movement says that it is wrong to be white (and books have been written to help us understand our failings) police need to be eliminated..

It is not surprising that crime is on the rise. Communities are now instructing their citizens to surrender to an assault and give the criminals what they want. I am sure that telling people to back down is not going to decrease the crime.  This movement says that police cannot be trusted.  The best way to control our police is to eliminate them.  In my mind, only criminals would support such a concept.   The problem in government service is that training is the first line item to be eliminated during budget cuts.  If there is a problem with a few police officers, then funding needs to be increased for training and for greater supervision.  

We are being asked to now cancel our lives. Allow ourselves to be victims and hope that we are not killed in the process.  But I digress, this is a blog about animal welfare, where we have been engage in the cancel culture for years.

Pitbull dogs can relate to the Defund the Police movement, in that a few bad dogs paved the way for cities to completely ban the breed.   That is the problem with our cancel culture; a few bad eggs cause the carton to be thrown out.  Of course, in our current age of overreaction,  the chicken coop is burned to the ground and looted.

We are all subject to this cancel culture.  I started boycotting a company that wanted to show how Woke they were by attaching their company to the cause de jure.  When you ostracize half of your customer base, you have to expect to lose some customers.  Some of us are so hard headed that we find it difficult to find a middle ground.

Sometimes we just need to step back, take a breath and try to find that portion of our being where our conscience resides.   We need to rise up against the insanity of our times.   If a cause is worthwhile, then it should be protected from those that would abuse it.

Food Storage

One of the biggest battles that animal shelter staff might face is the war waged with mice.  If an animal shelter stores their pet food in the paper bags associated with pet food, you are likely to attract mice.  Although low on the food chain, mice are a clever species that will thwart your efforts to demonstrate your mastery over their tiny brains.

Pet food should be removed from the paper bags and put into tight sealing containers.  Any spillage should be picked up and removed from the area.   If you decide to wage a full-out war with your mice, make sure that if you are using a commercial block bait to poison the mice, keep your volunteers away from the food supply area.  A volunteer might not recognize the bait for what it is and think that it is a doggie chew toy.

It has always been my policy to not give opened donated food to my animals.  Pet food had expiration dates and opened packages expire faster.  You can always put donated food in your pet pantry for homeless pet owners. I like to keep my animals on a constant food diet and mixing up their food at each meal with cause intestinal problems.

Never let your pet food be stored for any length of time.  Buy what you need and use what you buy.  Avoid storing food in moist areas, pet food can quickly circum to moisture and become moldy.  Constantly check expirations dates, especially on donated food.  If the donated food is given to you in clear plastics baggies, you might consider just throwing it out.  Always keep in mind that you are responsible for the animal in your care and you should never take shortcuts.

Heating Systems, A Construction Issue

A number of years ago, imbedding hot water lines into the concrete of dog kennels became a fad.  The idea was that running hot water under the kennel would keep the dog comfortable in the winter.  Of all of the heating systems that we have experimented with, this was our worst idea.

Without proper controls, there s a high probability that a hot water system could burn the dogs.  Many contractors got too carried away in laying the heater hose and did not create any cool areas.  At best, the underground heating system should only make up a quarter, but no more that a third of the kennel area.  In northern climates, it is probably best to place the system against exterior walls to keep the cold out.  There should ALWAYS be sufficient room to allow a dog to move away from the heated area to find a more comfortable spot.

If burning your dogs is not enough to worry about, wait until one of the underground lines burst; then your fancy heating system becomes worthless in an instant.  Animal shelters are usually kept long past their useful life, the more “junk” that you incorporate into your shelter design is the more junk that will go bad.

While we are on the topic of temperature, we have some false notion that dogs prefer to live at the temperature comfortable for humans.  Many northern breed dogs prefer must cooler temperatures.  I have witnessed so many people freaking out when the heating system failed an the temperature of the kennel dropped below fifty degrees.

First Adoptions Rights

There are not too may perks associated with working at an animal shelter; but the one perk that employees have will come back to bite you over and over again.  Animal Control Officers and animal shelter employees are the first people to see the highly desirable animals when they come in to the shelter.  The notion of “first come, first serve” on adoptions give your employees an advantage over the public.  You will have to decide if it is worth the aggravation in dealing with public complaints when employees are allowed first adoption rights.

Many animal shelters establish policies that always give the public first rights to the animals for adoptions; after all, they will constantly remind you that they pay your salary.  You have to decide if that is fair treatment of your employees.  However, you should keep in mind that the gene that makes for hoarders exists in many of your employees and you will have to limit the number of animals that employees can adopt.  It is not fair to the public if you have an employee who gets first adoption rights on a dozen animals each year.

The best way to balance first adoption rights is to limit the number of animals that a employee can adopt.  You will have to constantly  monitor your employees to make sure that you never adopt to them when they are in excess of the number of animals allow by zoning laws.

The same issues that you have with your employees will also play out with your rescue groups although many rescue groups claim their purpose is to “rescue” animals, they will demand to be given the most highly adoptable animals that don’t need rescued.  Since they don’t have a steady donor base, they need the highly adoptable animals to help fund their operation.  If they are helping you with moving pitbulls, then I usually offer them some of these animals as a perk.

As with every aspect of animal welfare, you have to monitor your policies so that they are in the best interest of your animals.  If you are notice a high rate of adoptions by one of your employees, you have to consider the possibility that he or she has become a hoarder or are selling animals on the side.  Limiting staff adoptions will help prevent both of those problems.