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.  However, be forewarned that many of the Hispanics that I have encountered will claim that they can’t understand what you are saying even though you are speaking Spanish.

I have also seen many incidents in which a person requests a translator while visiting an animal shelter when it is perfectly clear that they understand English.  If they bring along children, you might have greater success in using the children as translators.

If all else fails, keep a list of translator services offered in your community.  If all else fails, give written instructions to the person and hope that they will return knowing what is expected of them.

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.

Stumbing Block

Do not let your love for this world become a stumbling block to the next…

… So that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.  1 Corinthians 2:5

An Accident Waiting to Happen

An accident waiting to happen. That is what you think when you are called to a home where aggressive dogs are jumping at an ever-weakening fence. I have experienced this so many times in my career and remember wishing that at that moment the dogs would escape and attack me. You see, I am much better equipped at taking on a couple of aggressive dogs than any of the neighbors. But that never happens and I know that my words of warning will fall on deaf ears when discussing the issue with the owner. To put it bluntly, after a career of working with dog owners, the owners of dangerous dogs are pretty stupid when it comes to trying to get them to see their dogs as they really are. But I feel obligated to tell them anyway.

If you have worked in the animal control field, you have experienced this many times yourself. Since dog owners refuse to work in the present, I decided to change my tactics and work in the future. Each time I received a call like this, I treated it like a crime scene: getting witness statements, and photographing the dogs and the fence. Although I could not intervene at that moment, I could document the scene for a pending lawsuit. I wanted the documentation to highlight the negligence of the dog owner after receiving many warnings. As an animal control officer, I could do this.

Each additional complaint would reference the previous complaints. Each additional complaint would further illuminate the extreme negligence of the owner. The reports had to be well written because you are playing a part in making one of the neighbors very wealthy. And who knows, maybe sending the owner to jail. So, put a lot of emotion into it.

After each complaint, I would send the report to the owner along with copies to each of the current and past complainants. I also provided information as to how Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests were handled in the city/county. Keep in mind that I clearly document for the owner that this report is being shared with the neighbors. I also offer words of advice as to how neighbors should protect themselves from any harm that may (or is likely to) arise from the dogs escaping their enclosure.

When it dawns on the owner that I am assisting the neighbors in creating a healthy lawsuit. Many times, the dog owner begins to view his dogs with different eyes. Sometimes they even fix the problem. Time has taught me that scaring the dog owner works so much better than trying to talk some sense into them.

Proverbs 4:6-7

Don’t abandon wisdom, and she will watch over you; love her, and she will guard you. [7] Wisdom is supreme — so get wisdom.  And, whatever else you get, get understanding.

Finding Local Resources

In my adventures in the field of animal welfare, I found many resources within my community. Follow me as I discovered them.

I started my career in Pullman Washington. This location is one of the best locations to start any adventure. With Washington Veterinary School in my backyard, I found them a wealth of knowledge and resources. I learned the handling of birds and the use of chemical immobilization from them. The school was involved in nutritional studies and I reaped the benefit of having access to pet food that was left over from their studies; for example, they were conducting a calcium study on Great Danes. They used pet food with low, medium, and high concentrations of calcium. By mixing the bags of food, I had a perfect blend of food for the animals in my shelter.

I also engaged in a program with Alpo in which they would offer free dog food to animal shelters participating in halftime adoption events at basketball games. The audience would vote by clapping as to which shelter brought the “best” dog. The winning shelter would receive a large amount of food and the other participating shelters would receive less. Alpo would provide coupons and you could pick up the food from your local grocer as needed. I once found myself with excess food, so I traveled to other animal shelters in my area and distributed my newfound wealth.

In Pullman, I worked in the Police Department. I didn’t have a very good working relationship with our Chief of Police. He had developed a three-year phase-in of computers within the department and the animal shelter was scheduled in year 5. I desperately wanted to use a computer to track the intake of our animals, but it was unlikely that I would get one from him. I approached him and asked about monetary donations to the animal shelter to move the shelter higher on his phase-in plan. He told me that any money donated to the animal shelter was a “police donation” and would unlikely be used for the shelter. So, I found someone in the community who bought a computer for the shelter. That resulted in one of the longest chewings that I ever encountered by a boss. The same lady also provided all of the cat food for the shelter.

Drug manufacturers offer free drugs to veterinary schools. They hope to get veterinarians in training used to their drugs for when they get out into the world to open their practices. The Veterinary College provided me with free vaccinations for the animals at my shelter.

If you have a Veterinary College near you, become their best friend.

In Portland Oregon, our shelter provided a pickup service for dead animals from veterinary clinics in town. Oddly, it was a very popular service. In exchange for picking up the dead animals from the clinic, the clinic became obligated to handle any animal emergency brought to them by one of our animal control officers. It was very convenient for the officers because emergency assistance was always nearby. I remember an incident in which a veterinarian was not fulfilling his obligation. He was turning away our officers. I wrote him a letter and explained that since he was not living up to the agreement, we would stop picking up his dead animals. He came in person to beg me to change my mind. It just so happened that we were dealing with a hoarding situation so I told the veterinarian that if he would assist the officers in making a court case in the hoarding case that he could earn his way back into our good graces.

It is important that animal shelter staff attend local meetings of the veterinary association to see if you can find ways to help one another.

While in Fairfax Virginia, we began working with a Vet Tech College. We gave the students the opportunity to work directly with animals and as a result, we got free veterinary care.

Also in Fairfax, we develop arrangements in which our animals were adopted through various companies in town. We had arrangements at Pet Smart Stores, Veterinary Clinics, and even feed stores.

In Gainesville Florida, I was fortunate to be working near another Veterinary College. Due to a grant from Maddie’s Fund, the College started a shelter medicine course. Veterinary students would visit the animal shelter several times a week to provide veterinary services.

Another advantage of having a Veterinary College nearby is to have access to specialized medical treatments. If an animal came into the animal shelter with serious medical issues, we frequently passed the animal to a Veterinary College to be used as a class assignment. Usually, a vet student would come forward and adopt the animal after treatment.

Once you have uncovered all of your local resources, don’t forget about national resources. Suppose you are engaged in a national disaster. In that case, Pet Smart Charities, American Humane, the Humane Society of the United States, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are extremely valuable. I don’t know what I would have done without them when we were forced to seize nearly 700 cats in Gainesville.

One of the things to keep in mind is that in my career of directing animal shelters, I encountered jurisdictions that prohibited fund-raising. The mindset of these jurisdictions was that by asking for money for the animal shelter, you are announcing that the animal shelter is not properly funded. You can see where public officials might get upset. So, before you start advertising that you are accepting donations, check with your bosses as to how they feel about that.

Times are hard, but resources are closer than you would think.

Open Animal Shelter

One of the things that I hate more than seeing animals in cages in an animal shelter is seeing them all running loose.  My good friends at Best Friends Animal Society opened an animal shelter in Bentonville Arkansas that allows the animals to run loose.  What could go wrong?  A whole lot!

It is a widely known fact, at least to me, that animal shelters were never constructed for holding animals for long periods of confinement.  They were originally built to house stray animals for a few days for their owners to find them.  In the beginning, animals were held for three days.  As owners became increasingly irresponsible, the holding time grew to five days and then ten.  Of course, that holding time varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  So, if you wait nine days, don’t go pointing a finger at this blog claiming you had another day.  Most places have a three-day stray holding period.   Don’t balk, that is two days more than you should need.

The no-kill movement changed everything and animal shelters began holding animals way beyond the point where the animal goes cage crazy.  I can understand the mindset of wanting to turn them loose.  But, an animal shelter’s first obligation is to protect stray dogs for their holding period.  After the holding period, the animal becomes lawfully owned by the animal shelter.  As shown below, it makes sense to NOT mix stray dogs with adoption animals.

Many of those stray animals have no evidence of vaccination or behavior history.  Allowing these animals to mix puts the entire population of animals at risk of disease or injury.  It is foolish to just turn an animal loose in your shelter hoping that it isn’t an aggressive animal.  If you are admitting pit bulls, you are going to have issues.  Period.  Most animal shelters have to deal with pit bulls making up 70% of the dogs within their facility.  It makes it impractical to allow them to run loose.

Introducing a toddler to a mass of over-active dogs could be a terrifying experience.  The toddler’s actions might incite the dogs to bite.  If one dog in a pack goes nuts, a good many of the other dogs will go nuts as well.  Even experienced staff will not do well in a frenzy of dogs.

I get it, announcing that you are freeing all of the dogs makes for a good newspaper article.  It worked.  But, how are you going to explain to the community that most of your bites come from people visiting your animal shelter?  What are you going to say to the lost parent of a small dog who comes to pick up their puppy, but you can’t seem to get the puppy out of the mouth of another dog?

Calling this facility an animal shelter is technically true, but when I think of animal shelters, I think of public animal shelters.  Bentonville already has a public animal shelter, so in my mind, this is a private animal shelter; we call them humane societies.  The primary difference is funding and intake policies.  Animal shelters are funded by local taxpayers and have the expectation to take in stray animals.  Humane Society builds facilities to supplement the public facility and depends on donations; they may or may not accept stray animals.  The Best Friend’s facility, as a private animal shelter, can better control the population of its shelter and thus keep the population low enough to allow for a limited number of animals to be able to live outside of cages.

Intake Vaccinations

There has always been a debate as to whether the cost of the vaccination of animals on intake is a worthwhile expense. Some of the issues to consider:

Over-vaccinating owned strays. Pet owners who frequently allow their pets to run loose may experience their pets being over-vaccinated if shelter personnel do not recognize the pet at intake since few animals entering an animal shelter carry owner information.

Vaccinations weaken the immune system. As the body is adjusting to the addition of a foreign substance, the animal might be more likely to become sick in a facility that may already have diseases. The stress of the vaccination is added to the stress of the animal entering the shelter.

Vaccinations take 4 to 6 days to begin offering any immunal support. So, during the short time that an animal sits in a cage, the vaccine that you provided is not protecting it. The vaccine becomes more effective several weeks after administering the vaccine.

So, with all of the negatives that go with intake vaccinations, why do we do it? In spite of it all, vaccinations at intake continue to be seen as a “best practice.” The negative reaction to the vaccination is minor and the positive results can be major.

Smart animal shelter staff try to minimize the impact of the vaccination by keeping the stress level down of their animals. It helps to dim the lights and dampen the sound in the areas where the animals are kept. Keeping “feral boxes” in cages for cats gives them a place where they can hide and feel safer.

Update your local laws to allow shelter personnel to microchip pets that are impounded multiple times without wearing identification. If the animals are scanned prior to vaccination, it will reduce the possibility of over-vaccinating them and reduce the time they are in the shelter waiting for an owner to discover that they are missing.

Animal Laws

Most animal laws are enacted to keep the stupid people in our society from harming the rest of us. In a world in which we feel like we are over-regulated, the following laws are for your own protection:

Leash Laws – Pet owners are the last people to recognize that their pet is a danger to other pets or people. Leash laws are to help provide a level of control that an obtuse pet owner might need. Communities should NEVER allow for a law that provides for verbal control over pets; anything less than physical restraint is just a stupid plan. Sorry, I was lacking a better term for that.

Exotic Animal Laws – Many people do not have the sense when it comes to owning wild or verminous species. Exotic animal laws limit the ownership of animals that present a danger to themselves or others. In Portland, we had a person who owned a liger, in Milwaukee we had numerous people who owned verminous snakes. Sorry, here it comes again…. people who own these animals are just plain stupid. There is no point in owning a dangerous animal whether it is domestic or wild. Have you ever watched a show in which some idiot is interviewed claiming the number of times he (and it is usually is a “he”) was bitten by his verminous snakes? Sometimes you just have to ask yourself whatever happened to natural selection?

Licensing Laws – Less than 10% of the dogs entering an animal shelter wear any form of identification. The percentage is even lower for cats. For years, I created campaigns with the slogan: “A license is a phone call home for a pet without a dime.” Okay, that was a long time ago. The slogan never worked, so we purchased a pet tag engraver and began giving tags out when people reclaimed their pets. The free ID tags didn’t work; no matter how many tags we created for a pet; it would always be picked up without a tag. So, we created laws that pets that were picked up three times without identification would be microchipped.

Let’s face it, in addition to providing revenue, the pet licensing law was a means to get an animal back to the owner. The last thing we need is for owned animals taking up the necessary space in our animal shelter. In a perfect world, a pet owner would begin looking for their lost pet within 24 hours. Working in animal welfare, I learned that we don’t live in a perfect world. Many pet owners don’t seem to look for their pets at all… or, at least until the 3, 7, or 10-day stay-holding period is up. It is amazing the number of pet owners that show up after their pet has been adopted by someone else.

Most pet licensing laws require that the pet be vaccinated for rabies. Dogs and cats are the two species that are most likely to come in contact with a rabies vector species (bats, skunks, raccoons, and foxes). Rabies vaccinations are usually good for 1 or 3 years. Many veterinarians use the 1-year vaccination to force their clients to bring in their pets for an annual check-up.

Animal Cruelty – Although this is a blog about laws that protect you, a good number of people need to be told how to treat their pets. Yeah, I know; you would think that it would be common sense. But it isn’t. One of the most common complaints that animal control officers receive in the winter is that dog owners do not provide fresh water for their outdoor pets when the water bucket freezes over. In the summer months, the complaints turn to dogs left without shade or left in hot cars. I know what you are thinking, and I think that as well: a person should have to pass a test first before being allowed to be a pet owner or parent.

Dangerous Dog Laws – Some owners still will not recognize their dog as being dangerous, even after it has been declared dangerous by the local jurisdiction. Dangerous dog laws create an additional layer of safety for the community after a dog has exhibited signs of being dangerous. Those laws require additional confinement restrictions and insurance. Many dogs are euthanized when they attack or bite a person after they have been declared dangerous. Even with fatal dog attacks, it seems the only one who didn’t believe the dog was dangerous beforehand is the owner. I don’t know if this ignorance is the result of stupidity or just laziness to accept responsibility for the dog’s behavior. These laws determine when a person cannot be responsible to maintain an aggressive dog properly and then make a determination as to the need to kill the dog.

It is not uncommon for a judge to remove a dangerous dog from the community. Instead of euthanizing the dog, the judge rules that the dog should be removed from the community. In these cases, the judge just removes the dog from his community to place it upon another community to worry about. Judges don’t like to order the death of an animal and sometimes make foolish decisions.

It would be a wonderful world that if we didn’t have to live with laws, but humanity would kill itself if we didn’t have them.

Old School

People get a certain satisfaction from adopting their pet from a “kill shelter.” It congers up some notion of a last-minute reprieve from death. It gives the person something to feel good about themselves. Unfortunately, it also gives in the impression that animals are safe in a no-kill shelter. That is not the case. Many shelters are understaffed and overcrowded. Many modern-day shelters are little more than hoarding facilities. The lives of animals border on inhumane. Shelter managers are faced with a hard decision about whether it is better to house animals in inhumane conditions or euthanize them. Either decision will bring public criticism.

I was once referred to as being old school. I suspect that meant that I adhered to the notion that public safety was our first priority in providing animal sheltering. I suppose that is true, I always believed that humans had to come first, but not at the expense of our treatment of animals.

During the no-kill movement, public safety has and still does take second place. Animal Control programs have geared themselves toward saving the lives of animals ahead of providing public safety. This is manifested in shelters closing their doors to public animal intakes and encouraging officers to stop picking up stray animals on the streets. Communities are less safe now.

In Virginia, the notion of saving all animals caused animal shelters and rescue groups to start lying about the behavior of their animals so as to overcome any potential objection that an adopter might have in obtaining a potentially dangerous dog. The problem got so large that the Commonwealth of Virginia had to legislate laws that prohibited shelter personnel from lying about an animal’s previous history. In Fairfax Virginia, shelter personnel were put at risk because they were forced to care for dangerous animals that the shelter refused to euthanize. From an “old school” perspective, the no-kill movement turned us all stupid.

After all of these years in the “business,” it looks like they haven’t taken the old school out of me. As I watch news coverage of shelters being investigated for animal abuse, I think it is time that the animal welfare profession begins to put some old school back into their policies. We need to do everything that we can to save as many pets as possible, but not at the expense of the animal’s welfare or public safety.

Animal shelters are committing animal cruelty and neglect, believing that they are doing it for the good of the animal. If we are going to save an animal, we need to provide that animal with a humane life. Animals need to stop being statistics and start being cared for.

My personal philosophy was to treat each animal as if it were my own pet.  As a shelter manager, you need to decide that if you cannot do that, then you are probably overcrowded and should look to methods of controlling your current shelter population.  Find the number of animals that you can care for and do everything you can to maintain that number.  Prepare contingency plans for the day that your animal control officers uncover an animal hoarder and need to find room for an additional fifty animals.