Most people would think that the job of being an Animal Services Director is a day filled with playing with pets. In reality, the job is about preparing for worst-case scenarios:
Owner surrendered Pets:
Due to shelter overcrowding, many shelters make the decision to euthanize owner-surrendered pets upon intake. This is a big mistake because family fights might lead the most ignorant member of the family (usually the husband) to surrender the family’s pet out of anger. Usually one of the reasonable family members will go to the shelter to reclaim the pet. Animal shelters should provide a two or three hold so as to not be faced with telling the family that their pet is dead.
Drop Dead Dates:
After “hounding” a pet owner to reclaiming their pet, many shelters will issue a deadline as to the last day that the owner can reclaim their pet. It has been my experience that pet owners do not under deadlines and I have had many pet owners coming to reclaim their pet two or three days after being given a deadline. It is usually a good idea to NOT hold firm to your own deadlines.
Potentially Dangerous Dogs:
Most animal shelter volunteers think that the primary purpose of an animal shelter is adopting dogs. The primary purpose of an animal shelter is to protect the community. Shelter staff and volunteers frequently fight over the adoptability of a particular animal. My motto is that it is better to have a volunteer mad at me than explaining why I adopted a dangerous animal into a family with children. Public safety should always come first. Trust me, I have worked with plenty of volunteers that don’t understand that. It is not uncommon for your own staff to side with the volunteers because they fear social fallout.
Working with Rescue Groups:
A rescue group can be the best thing that ever happens to an animal shelter. It can also be the worst. When working with a rescue group, maintain constant vigilance over the group to make sure that they are acting responsibly and are maintaining the correct numbers of animals. Our seizure of nearly 700 cats in Florida is evidence of a group that had gotten sorely out of control.
Always tell the truth:
In my career, I have only lied once, by omission. There are a lot of anti-vaccine pet owners. I came across one in Portland Oregon that refused to allow his pet to be vaccinated for rabies. Our ordinance required that dogs and cats had to have a current rabies vaccination prior to being reclaimed by the owner. Fortunately, like every ordinance, after the stray holding time, his animal became the property of our county. Once the animal became our animal, I vaccinated it and called the owner to come to reclaim his dog. I let him believe that I had let him win. If he had asked me straight out, I would have told him what I had done. Of course, we didn’t give him a copy of his rabies vaccination certificate, but the record was in our system. Integrity is one of the most important traits that we must keep.
Always hold the line:
In our business, we are under constant pressure to surrender some of our integrity or put the public at risk. You have to be prepared to lose your job over your beliefs. Being fired isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you; giving up some of your integrity is.
At the time, I didn’t feel that getting fired was a badge of honor; but in reflection, getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to me. I have been fired a few times:
- I was first fired over disputing a citation quota system demanded by our Finance Director.
- I was laid off when the Department Director was looking to fill slots for his friends in the Sanitation Department. Boy was that a big mistake.
- I was fired when a single long-term employee refused to accept that opening the shelter to rescue groups and volunteers was the next step in the shelter’s evolution. The Board of Directors didn’t want to impinge on the long relationship that they had had with this employee.
- And finally, I was fired because my Board of Directors could not face the social media surrounding the euthanizing of two dangerous pitbulls that the volunteers insisted should be adopted.
Being an Animal Services Director is more than just preparing for the worst-case scenario, but it is about doing the right thing.