Getting into their Heads

As animal control professionals, we spend a lot of time trying to get into the heads of the animals that we are preparing for adoption.  When we are not inside the heads of animals, we are inside the heads of their previous owner.  All of this “head time”  frequently leads us down the wrong path.  We often mistake signs of behavior problems to incidents of abuse.  It is much easier to excuse an animal’s behavior, if we wish to believe that the animal was abused.

Claiming an animal is abused frequently helps us on the adoption front whether or not the animal was actually abused; the animal could simply be stubborn.  A prospective adopter would be more willing to accept an abused animal into their household than accept a stubborn one.  We live in a society in which people are in constant search for public praise, so posting to social media that they “rescued” an animal carries more points that claiming they “adopted” an animal.  More points are given to those who take in an “abused” animal.

Shelter staff recognize this social media obsession with “likes” and we feed into that that.  We are quick to post that an animal has been adopted on our Facebook page and even post a photo of the person leaving the shelter with their new pet.  This social media posting does two things: it celebrates one fewer animal in our shelter and it sets the stage of making it more difficult for the new owner to return  the animal.  For a society that seeks praise, we have a low tolerance for people disliking our actions.  Believe me, people can be pretty cruel to other people when their adoption doesn’t work out.

To understand a failed adoption, we have to get inside the minds of an adopter.  Social media has created a group of people who rescue animals in order to receive public praise.  Only in actually adopting an animal does the person find that caring for an animal requires more than praise, it means work; more work than is  necessary for posting on social media.

Too many people adopt animals for the wrong reason and when they find out that they are not ready to bring a new pet into their family, they have to face the wrath of their social media “friends” for turning the animal away.  This social media craze makes it all the more important for adoption screening; but the earnest desire for public approval will cause the worst candidate for adoption to appear as one of the best.  Adoption screening is more necessary than ever and adoption staff needs to look beyond moving an anima out of the shelter to making sure that they are placing animals into the best homes.  Our screen process must consider the possibility that the adopter’s purpose is only to seek out the public approval that the adopter is desperately seeking; these people generally make poor owners and then have to later face a public beating.

Porch Safety

As an Animal Control Officer, the household porch can be one of the most dangerous places that we face.  You must arm yourself in preparation to protect yourself.

If you are approaching a porch and there is a dog on the porch, using an ultrasonic device will aid your in determining the dog’s behavior as you approach.  I most cases, the dog will move away from the front door and allow you to approach.  You need to keep in mind that an ultrasonic device is your least effective tool to keep you safe.

A metal clipboard is the best defense in protecting yourself if you are attacked.  You might be attacked by a dog at the door when you approach or when the dog owner opens the door and the dog escapes through the open door.  It is important to use the clipboard as a shield and offer the board to the dog as it attempts to bite you.

It is not uncommon that you might be attacked by more than one dog.  Pepper spray is your best approach in dealing with multiple dogs or if you are finding your clipboard ineffective.  It is important to shake up your can of pepper spray once a week to make sure the pepper is evenly suspended in the container.  Pepper spray comes in various concentrations from .003% concentration to 20% concentration.  The 20% solution is sold to hikers to use on bears; but it appears to be a big hit with protesters; it produces a nice wide spray and comes in a larger container…. thus it will protect you longer.

If the dog pursues you to your vehicle and continues the attack, you should have a CO2 fire extinguisher available to  keep the dog at bay until you can call for backup or until you can reach for your catch-pole.

As with the clipboard, the catch-pole is an effective shield to keep the dog at bay, but it is an ineffective tool if do don’t open the noose.  If you cannot get the open noose over the dog’s head, you might consider letting the dog bite the noose and chinch the noose closed on the dog’s muzzle.  You can then  feed a second catch-pole noose over the first catch-pole and work the noose down the catch-pole and over the dog’s head.

Using a catch-pole usually causes a scene and in today’s society, capturing the dog will likely be videotaped and put on social media.  You have the way your capture method decision against being injured by the dog.

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.

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.

Fifteen minutes of fame.

Social media has created a new generation of people eager to get their fifteen minutes of fame; no matter how stupid they have too look to get it.  They take videos of them licking items in the grocery store and even licking toilet seats in airplane lavatories.  Social media has shown us just how stupid people can behave and they put it out for the whole world to see.  How dumb can you get.

There is something very reckless with this group of people, even dangerous; only to gain a small portion of notoriety.   We are witnessing the birth of a generation that has become unable to control their natural instincts; a clear proof that evolution has failed us.

The reason that I mention this is that you may be inviting volunteers into your shelter looking to be a social media sensation; he or she is on the constant lookout for something (anything) to receive social media notoriety.  These folks will see something in the shelter and instead of brining it to staff’s attention will likely post it on social media.  Let’s face it, some of your volunteers will use the relationship they have with their shelter to gain social media fame or to push their own agenda.

Downfall Mistakes

I like to research the circumstances that make job announcements available to those seeking employment in public animal welfare.  Many of the vacancy openings are the result of mistakes by the director.  These mistakes almost always center around decisions that are made as they relate to the euthanasia of a pet.  The following accounts are intended to rethink your euthanasia decisions.  Once euthanasia is carried out, there is no “do overs.”

Court order euthanasia — Most communities have laws the sentence dogs to death for being vicious.  When you are issued an order from a judge to euthanize an animal, please do not forget the owners appeal process.  Too often you hear about a dog being euthanized while the dog owner is seeking an appeal.  In cases like these, you should always be slow to follow the judges order.  Even when giving a specific date by which to execute the order, wait.  There is nothing worse than to have a judge reverse an order after the dog has been euthanized.  I was once told by a judge that I would never be held in contempt of court if I delayed his order to perform euthanasia.  You should always delay a sufficient length of time to insure that the appeal period has expired.  Work with your city/county attorney to watch clerk of the court filings to make sure nothing gets past you in the complicated court process.

Aurora Colorado had a case in which the owners of a dog were charged with animal cruelty for having sex with their dog.  This case demonstrates the problem with dogs being held for trial.  I have had cases that required a dog to be held for over two years while the owners kept delaying the court proceedings.  Court ordered custody of an animal is never in the best interest of the animal.  While an animal is in custody, the animal undergoes such protection that it limits the animal to social interaction.  It is not uncommon that the animal will begin displaying aggression as it sits in a cage day after day.  When the dog is finally handed over to the animal control department for disposition, they are faced with an animal that fails to meet their adoptions standards.

Keep in mind that the community has been watching this case on the news for months as the case went through the court system.  People would naturally take a vested interest to see that this dog have a good outcome.  Aurora animal shelter staff did not recognize this investment when they decided to euthanize the dog.  To them it was just another unadoptable dog that needed to be kept off the streets.  They quickly recognized their mistake; but, as always with euthanasia, you cannot undo your mistake.

Here is how I would have handled the situation:  I would contact all of the animal behaviorist/trainers in the community and ask them to submit a bid as to how they would turn the dog’s behavior around.  These folks would be begging for an opportunity to get their names in the news as they worked with the dog.  Most would be willing to provide their services at no charge because of the media attention that they would receive.  I would give the trainer as much time as they needed to make the dog adoptable.  Even if the effort failed, you could show the amount of work that you performed to a favorable outcome for the dog.

I know that you are constantly dealing with overcrowding in your shelter, but sometimes it just makes sense to think slowly when it comes to making the hard decision.



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?

Our Largest Obstacle

The greatest obstacle that we have in performing our jobs is protecting the public.  I frequently query job openings in our profession and then seek out the back story.  I would like to find the happy story about an animal shelter director who retired after a long fulfilling career of service to his or her community, but that is rarely the case.

Many directors are fired for doing their jobs.  The problem with doing our job is that there is always some one who thinks that the job should be done differently.   It usually involves the euthanasia of an animal.

In our business, there is ALWAYS someone who will second guess our decisions.  Most of our decisions are geared toward keeping the public safe, but someone will always come along to champion the cause of an animal that you have killed.  Even if their cause is righteous, death usually rule outs other outcomes.  Many times, you don’t know that someone is interested in the animal until after the deed has been done.  In almost every case, it deals with the decision that the animal shelter personnel believes the animal to be aggressive.

When you decide to get into this profession, you need to realize that it possible that you can get fired for just doing your job.  Petition sites and social media have no obligation to tell the truth, their purpose is to get people excited; hopefully to get the people in a rage.  People used to be able to see through these scams, but not any more.  People believe what they are told and are too lazy to research the truth for themselves.

My mantra in this business is:  “If you are going to get into trouble, do it for doing something good.”  Do the right thing.  You may be with your employer only a couple of years, but you must live with yourself the rest of your life.

Why? 2.0

Last month, I celebrated my second year in retirement.  My one-year anniversary of creating this blog.  The blog is therapy for me; yes, after two years of retirement, I am still winding down from the experiences from my adventures in animal welfare.

The early days of my profession were easy; people had better control of their emotions and had some semblance of commonsense; but best of all, they had not harnessed the destructive power of social media.  My last two gigs were a bit more complicated.  In one gig, the “powers” surrendered their efforts of evolving to a no-kill operation to appease one employee.  That employee didn’t like having volunteers around or allowing rescues from coming into the shelter.  Although I was the Executive Director, it was clear who had the power.  In the other gig, the “powers” were more concerned about positive social media than having a properly run operation.  Without someone showing some constraint many, many aggressive dogs would have been released into the community.

I bring this up because in the animal welfare profession we come with great expectations of making our organizations great, only to be undermined by the social and political currents that surround us.    While I was in the heat of the fire, I frequently asked if I had made a poor career choice.  In looking back, I remember all of the good that I participated in.  Looking in the soft eyes of an animal in pain,  I felt the strength to help that animal.  Humans are a thankless species, but the dogs and cats that we help make up for the grief that we receive from our own species.

The purpose of this blog is to help someone who might be considering animal welfare as their own profession.  I report mostly on the negative things to prepare you for what you have to face, but the rewards are great as well.  For those who are in the fire now, leave your office and walk back into the kennels and hold one of the animals in your care.  As directors, we feel alone, but what you are experiencing is happening to many, many others.  Fight the good fight, provide your community with what they need, not what they want.  Protect the innocent.

In our profession, we will get plenty of advice.  Much of it will be bad advice.  Some of the worst advice I ever received was from a County Attorney who told me not to say anything bad about an employee who petitioned the County Commission for reinstatement.  How can you make a case that you don’t want a bad employee back, if you cannot tell the truth?  My mistake was that I listened to the attorney.   The next time, I was told by a City Attorney that you cannot fire a volunteer.  This time I was smart enough not to listen.  The No Kill Movement depended on City/County Attorneys making this mistake when they encouraged volunteers to stand up for their rights.  But, just as you can fire an employee, you can fire a volunteer who is disrupting your organization.

So, you are faced with many decisions and you’ll have to make the best decisions for your community.  You will face many people telling you what to do and many of them will try to bully you into doing what they want; for that reason, your decisions must be ethical, sound, and consistent with the morays of your community.  This blog is intended to pass along my journey and it is up to you to decide if any of it pertains to you.  During my walk, I have become biased, for good cause; but, that doesn’t mean my advice is sound for your situation.  Your are being paid to make the right decisions that will impact your community and the pets within that community.  I spent a lifetime of compromise and now I can reflect back as to whether I did the right thing when I made those compromises.  The funny thing about history is that at the time it felt good, then history later shows your mistakes.  Do the best that you can with the information that you have at the time and hopefully  you can later live with the results.  And later in life, you can sit back and hopefully help someone else who has just started their journey.

Being Creative

High praise to the Oklahoma City Animal Shelter for their “Come Storm our Shelter” promotion.   The shelter saw the social  media following posts of people wanting to storm Area 51 and used the energy of those posting to encourage people to adopt pets.

Smart shelter folks keep an eye for media cows and think of ways to milk them to bring attention to their humane mission.   Smart job Oklahoma.