Telephone Etiquette

When hunting down the owners of lost pets, the telephone is our primary tool. There are plenty of websites that offer information as to the etiquette of answering the phone, but few on placing calls.

The first rule is to determine when to call. It is usually safe to call between 9 AM and (9 PM) but to be cautious, I always placed my calls between 10 AM and 8 PM. It is important that when given the opportunity, you should leave a message on the answering machine and document the exchange in your records.

If after multiple attempts, it becomes necessary to extend the attempts of contact the (possible) owner outside your usual times in case the person works shifts. You may need to try odd hours. You would be surprised at the number of people that I had to reach late at night or very early in the morning (they were surprised as well). Let’s face it, we now live in a time where we try to avoid calls, even if they are to report a found pet.

Keep trying to contact the owner several times a day until the stray hold is up. Documenting each attempt to reach the owner is critical because owners seem to mysteriously come forward days after their pet becomes available for adoption or after it is adopted. The documentation is necessary because pet owners never seem to understand their role in failing to reclaim their pets.

Night Drop Boxes

One of the issues that have plagued our profession is the use of night drop boxes for animals to be left at the animal shelter after hours as opposed to people tying them up at the first available fencepost.

The biggest issue with drop boxes is that the animals rarely come with any background history that you would usually obtain at the time of surrender during regular shelter hours.   It is nice to know whether the animal is owned or stray.  This makes a huge difference in holding time.  If the animal is being surrendered by its owner, we can obtain medical and behavioural information.  If the animal is a stray, we can learn as to the area that it was captured.

There are a multitude number of problems that face drop boxes.  In Salt Lake County, we had drop boxes that were built into the side of our building so that in the winter, the animals would be warm.  We had locks on the doors that would secure the animals from being removed.  It would have appeared that we thought of everything; except owners would come in at night looking for their lost pet and open and close each dropbox.  Once closed, the boxes became useless to anyone else wanting to drop off an animal.  The police would call out our animal control officer to come in and reset the locks.  It was a real pain.  Our drop boxes became a place for the homeless to sleep.  And a neighboring animal control shelter used our drop boxes to dispose of their surplus animals.  It is a great way to reduce your euthanasia statistics by dropping off your animals at another shelter at the end of their stray hold period.

There are reports of people “setting free” the animals from drop boxes.  In Florida, we had an incident in which the released animals were hit by passing cars.

Given the problems that faced using drop boxes, most shelters stopped using them; they became more of a liability than a public service.


What is it like being an Animal Services Director?

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.

Gators in the Roadway

I found myself driving across the country many years ago listening to the truckers talk on the CB radio.  I overheard them talking about “gators in the roadway.”  I couldn’t imagine how gators would find their way to a highway system, but as an animal control officer, I began creating a checklist of items that I had in my car to safely remove a gator from the roadway.

I knew that the gator’s tail and mouth were of issue.  Gators have more power in closing their mouths than opening them, so the only means that I had to keep a gator’s mouth closed is Duck Tape.  Duck Tape is a universal helper, but a gator is the only animal that I would consider using the tape on.

I’ve always had ketch-poles in my car.  Although nearly five years retired, there are two ketch-poles, a snake grasper, and a snake hook.  I suppose I will be buried with them.

By the time that I came up to the milepost where the gators were reported, it dawned on me that the truckers were referring to the tire tread that is thrown from trucks are what they call gators.

It was a good mental exercise and now I know that I am prepared to handle tire treads in the future.

Securing Your Website

Sometime last night my domain host received a request to change my website’s password; the request came from an IP address in Moscow.  Several years ago, this website was hacked and a malicious software file was added.  Fortunately, I paid the extra bucks to have my website routinely scanned.  But, I realized that they were able to access the site through my password.  I admit that my password was weak at that time.

In the latest attempt at hacking this site, they came across a much stronger password and attempt to get my hosts to change the password.  Of course, my host is not stupid.

I can think of no benefit of hacking my website; it carries no secrets.  In fact, I pretty freely speak my mind.  So, with our current administration’s lack of will to go after hackers; the hackers are now free to use a shotgun approach to hacking.  They will just hack anyone and everyone.

Now is the time for your to review the strength of your passwords.  And hope that there is a special place in hell for cybercriminals.  I’d also like to add spammers to that list as well.  Don’t forget to constantly scan your work and personal computers for spyware as well.  China seems to want to know everything about us.

Resolving Audio issues when watching videos

Due to the Pandemic, remote learning is coming more of age. One of the frustrations that I have recently experienced is dealing with under-modulated videos. In other words: the audio is too low to be heard.

This problem caused me to look for solutions that would allow me to turn up the volume of my computer beyond the computer’s normal settings. You have probably heard of browser extensions; well there are extensions that allow your web browser to boost the audio of the videos that you are watching.

My battle with insufficient volume was resolved by adding a browser extension that allowed me to boost my volume by 600%. This free application saved me the cost of purchasing larger speakers. Don’t expect the app to make your laptop speakers useable, but if you have external speakers or a soundbar, the boost will be sufficient to improve your listening pleasure.

Backyard Dog

One of the greatest travesties that we can inflict on another species is to bring home a pet and chain it in our backyard. The animal belongs to the household but is not part of the household. It is forever looking at the people that have abandoned it.

The backyard dog is a symbol that the human race lacks the humanity and compassion to be pet owners. When I see a dog chained in its backyard, I side with PETA on their view of pet ownership.  Pets should become a part of our family circle, not exist for our amusement.  

One of the most common calls that animal services receive in the winter is to conduct welfare checks on backyard dogs.  In too many cases, the calls are warranted and the animal is found without water, food, or protection from the cold.  Winter isn’t the only season of concern; when temperatures are high, a dog needs plenty of water and shade from the heat.

Tough Love

A half of a (my) lifetime ago, we entered an era that changed the way that dogs behaved. The harsh methods of training our dogs turned from disciplining our dogs when they did something wrong to rewarding them for when they did something right. Many people just didn’t do anything to control their dog’s behavior and thus started the golden age of animal control.

Because owners did not play a role in stopping their dogs from becoming a menace to society, animal courts started becoming a big thing. More and more disputes divided neighbors. These same techniques parents applied to their children.

Spanking children in public places for disruptive behavior became frowned upon and eventually, we stopped disciplining them at all. At the same time, video games entered the stage and kids would rather play games than joining the Boy or Girl Scouts.

Scouting was a necessary step in child development. Scouting taught children to rely on themselves and to leave the world a better place.

That era of bad parenting turned out undisciplined dogs and children. Many of the dogs were later turn into animal shelters and the children turn to protesting. They could turn their violent gameplay into real-life looting and damaging property and people.

We can only thank ourselves for how things turned out.

Determining Adoption Fees

Most shelters have a price list for charging fees for the animals that they routinely adopt from their shelter; but, on a rare occasion, an animal come into the shelter that isn’t on the fee schedule. Usually, the animal is an exotic bird or reptile.

Over the years, I discovered that the easiest way to determine the fee to adopt an animal is one-half of the market value. When you are ready to adopt the animals, you call three local suppliers that sell the animal and then charge one-half of the average of those three vendors.

The problem that you face is that pet stores are disappearing and getting three estimates is becoming harder. Fortunately, you have the internet to help you determine the fee. Keep in mind that other factors enter in as to the health or condition of the animal that will decrease the animal’s fee. If the prospective adopter is going to face large veterinary fees, you might consider decreasing the fee to allow for the cost of owning the animal.

When it comes to exotic animals, you need to consider the skill that is necessary to care for the animal. You should not adopt to anyone who comes into the shelter on a whim to adopt an exotic animal; and, of course, you should not adopt wild or venomous species AT ALL.

The Joy of Fostering

I came across an old photo of my wife playing with a litter of foster puppies. The photo reminded me of one of the joyful hazards of working in an animal shelter. I was a sucker for taking foster animals home. Based on the number of photos that I found, I am reminded of the large part they played in my life.

The animals are the reason that many of us get into the animal welfare profession, but our contact with people seems to overshadow that during shelter hours. It was so nice to come home to my foster children.

It is too easy to get caught up with the “work” of animal welfare, but by living as a foster family, you never forget why you are doing what you are doing. If you ever get overwhelmed, find an animal to cuddle with.