You have to ask…

Several years ago I wrote about the five freedoms that we try to provide the animals in our care; these freedoms provided the minimum standard of care that we should provide.

Recently we are seeing photographs of the conditions in which immigrants are being forced to live in.  Although this is an animal welfare blog, humans are animals too.  There is a reason that President Biden doesn’t allow the media in to see the conditions these people are living in.  It reminds me of how an animal shelter looks every morning before staff has started cleaning.  We too, prefer to have the media come in after we’ve cleaned.

Whether our President accepts his responsibility or not, he invited these people to come to our country and failed to prepare for their arrival.  He can blame this on the previous President all he wants, but this is HIS CRISIS!

When you have to call in FEMA, you know that you have a disaster on your hands.  When you have to bring in volunteers to provide support for FEMA, then you are in real trouble.  It seems that everyone, except the President, is coming to terms recognizing the problem that we face.

Without getting all political, I believe that we should minimally provide these arriving immigrants with the same care that we provide our shelter animals or send them home; in the shelter business, we call that limited admissions.

Reoccurring Theme with Dog Bite Incidents

A recent incident of dogs attacking and killing a New Jersey child causes me dismay as the dogs’ owner failed to heed previous warnings about the danger his dogs presented to the community.  These cases continue to arise because pet owners are not held accountable for their dog’s actions and as such are not properly charged with reckless endangerment or homicide.  Prosecutors need to understand that simply having the animals euthanized is insufficient justice.  The animals had to pay the price for bad owners; now the owners need to feel the hand of justice for the terror they unleash upon their community.

Who Do You Serve?

One of the greatest challenges that you’ll face is the constant question as to who do you serve?  Many people getting into the animal welfare profession will tell you that they are “here for the animals.”  That is a noble cause, but are animals all that you serve?

When you start your job, you are going to find competing demands as to who you serve.  You’ll have to have some loyalty to the bureaucrats who hired you, after all that in addition to the salary that they pay you, they control the purse stings for your organization.  You will find it critical to your cause to quickly respond to commission or council members.  Having friendly folks on your commission/council will be advantageous at  budget time.  I had a County Manager in Florida who wanted to drastically cut our budget; fortunately we have several “friends” on the Commission who stopped him and in the end our budget was increased.

Do not forget that you have your community to serve.  Don’t worry, there will be plenty of them to remind you that they pay your salary.  No matter how demanding that they can become, they are your primary responsibility.  Every thing that we do much insure the safety of your community.

Your volunteers may expect that they become your primary focus.  In Virginia we had volunteers that wanted to “drive the boat.”  They wanted animals to supersede our mission to keep our community safe.  They were very vocal  in our community.  In previous posts, you will see that this was a problem for many shelters in Virginia.  Too many shelters gave in to the forces that wanted them to adopt potentially dangerous dogs.  Many of them later faced lawsuits for failing in their duties to protect the public.

Above all else, you have to serve yourself.  You have to protect your personal and professional integrity and that of your organization.  I got into a lot of hot water with my Board because they didn’t like condescension caused by volunteers not getting their way.  Sometimes even your Board of Directors forget who they are supposed to serve.  You must be willing to risk your job in order to keep your community safe.

The most important factor in your career is to constantly maintain the balance to those who you serve.  “Be true to thy own self.”

What is in a Name?

As a result of the Movement to Defund the Police, Police Departments are facing the same issue that Animal Control organizations have faced for years.  For some reason,  Community leaders think that an organization’s name is everything.  Animal Control Officers have faced the gambit of Pound, to Animal Control, to Animal Services, to Animal Care and Protective Services.  The fact is that changing a name does little.  If you want to see more community support, you need to fund the organization sufficiently to allow it to do their job.

Police Departments are undergoing name changes to Department of Public Services.  To me, a “public service” includes trash pickup.  The purpose of Defunding the Police movement is to stop officers from arresting people.  The fewer people arrested of minor crimes will reduce the number of minorities going to jail.  If a community is serious about wanting every community to be treated the same, then the solution is to fund racial sensitivity training to encourage our officers to see into the mind of the minorities that they come in contact with.  I am not talking about the idiotic training that claims that there is something wrong with people born white.  Racial equality is not reached by suppressing whites.  Racial equality is to show the community that everyone is treated the same.  It should  also show that when arrested, that people should act the same.  If you act like a butthead when you are arrested, you should not expect the same treatment as someone how respects the officer arresting you.

Changing the name of an organization will do nothing.   It takes the proper funding and attention to an organization to facilitate change.  It should not restrict an officer from applying the sufficient force to keep from getting hurt, or doing their jobs.  The best thing that a community can give to their employees is to provide them the necessary training to do their jobs correctly.  Unfortunately, during budget cuts, employee training is the first to go.

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.

Shelter Photos

One of the most important aspects of an animal shelter’s operation is the quality of the photos that are taken of the animals entering your shelter.  It speaks volumes of about your public image: some people will equate the quality of the animal’s photo to the actual care you take of the animal in your care.

I would get frequent complaints about animal control officers photographing cats through livetraps or the plexiglass doors of feral boxes.  Let’s face it, a photo on your website sometimes determines if an animal will be found by its owner; many owners will not make the effort to look for their pet at the animal shelter.  Pet owners will always have an excuse to not search for their pet; today’s pandemic has finally given them a good excuse.

When an animal first enters the animal shelter, a photo should be take of the animal’s head and body for the purpose of identification.  If you cannot safely get a good photo, then describe why in the animal notes and go the extra mile in writing the animals physical description and where the animal was found.   Once the animal has settled down, you’ll want a better photo to encourage the animal’s adoption.

Getting the glamor shots is a good job for volunteers.  Most volunteers will take the animals out on bright sunny days so as to set the  camera’s exposure to gain the greatest depth of field.  Active animals will require the brighter days so as to catch them at a faster shutter speed.  On gloomy days, many shelters will set up studio lights in the shelter to photograph the animals under the better lighting conditions.

Photographing animals can become a contentious issue with volunteers; as they compete against one another for first “photo” spot.  I have had incidents in which the volunteers become hostile against one another.  The purpose of the photos is to improve the chances of an animal being found by its owners or getting adopted; the best photos that you post on your website should depict the animal’s best side and not who took the photo.

Getting Media Attention

This morning, I read a “Lost Dog Finds a New Home” article from a major news outlet.  Animal adoptions occur in our animal shelters every day.  So it is incumbent on animal shelters to be available to your local media on a slow news day.

The media is always looking for news.  If you don’t  provide it to them they’ll make it up.  You can take advantage of slow news days to bring heart warming stories to your community about your animal shelter.  I worked in an area where government officials were fearful of the local media.  I believed that developing a positive relationship with the media would help in times when things go bad.  Since I was the only government official in my county that maintained a good relationship with the media, it was not uncommon for me to sit next to a local reporter during county commission meetings.  The commissioners noticed.  Knowing that I had a good relationship with the media may have helped my organization during budget meetings.

Anytime you are contacted by a reporter concerning a story at your shelter, groom them to see if they are an “animal person.”  Reporters want you to be their go to person when they are looking for a story.  You need to groom them into becoming your go to person when you are seeking media attention.

I’ve always wanted to provide warm and fuzzy stories to the media, but hard luck stories seem to have the greatest impact.  It is okay to report that your shelter is at capacity; it might cause a family that is on the fence about adopting an animal to come to the shelter.  However, announcing an adoption event will bring out people who think adoption events are a good time to surrender their dogs.  I’ve experienced times when we received more animals than we adopted at an event.  You need to be prepared for that.

Always make your stories educational.  When reporting about an animal being hit by a car, let the community know the importance of confining their pets and that having a current license on their pet might make the difference in whether emergency medical treatment is provided at the scene of an accident.  It is always difficult to decide if a critically injured stray dog should received treatment costing several thousands of dollars only to never get adopted; but, if the dog is found with a known owner, it is much easier to send the dog off to the emergency veterinary clinic.  Pet owners need to be constantly reminded that pet ownership is like being a parent; they need to reminded of their responsibility to keep their pets safe.  If you decide to take a chance on an unidentified stray dog, use the media to make a plea for financial assistance; I have never had an incident in which the cost of medical care was not covered by donations.

It has been my experience that new reporters are easiest to approach, they want to make a name for themselves and are eager to be your go to person for their station.  People like pets stories, but it is a lot of work to maintain a good impression.  Always make sure your kennel is clean and fresh smelling (yeah I know).  You want the media and potential adopters to feel good about animals and bad smells and piles of poop distract from that good feeling.

Many animal shelter work out a deal with local television stations to bring an adoptable pet on the morning news.  Well mannered pets are always adored by the cast and crew.  Make sure you take the time to bath a dog in advance; you don’t want the cast to cover their noses during a live taping.  Putting a bow or scarf on the pet is a good touch.  Make sure the pet is tolerant of people’s attention; it is not a good time to test a feral cat with people.

The media can be your friend, you just have to make the effort to maintain that relationship.

Spammer and Hackers

If you have left any footprint on the World Wide Web, you have experienced unwanted emails and phone calls.  The spammers are really worried that I have allowed my automobile warranty to elapse.  In is interesting that each time they call me, they have spoofed a new phone number in my area code.  Spoofing is when the spammer is calling, say from a foreign country, and the caller ID is showing that it is a local call.  I block each number as they call, but spoofing gives them assess to an unlimited number of phone numbers.

I once got a call from someone who claimed that I had just called the.  I had to explain to the guy that spoofing provides spammers any number of phone numbers and my phone number just came up on their list.  He was smart enough to recognize the truth of the matter.  That is why it is fruitless to attempt to return a spammer’s call.  Just let it go.  If the call is important, the caller will leave a voicemail message.  Many people who refuse to leave voicemail messages are faced with a similar crowd that blocks any number that doesn’t leave a message.  If you cannot get through to your friends, you might be blocked.

Those of us who have websites should know that our domain registration is available to the public, unless you pay the extra fee to make the registration private.  Many of the spamming attempts that I have received is a result of my domain registration.  As such, the spammer knows my name, my phone number, and the name of my domain host.  It is not uncommon that I receive emails telling me that I must click on a link to preserve my domain password.  The nice thing about emails is that spammers have no concept of visual arts; all spamming emails look like they were created by five-year-olds.   However, lately, I’ve received phone calls from a person claiming to be from my domain host.  The idea is to try to convince me to upgrade my subscription  or to add new services.  This has a higher chance of being successful because, as I mentioned above, they have my name, my phone number, and the name of my domain host.  My little brother like to talk up a storm with spammers, just to waste their time as they have wasted his; but, I am not on an unlimited cellphone plan and simply say, “If you have any expectations that at the end of this phone call that I am going to give you my credit card number, you are wasting your time.”  That statement is a call killer.  I  had one caller get upset with me for wasting his time by saying anything.  He said that he is just used to people hanging up on him, anything beyond that is a waste of his time.  Poor guy!  Also be on the alert for people claiming to be website developers.  Keep in mind that we didn’t create our websites to allow someone else to take over them.

Almost every animal shelter has a website.  If you are a nongovernment shelter, you probably have created your own website.  Be on the alert for spammers who will attempt to use your domain registration information to fool you into giving them more information, like a credit card number.

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.

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.