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.

Be a Good Steward

As the director of an animal control/sheltering organization, I encourage you to be a good steward. Being a good steward goes beyond being frugal, it means making the best of your resources.


Be a good steward of your community’s resources. Use your tax dollars wisely. Create laws that keep the community safe from animals and keep animals safe from humans. Make the laws fair and balanced. At the end of your budget year, return unused funds, or set them aside for future emergencies; don’t go into a buying frenzy to increase your surplus. I understand that this is difficult to do because future budgets are weighted against past spending. Government budgets cater to excessive spending to prevent a shortfall in a future year. Budgets fluctuate from year to year, but government budget processes don’t adapt to fluctuations.

Protect your community from dangerous animals; do not adopt potentially dangerous animals into your community. Protect your community from pet overpopulation; make sure that all adopted animals are sterilized prior to being adopted. You cannot trust the pet’s new owners to fulfill that duty. It is your duty to keep the owners of dangerous animals in line.

Too often, animal shelters lose their first priories to protect their community. We are under such pressure to adopt any and all animals that we forget that our first priority it to protect our community. It is a hard lesson, but the most effective way to protect the community is to euthanize potentially dangerous dogs. Anytime you consider the adoptability of an animal, you must weigh it against the animal confronting a neighborhood child.

Hire the right staff. Many staff enter our field to protect animals and they need a strong Executive Director to prevent them from making stupid careless mistakes. As an Executive Director, you will often feel alone because the people you hire do not always share your priorities.


Be good stewards or the animals in your care. Keep them safe and provide for their basic needs. If you cannot provide for their continued health, then give them a humane death. Do everything that you can to ensure that stray animals are returned to their owners. Teach their owners what is necessary to be a good pet owner.

Do not adopt good animals to bad owners. The worst that you can do for an animal in your care is to give it to a family that will abuse it. You have a greater priority to keep your citizens safe over any obligation to an animal.

Always remember that your job is to provide temporary care of animals. As such it is a waste to buy the most expensive pet food; but you should not provide the cheapest. Find a well-balanced pet food. And realize that the long-term holding of animals is inhumane. Often our statistics get in the way of being humane.


Be a good steward of your organization’s integrity. Be open and honest with people. Too often we lie about an animal’s prospects to spare the family’s conscience. If we make it too easy for a family to give up their pet, then they are not given the chance to see how the decisions they make have consequences.

When dealing with the media, do not report the good image that you want people to see; but, report the truth. You have to make tough decisions; so, let the media know how irresponsible pet ownership impacts you and your organization. If your shelter is overcrowded, then report the consequences of having an overcrowded shelter. Shelters are more than a “feel good” place, they are frequently the places of tragedy.


Be a good steward to your staff. It is becoming harder and harder to find people willing to work. Today’s schools are teaching students to perform at the level of the lowest performing student and thus are not preparing them for the workforce. You need to quickly identify low-performing workers so that they do not become a burden on your higher-performing workers. The quicker you terminate low performers, the faster they can learn what the world expects from them in the workplace.

The most important resource at your animal shelter is your staff. Although budgeting for your staff was the most difficult task at budget time. The greatest gift you can give to your staff is staff training; but, staff training funds are always the first thing that is on the chopping block. Since training resources are scarce, it is important to let your staff know when attending training that they are an ambassador of your shelter at conferences. I had a whole group of staff attend a conference that embarrassed themselves. I don’t remember ever allowing them to attend another conference after that.

We are experiencing a time in which some employees feel a sense of entitlement to their jobs and feel victimized when they are fired for not doing their job. Your priority is first to your community over that of your staff. It is important to weed out early potential staff who wish to push their own personal agenda over that which is good for the community. The same is true of volunteers who work at the shelter. I’ve gathered an entire chest of war stories about volunteers taking extreme risks with dangerous animals. Again, it is the Executive Director’s job to be engaged enough within your organization to see the warning signs.

There is plenty that can go wrong in an animal shelter. You need to take time to reward those employees who are not trying to drift the shelter into the rocks. Within the groups of employees who are opposed to working, there are members who just live day to day to push their own agenda or look for opportunities to claim they have been victimized. Just get rid of them. Otherwise, you’ll be spending all of your energy dealing with them and not managing your shelter.


Be a good steward to yourself. Do what is right and live a guilt-free life. It never hurts to have God watching your back.

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.

Population Dynamics in Animal Welfare

Wild Populations

One of the main goals of engaging with feral cat populations is to bring the number of cats down to the carrying capacity in your area. Pretty simple. Or is it? Basically, carrying capacity is maintaining the number of animals to a level that is not detrimental to the animal’s population or the environment. Pretty simple stuff; keep the animal population to the level that the land can support it. Oh, but there are so many things that can go wrong.

Several years ago, communities were trying to understand how their local efforts at Trap, Neuter, and Release or TNR were failing, in spite of all their efforts to sterilize all of their free-roaming cats. One of the big obstacles was little old ladies in white tennis shoes (LOLWTS). Who can watch an animal starve? So, these folks began changing the dynamics of the carrying capacity of their neighborhoods by feeding the feral cats that come into their yards.

As long as there is a food source, animals will breed. Even though the communities have spent a small fortune in sterilizing their feral cats, there are always enough fertile cats to join the cause to breed. Most of the fertile cats were indoor/outdoor cats owned in the neighborhood or abandoned by a previous owner. TNR programs failed when they believed that they had their feral cat problem under control. The current population of cats increased as cats immigrated into the area and others were abandoned by their owners. Soon, these fertile cats started causing the population to climb again.

The climbing population of cats resulted in neighbors calling their local animal control officer to trap and remove the cats. Those trapped cats create an unnecessary burden on the animal shelter and place the shelter’s animals at risk. Feral and outdoor cats are largely unvaccinated. When an unvaccinated animal enters the stress of being trapped and caged, the animal becomes susceptible to disease. We had an extremely difficult time maintaining the health of our cat population in Roanoke because the animal control officers in one jurisdiction kept rounding up the sick feral cats in their jurisdiction which provided a constant source of sick cats to the animal shelter. As a result, many potentially adoptable cats were prevented from finding new homes because of the constant quarantine conditions that the shelter was experiencing.

In Jacksonville, we were so effective in removing the nuisance feral cats in one neighborhood that neighbors began to complain of the rise in the rodent population. Jacksonville is home to a Norwegian Rat that grows to the size of a large cat. The neighborhood didn’t understand the benefit that their feral cat population provided and incurred larger problems in the removal of the cats.

Mother Nature provides a great equalizer for population control. Her efforts are frequently disturbed by human intervention; whether it is backyard feeding or animal removal programs. Ironically, as the shelter fills up with sickly feral cats, the carrying capacity of the area where the cats were removed opens up to new arrivals.

TNR is a short-term solution. It just seems like it takes forever. But when you announce your success and curb your TNR efforts, mother nature will begin to swart your original efforts. TNR isn’t a won-and-done proposition. Since you have already interfered with the carrying capacity of your program area, you’ll will need to continue those trapping efforts to ensure an ongoing effort to keep those cat numbers to a minimum.

I have always believed that the solution to the feral cat problem is an oral sterilant, that was used in controlling wildlife populations. The advantage of an oral program is that it treats both wild and domestic free-roaming animals. The offside is the effect that it would have on young children that seem to pick up and eat anything they find lying on the ground. Adding a rabies vaccination to the bait would help keep rabies under control and help minimize children running around biting one another.

Shelter Populations

A veterinarian once told me that the best way to keep disease down in your shelter is to keep the population of animals to a minimum. As the population of animals increases in an animal shelter, the stress of the animals rise. Stress weakens the immune system and disease outbreaks become common.

A feral cat may keep an illness under control until that cat undergoes the stress of being captured, caged, and confined. Illnesses in feral cats begin to manifest after three or four days in captivity. Then shelter staff, in their routine of feeding and cleaning, inadvertently begin spreading the illness to the rest of the cat population in the shelter. Then you have an outbreak.

Disease within an animal shelter population is generally spread by direct touch. Shelter staff need to clean themselves between cleaning each cage. Shelter visitors need to keep their hands to themselves. It is not uncommon to watch a visitor going down the line of cages petting one animal after another. Each touch creates an avenue for disease to spread.

When dealing with internal and external population limits, animal welfare staff have to consider what is in the best interest of the community’s people and animals. And always remember that Mother Nature (and well-intended people) will be constantly battling you along the way


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.