Creating Your Own Hazmat Kit

It is not uncommon in our profession to be called upon to enter a house that presents environmental concerns. After visiting your first house, you will quickly decide that you need to prepare for your next.

Your first consideration is clothing. You will want disposable coveralls, shoe covers, and gloves. Most homes that will require your hazmat kit will be rich in fecal matter. You’ll want to get as little of that on your clothing as possible.

You may be going into a methane/ammonia-rich environment and a facemask will become necessary. You’ll need to decide if you want a full facemask that covers your entire face or a half mask that just covers your mouth and nose. It is important that you get the right size mask. You’ll want the methane/ammonia cartridge on your mask. If you find it hard breathing with a facemask, you can opt for a forced air respirator that takes the burden off of your lungs when trying to suck air through your cartridge filter.

You might consider purchasing a methane detector. The detector can give you the probable cause to enter the house and proved the health department the ability to condemn it. Some of the most successful operations I have experienced are working with my local law enforcement and health department. It doesn’t hurt to have your fire department’s hazmat team available. Although, I have been at locations where the hazmat teams refused to enter the home.

The most important item that you’ll want to have is flea spray when you exit the home. You may want flea spray as a regular item in all of your animal control trucks. Maybe two or three cans. You’ll be glad that you did.

Don’t forget the Duct Tape for taping the wrists and ankles of your overalls. And keep garbage bags available so that you have a way to dispose of your disposable garments when you are finished.

Each incident that you become involved with will aid you in deciding what items need to be added to your hazmat kit. The key to your kit is to keep you safe.

Euthanasia Discussion

A few weeks ago, Dave Perry wrote an opinion piece, “End the euphemism for killing unwanted dogs and cats; it’s not euthanasia.”  The point that Mr. Perry was trying to make is that the word euthanasia comes from the Greek meaning “good death.”  Many definitions go further to suggest that the word means to perform this good death to alleviate pain and suffering.  It connotates being a good thing that we administer.

There is nothing good about the fact that we must kill animals because they are born into a world that doesn’t want them.  I know, I know, the no-kill world claims that there is no pet surplus; but, they are idiots.  The surplus of animals differs from community to community.  It is an indicator as to a community’s sensitivity to responsible pet ownership that includes spaying and neutering their animals.

Mr. Perry focused on the usage of the word.  But the act of euthanasia or “killing” takes an emotional toll on the animals and on shelter staff.  Performing this act speaks to the failure that we, as humans, deal with a problem that is caused by us.

I have to agree with Mr. Perry that there is nothing good about the killing of adoptable animals in our shelters.  We can attempt to soften the blow by finding a fancy word to describe our actions, but in the end the animals is dead.  All we have done is to bring the least painful method to killing an animal that is stuck in a small cage.  Those of us who have worked in animal shelters know that the longer an animal sits in a small cage, the more inhumane the confinement becomes.  So the question is to the length of time that an animal must  be held in a cage so that you can justify claiming that you are relieving the animal’s pain and suffering to call its death euthanasia.  The question that is always asked is how long is too long to hold an animal while calling its confinement humane?  That differs from animal to animal and it depends on the enrichment programs that are offered to the animal during its confinement.  The fact that we keep an animal in a cage for two years before it begins to become cage crazy and the animal is “euthanized;” we have to ask if we should look back and claim if holding the animal for such a long period of time, only to be euthanized is humane?  Probably not, but we are always hopeful for a positive outcome.

The no-kill movement doesn’t want us to blame the people responsible for causing the pet overpopulation problem; but, they want to blame the ones who must clean up the mess.

Common Courtesy

One of our most important tasks is to notify pet owners that the animal shelter is in possession of their lost pet.  Most pet owners want to be notified as soon as possible, but out of courtesy I never call anyone before 10 AM, unless they have instructed me to do so.  Even keeping to this courtesy, I have apologized numerous times to day sleepers.  I always figured that day sleepers would think to turn their phones off to ward away unexpected phone calls.

Record of each phone call attempt should be documented in the animal’s record.  It is amazing that owners will accuse you of negligence for not calling them, when they are avoiding your phone calls.  A record log of your attempts will allay their accusations.  Although I hate leaving messages on voicemail, a general script should be used, so that you can copy and paste that script into your computer record.  You should also note when leaving a message as to the deadline as to when the pet owner should call you.  A large portion of owners will never call before the deadline, so any disposition of the animal should occur a day or two after the deadline.  It isn’t a bad idea to repeat your phone call attempts several times each day.  You may discover that the pet owner will not be actively looking for their lost pet and how difficult it will be to actually reach them.

If you are able to determine the address of the pet owner, it isn’t a bad idea to send an Animal Control officer to their house to post a notice.  We should exhaust ever effort to get a lost pet back to their owner.  In most areas of the country, pet owners will appreciate your efforts.  If you decide to send out a letter to the owner, make sure you adjust you holding time to accommodate the time necessary for the Post Office to deliver your letter and for the owner to respond.  If the letter returns undeliverable, make sure you record that information in the animal’s record as well.

If after a few days of failed attempts of reaching the pet owner, I throw out my common courtesy and begin calling early in the morning or late at night.  People have odd schedules and many of them fail to set up voicemail on their phones.

I cannot tell you enough how important it is to record all of your attempts to reach the pet owner; one day you might need to present those records in court to prove that you were not negligent in performing your duties.  We live in a world in which the people want to point out negligence in others and not see it in themselves.

Defining your core values

The core values of an organization is what keeps the  committed to driving your boat in the same direction.  It gives meaning to the work that you perform.  Being united in the same value system keeps your organization on track and together.  It is critical that you hire employees that share your same organizational core values.

The core values are just as important and your organization philosophies, mission statement, and statement of purpose; it is the foundation of your organization.  Here are some links to aid you in creating your core values:

18 core company values that will shape your company.

Defining your company’s core values: The Complete Guide (with Templates).

You would be surprised as to how the development of your core values will bring your staff together for a common purpose.

Shelter Diets

Each budget cycle you may be faced with determining if you are providing an adequate food source for the animals in your care.  Although you are in the business of short term care, your decision on what you feed your animals will determine the stools that your staff will face and the complaints from owners reclaiming their pets.  I have always resorted to using mainstay products like Purina and have found that in most cases the food that I was feeding my shelter animals were in all likelihood better than they had been receiving at home.

But, before we start hitting the store shelves, lets see what the experts say.  The problem with most animals are that they have delicate constitutions and any change in their diet is going to result in diarrhea.  It will usually take a few days for an animal to adjust to a new diet and by that time their stray hold is up and it is time to move the animal into a new home, where they will once again undergo a dietary change.  Smart shelter will send home a bag of food that the animal is used to and suggest that the owner stay on that diet.  It is a common issue that people take an animal home only to discover their animal has diarrhea and believes that the animal is sick and not as a result that they changed the animal’s diet..

There are several pet food companies that offer products for animal shelters:  Hill Pet Food and Purina are the two most common.  I have not used these plans because Hill Pet Food demands that you use only their food and that prescription food recommended by your veterinarian has to be approved by their corporate office.  It is my responsibility as to what I feed the animals in my shelter and I felt that the Hills program bullied their oversight on us.  If you are a municipal organization, your city/county attorney might question their contractional demands.  The Purina program only offers their Pro Plan in which the food is more expensive.  Both programs seem to fail to recognize the fact that animal shelters work with limited budgets and it is silly to be offering premium food to our pets when in a few days the animal will return home to their usual diet.

You many not be able to afford premium food, but it is a mistake to buy the cheapest food.  There is a lot of bad food products out there and having a shelter full of animals with dietary problems will impact your staff’s cleaning time and cause potential adopters to look for a pet at another shelter, thinking that all of your animals are sick.  Your food choice can give your organization a bad name.  It is important that you make your volunteers aware of the foods that cats should not eat.

Animal Limit Laws

Our species is unable to live a life of moderation.  For that reason, laws are made so that our lack of moderation does not adversely effect the quality of life for our neighbors.  Pet limit laws are a good example.

Barking dogs is an area in which a pet owner can be in possession of one or more noise nuisance animals and the owner just ignores the adverse effect that their dogs have on their neighbors.  Clearly the more uncontrolled animals that a person owns makes the conditions untenable for the neighbors.  The fact that pet owners care so little for their neighbors requires that communities create laws that limit the number of animals per household.

The formula is different for each community.  Many communities will allow more animals per household if the animals have been spayed or neutered.  We’ve even allowed fostering of animals from the local animal shelter to be exempt from the animal count at a specific household.

The formula becomes even more complicated when you are looking at single family housing verses multifamily housing.  Exceptions are made for underaged animals, so that infant animals can remain with their mother until such time as they are eating on their own.

Kennel licensing is a method in which you throw out your pet limit law to allow people to house greater numbers of animals.  The issuing of kennel licenses are frequently the case of neighborhood disputes.  Animal Control Officers should use great care in determining if a person is able to care for a large number of animals without impacting their neighbors.

I have frequently found that in dealing with animal complaints, people who have lived in the neighborhood the longest seem to believe they have more rights than people who have lived in the neighborhood the shortest period of time.  They are always shocked to learn that their seniority offers no perks over that of their neighbors.

Animal ownership is one of the major factors that limit the livability of a neighborhood.  The more callous the pet owner, the greater need for laws.   If pitbull owners had proven themselves more responsible, breed bans would not be considered in communities.  It is unfortunate that a few bad pet owners make things harder on everyone else.

Compassion or Stupidity

Colorado wildlife officials urge people to not pick up wild animals after a Colorado Springs woman picked up an injured bobcat and placed the animal in the backseat with her child.  This is one of those incidents where an act of compassion throws out simple commonsense.  Fortunately no one was injured, but someone desperately needs to call child protective services on this woman for placing her child at such risk or, at least, demand that she be prevented from having more children.

When I was a fledgling animal control officer, I got a call to help a guy remove a badger from the trunk of his car.  When I arrived on scene, he told me that he had accidently hit the badger and wrapped up the animal and placed it in the trunk of his car.  When he got to his destination, he opened the trunk and found the badger sitting on his spare tire spitting fury.  It is easy to armchair quarterback a person’s decision when you are looking at teeth and claws.

Wild animals have a genetic history that aids in their survival to be wild.  I had an assistant once working on infant coyotes that found that all of the socialization that the pups received in their youth failed to domesticate the animals and yet, we life in a society in which people desire to own wild animals.  In many cases, the decision to own such a creature is later proven to be a poor one.

Because commonsense isn’t as common that we would like to believe, we have to create laws so that these people do not inadvertently impact society.  Most people will agree that it is a good idea to restrict certain (crazy) people from owning guns.  In the field of animal welfare we constantly see people who should be restricted from having children or pets.  A good rule of thumb is that if a person purchases a wild animal. that person is not fit to make good decisions; all of their pets and children should be taken from them.

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.



Do you really have to own a pet?

It is not uncommon for those of us who might interview for a job in animal welfare to be asked, “Do you own a pet?”  It is a falsely held belief that if you don’t own a pet, then you are not fit to work in the animal welfare profession.  This is a very narrowminded belief.

There are many reasons that a person might not live with a pet and none of them have any impact of a person’s fitness for a job in our profession.  In our profession, we encounter a large portion of our community that really should not own a pet, but they don’t have the sense to give up their pet.

I currently do not own a pet and yet I have fostered countless infant kittens.  But, for some reason, people will raise a skeptical eye at an animal shelter director who doesn’t own a pet.  For some ignorant reason, people will claim that any director that doesn’t own a pet is unfit to make decisions concerning the strays that enter our shelter.

Many of the stray pets that have entered my shelter were, in fact, given a better life once they got away from their previous owner.  Lets face it, there are many bad pet owners and having a pet does not necessarily make you more compassionate.

For many people, owning a pet is a selfish act.  Knowing that your lifestyle would be unfair to a pet is a good reason to not own them.  Besides, many of us who do not have pets at home have plenty of room for the pets we care for in our shelter.  Many of us treat the animals in our care as being our own.

Police Officer Shootings

Recently, in the news, a police officer shoots a dog running at large.  The officer claims that the dog, a pitbull, came at him in an aggressive manner.  We’ll never know what the dog was thinking.  The problem with a pitbull dog is that when they are running at you in a friendly way looks the same as if they are attacking you; it isn’t until the reach you that you determine their intent.

This particular officer has previously kill three other dogs in the line of duty.  Since the dogs cannot give their story, we will never know if this is the result of an over zealous police officer.

The local media is demanding the police department’s  “policy” of dogs running at large.  They believe that if there is no policy that allows for a police officer to kill an attacking dog, then that isn’t an option for the officer.  The request is pretty stupid.  Any rational person would understand that if the police officer feels he is in danger or feels that he needs to protect another person, then a rushing dog might as well have a target painted on it.

When an officer’s first response is to reach for his or her firearm, then they have failed the part of their training that teaches the escalation of force.  Pepper spray works most of the time on dogs and a taser is effective, if the officer can hit a small moving target.  Because the officer’s first thought is to reach for his gun; if I were his Chief, I would order him to take more training.

The real lesson to learn here is about training police officers.  It is about getting dog owners to accept their responsibility of keeping their dogs properly confined.  If I lived in a community in which loose dogs are shot, I would probably keep my dog safely indoors.

As I have always preached, all dogs have the potential to bite.  Even if your dog is friendly, some people have a fear of dogs and that fear is shared by a lot of police officers.  Unless you are looking forward to a law suit or your dog being shot, a smart dog owner keeps their dog under control AT ALL TIMES!   The problem is that we just don’t see enough smart dog owners., as demonstrated by the dog owner in this incident in which she is more concerned about the police department’s policy towards shooting loose dogs than accepting her role in allowing her dog to run loose.