The Risk of Pet Socialization.

One of the greatest gift that you can give to your animals is providing socialization with humans and other animals. We generally refer to this as providing enrichment. However, this can become one of the best ways to pass diseases from one animal to another.

All of the policies and procedures for volunteers and staff to follow between returning one animal and getting another will be insufficient. “Fomites” is the word that we use to describe the problem presented by disease passing from one animal to another  through our clothes, utensils, or furniture. Let’s face it, no volunteer is going to undergo bathing, an exchange of clothing, and sanitation of the room and toys between each socialization event. We had a struggle getting volunteer to wash their hands and change out a leash between walking dogs. That still doesn’t account for any virus left on the volunteer’s clothing.

Disease aside, another issue is dogs bonding to one or two volunteers, only to become aggressive towards everyone else. We had a group of volunteers rebel when the decision was made to euthanize a couple of dogs who became too aggressive for staff to handle. The dogs could only be handled by the two or three volunteers who daily socialized with the animals; the dogs clearly became a threat to everyone else. As more and more shelters try to move to no kill, they are finding that their extremely long holding times are causing a mental deterioration to their dogs or as we call it, “going crate crazy.” Enrichment programs are intended to prevent or delay this mental deterioration.

I am not suggesting that you stop socializing your animals; I am saying that you have to accept the risks. It is critical that we make the time, that an animal spends in our care, as less stressful as possible. You can minimize some of the risks by making sure every animal is vaccinated at intake and that volunteers engage with staff when they are socializing an animal. Whenever possible, staff should take a moment from their busy schedules to socialize with the animals showing the most stress. And monitor each animal to guarantee that insure that every volunteer and staff is protected from a potentially dangerous situation.

Controlling Disease

One of the greatest challenges that we have is to control disease in our animal shelter.  The problem begins with a community that fails to vaccinate their pets and allows them to roam to deposit or collect viruses in the community.  The animals are then brought to the animal shelter.

Most animal shelters vaccinate pets on intake.  The problem is that it takes weeks for the vaccine to take effect.  In that time, the animal can be exposed to other pets entering the shelter to spread of collect disease to or from those animals.

The greatest vector for disease in the shelter is people.  If staff does not take the proper precautions, they may spread disease from animal to animal while cleaning or feeding their animals.  Allowing the public to come in and view animals is the greatest mechanism for spreading disease throughout the shelter; no matter how we instruct our citizens to not touch the animals, they cannot control themselves and feel the need to touch one animal after another, becoming the greatest vector for spreading disease within a shelter.

I often encourage people wanting to surrender their pets to wait until their pet has been fully vaccinated for 30 days, so as to allow the vaccinations to take hold and offer the animal some protection from entering the shelter.

It is a good idea to not move animals around within the shelter.  There is nothing worse that to experience an outbreak in your shelter to find that the carrier of the disease had been moved previously throughout the shelter exposing other animals.  Outbreaks are the most common in shelter that operate at capacity or beyond capacity.  Managing the shelter population aids in managing disease.