!! NACA Alert !! Across the U.S., Animal Services Agencies Face Unprecedented Hardships

!! NACA Alert !!
Across the U.S., Animal Services Agencies Face Unprecedented Hardships

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We know you feel it, we feel it too! All across the U.S., animal services agencies are facing unprecedented hardships like short staffing, full shelters, and high emotions. If we have learned anything these past few COVID years, it’s that life can be unpredictable and no matter how hard we prepare, we are likely to experience the stress of it all.

From hospitals to child welfare agencies to airports, from homelessness services to restaurants, virtually every industry and sector are facing service disruptions and huge challenges due to the impacts of the COVID pandemic. Animal services organizations are no exception. Animal services and animal control organizations across the U.S. are experiencing short-staffing as well as higher-than-usual animal inventories, along with record-reported levels of stress and burnout among workers. Some of the specific challenges facing animal services agencies are:

  • National animal shelter software data shows that while intake has not yet reached 2019 pre-pandemic levels, animal shelters are full. The data further shows that this is due to pet adoptions and transports slowing dramatically, and both cats and dogs are spending up to twice the number of days (from an average of 40 days to 80 days) in animal services custody.
  • Short staffing in all positions, especially forward-facing staff, animal control officers, veterinarians, and customer service representatives due to comparably low salaries, difficulty, and stress of working conditions and environment, and slow hiring processes. The recent COVID variants are compounding short-staffing and bringing many organizations to critical staffing shortages.
  • A nationwide veterinarian shortage means many shelters are unable to hire or retain veterinarians and, in some communities, this shortage causes a reduction in care for owned pets.
  • An increasing number of animals are being surrendered due to the financial impacts of COVID and a high number of animal control calls related to evictions, abandonment, and poverty-based neglect.
  • The stress of the pandemic has increased the number of emotionally charged instances and officers and shelter staff report a higher-than-usual number of negative interactions with the public, including people experiencing mental health crises and residents who are combative with shelter and animal control staff and volunteers.

The National Animal Care & Control Association recommends animal services agencies address these challenges in the following ways:

  1. Move into essential services status as needed. This protocol, released by NACA during the first months of the COVID pandemic, advises animal services agencies on essential and non-essential services during crisis periods. Organizations should consider moving into essential services status for 30-day increments as necessary due to shelters being at or above capacity and low staffing levels. Here is more information on what it means to provide essential animal services to your community.
  2. Provide emergency field services. If your animal control or field services unit faces temporary staffing shortages, here is NACA’s guideline on what animal services should be prioritized. 
  3. Implement an appointment-based intake system for non-emergency intakes.
  4. Keep as many pets in their homes and communities as possible. Animal control officers should check found pets for any identification (including microchips) and return pets in the field without impounding them unless those pets truly need sheltering. For pets that have been found by a Good Samaritan, ask pet finders to upload found reports online, hold healthy and friendly pets in their homes, and help get lost pets back home without them having to come to the shelter. Animal control officers should transport impounded animal’s home when possible if their owners or caregivers do not have access to reliable transportation.
  5. Encourage supported self-rehoming. Ask people who need to surrender their pets to utilize a supported self-rehoming platform, like Rehome by Adopt-a-Pet or Home-to-Home instead of bringing those pets to the shelter.
  6. Provide pet support services. Offer food, supplies, shelter, and fencing assistance to pet owners in lieu of impoundment. Create local pet resource guides to help people find access to services and locate pet-inclusive housing options, as well as behavior and medical support for their pets.
  7. Help staff cope. Provide support for field and shelter staff and ensure staff have access to and are aware of mental health support services. Consider providing crisis intervention training to forward-facing staff and check-in to keep tabs on what staff is experiencing when engaging with the public. Make teamwork and communication a part of every day.
  8. Focus on keeping great staff. Assess whether your salaries and benefits are comparable to other similar jobs in the public and private sector. Conduct exit surveys to find out why staff leave and address the most common issues leading to high staff turnover. Ensure staff does not have to work mandatory overtime and when possible, pair up animal control officers.
  9. Work differently. Today, 98% of people report that pets are important family members, yet the challenges facing pet owners have never been more daunting. Consider changing operations to focus more on addressing the root causes that lead to citations, impoundment, and the separation of people and pets. If you’re not already doing it, allocate people power and funding to keep pets in their homes and communities and out of the shelter system. The shelter is a critically important resource for some pets, including those that are sick or injured, in immediate danger, or pose a threat to public safety. For many pets who do not fall into one of these categories, there are usually safe housing options in the community that are more humane, more cost-effective, and better for animals and people.
  10. Talk to your community. Communicate frequently with community members and explain to them why you are doing a particular program or following a certain policy. Explaining the why often helps the community get behind you and encourages them to be part of the solution too!

We realize that every agency and community is different, and each has its own unique set of nuisances. Our recommendations are to be used a guide to support you, your agencies and your communities in helping to get through these unprecedented hardships we are all feeling and experiencing.

Do you have other ideas or want to share what’s working for you? Let us know, we want to hear from you. Stay Safe!

NACA Staff and Board of Directors

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Animal Control Intake of Healthy Wildlife

Animal Control Intake of Healthy Wildlife

It is the position of NACA that picking up, accepting, impounding or destroying healthy and treatable wildlife is a misuse of officer time and public funds and is not consistent with the humane mission of animal welfare organizations. Additionally, extermination of healthy wildlife does not result in long term human/animal conflict resolution. As an alternative to impounding and destroying healthy and treatable wildlife, NACA recommends animal control provide education on wild animals in the area as well as effective and humane methods to deter and exclude animals from homes, structures and targeted areas. It is further the position of NACA that, at every opportunity, officers should work to educate the public regarding humane coexistence with wildlife.

NACA recognizes some injured animals may need to be humanely euthanized by officers, as in the case of seriously injured deer. For injured, treatable animals, NACA recommends animal control agencies partner with reputable wildlife rehabilitation organizations so injured animals can be transported by animal control to a rehab center in cases when the animal’s life may be saved.

References:

San Diego Humane Society Coexisting With Wildlife web page

Project Coyote recommendations for Coexistence with Coyotes

Science Daily co-existing with wildlife journal article

Humane Society Wildlife Management tools and guidelines

Animal Control Intake of Free-Roaming Cats

Animal Control Intake of Free-Roaming Cats

It is the position [policy] of the National Animal Care & Control Association that, at every opportunity, officers should [will] work to educate the public regarding humane and responsible co-existence and care of pet and community cats, to include education on the benefits and resources for spay/neuter and vaccination; responsible feeding and management practices for those choosing to care for community cats; and effective methods to humanely deter and exclude animals from homes, structures and targeted areas. It is the position of NACA that indiscriminate pick up or admission of healthy, free-roaming cats, regardless of temperament, for any purpose other than TNR/SNR, fails to serve commonly held goals of community animal management and protection programs and, as such, is a misuse of time and public funds and should be avoided.

  • Impoundment of healthy adult cats reduces the likelihood of reuniting families with pets:
    Lost cats are 10-50 times more likely to be reunited with their owners if they stay in the neighborhood of origin than through an animal shelter. In fact, the most successful reunification method for cats is the cat returning home on its own. A family may not consider their free-roaming cat lost until the point when the cat is removed from the neighborhood and transported to a shelter.
    • Impoundment of healthy adult cats may disproportionately impact under-served and marginalized communities
      • Only 16% of participants in a program supporting low income pet owners have ever called or visited an animal shelter, and only 3% of pets in the same demographic were adopted from a shelter (compared to 30-40% for the general U.S. population), suggesting that impoundment is likely to be a one way journey for pets belonging to low income community members.
      • Only ~40 % of people in the lowest income bracket (<$30,000 annual income) that lost cats were reunited with them, compared to > $90% reunited for those making $50,000 or more per year.
  • Impoundment has the potential to increase cat populations and impact: The haphazard removal of individual cats is not population management. Removal of cats without concurrent control of the food source has been linked to paradoxical increases in cat populations by as much as 200%.
    • Kittens pose a greater risk than adult cats for shedding and spreading parasites with wildlife and/or public health implications (e.g. toxoplasmosis, Toxocara cati, Ancylostoma spp.),
    • therefore removing adult cats and destabilizing population age structures further increases risks to the environment.
  • Impoundment fails to resolve the inciting factors for nuisance situations: if cats are simply impounded, community members may not be motivated to identify and remedy factors such as open garbage containers that may be attracting cats as well as nuisance wildlife. TNR programs that leave cats where they are have been associated with significant reductions in nuisance complaints.
  • Impoundment of healthy free roaming cats reduces capacity to respond to critical community needs: historically “stray cats” have made up the majority of intake at North American shelters. This can leave shelters overwhelmed, overcrowded and less able to provide appropriate care and outcomes for those animals that do require sheltering (such as sick and injured animals, those whose owners can no longer keep them, and animals that have been neglected or abused).

Impounding healthy cats is not the best way to provide services to these cats and the residents in the area in which the cats are found. NACA advises officers to take proactive steps to divert intake of “stray cats” while offering services that support the goals of community animal management and protection programs:

  • Refer the public to local organizations or other staff/programs within the shelter that focus on trap-neuter-return, low-cost spay/neuter clinics, or utilize a return-to-home program within the agency if outside resources are not available or accessible.
  • Support ongoing care of community cats with information on best feeding practices, referrals to pet pantries and sources for outdoor cat shelters, etc. to reduce likelihood of future complaints and contribute to the wellbeing of the individual community cats. Feeding bans are not effective strategies for dispersing congregations of cats or mitigating complaints.
  • Work with residents to mitigate nuisance complaints, deploying a range of available tools (e.g., humane deterrents) and collaborating with caregivers and local TNR and rescue groups.

Exceptions to this policy should be made to mitigate exigent risk or to alleviate significant nuisance situations that can’t be otherwise remedied (e.g. with counseling/education of caretakers, sterilization and vaccination of cats, use of humane deterrents). These circumstances are best identified through a managed admission program that includes contact and counseling prior to intake. Staff should be informed and encouraged to use their judgement on a case by case basis. Exceptions may include the following:

  • Evidence of abandonment: Most cats in good body condition are receiving care, however in some circumstances it may be known that a cat has been recently abandoned, e.g. because it is known that the former owners moved and are not returning to care for the cats, or because the structure where the cat was known to be living was recently destroyed.
  • Evidence of being lost and unable to reunite: While cats are more likely to return home on their own or through posting in their neighborhood of origin, it may be appropriate to admit a healthy free roaming cat if efforts have already been made to reunite it with the owner (e.g. posting in neighborhood of origin and social media without results; cat has been seen for an extended time without encouragement by feeding).
  • Issues with larger groups: Large aggregations of cats may be associated with greater nuisance and risks than individual free roaming cats. A multi-faceted approach should be taken in these cases that leads to gradual reduction or elimination of the group, such as: a combination of caretaker education, sterilization and gradual removal to adoption, and relocation to working cat homes.
  • Specific risks identified for wildlife: Removal may be part of a multi-faceted approach to cat management in protected habitats for sensitive wildlife species. However, even in these cases, ad hoc removal (lethal or non-lethal) has not been demonstrated to be effective and in some cases has led to paradoxical population increases in target areas. Unless new arrivals can be excluded by fencing, removal must be sufficiently intensive and sustained to outpace new immigration and breeding, the natural consequence of a decrease in population density. Community buy-in is critical for success and a multi-faceted approach is required that includes input from natural resource personnel, animal services staff and cat advocates.

CONTRIBUTOR CREDIT:  Dr. Kate Hurley

REFERENCES:

  1. Lord, L.K., et al., Search and identification methods that owners use to find a lost cat. J Am Vet Med Assoc, 2007. 230(2): p. 217-20.
  2. E. Weiss, M. Slater, L. Lord, et al. Frequency of Lost Dogs and Cats in the United States and the Methods Used to Locate Them. Animals (Basel). 2012 Jun; 2(2): 301–315.
  3. Pets For Life 2017 Program Report. 2017. p. 16
  4. Hill, et al. Humans and Animal Vulnerability Study.
  5. Lazenby, B.T., Mooney, N.J., and Dickman, C.R. (2014). Effects of low-level culling of feral cats in open populations: a case study from the forests of southern Tasmania. Wildlife Research, 41, 401-420.
  6. Finkler H, Gunther I, and Terkel J. “Behavioral differences between urban feeding groups of neutered and sexually intact free-roaming cats following a trap-neuter-return procedure.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 238, no. 9 (2011); 1141–1149.
  7. Levy JK, Isaza NM, Scott KC. Effect of high-impact targeted trap-neuter-return and adoption of community cats on cat intake to a shelter. Vet J. 2014 Sep;201(3):269-74.
  8. National Feline Research Council: Feral cat feeding bans: The reasoning, risks, and results, 2020

New Membership Fees- A Letter from Scott Giacoppo

Dear fellow animal welfare professionals

We are living through some very difficult times right now, yet those of us in the animal care and control field are persevering. NACA is committed to being by the side of every single person putting themself at risk to continue serving the animals and people in their communities. We also recognize that there are many of you who want to serve but cannot due to lay-offs, furloughs, reduced hours and slashed budgets.

With these challenges in mind, NACA is giving everyone the opportunity to share in the unity we provide and the benefits afforded to all members at a more reasonable cost. We have decided to cut our annual membership fee of $50 in half to $25, or only $20 if you are a member of a member state-affiliated association!

When we offered a free three-month trial membership in March, the response was overwhelming! Close to 900 people signed up and many began immediately accessing our benefits, such as viewing the archived training webinars that were conducted in partnership with the Justice Clearinghouse.

We took this immense interest as a sign that if NACA were more affordable, more people would join in our fight to bring our field the pride, professionalism and unity it deserves.  To those of you who signed up as a full member sometime after March 1, we are extending your membership to a two-year, fully paid membership giving you an additional year of benefits.

While times are tough out there, they are also tough here at NACA. We have been forced to cancel far too many of our NACHO training classes that we do in partnership with Code 3 (cancelling just one is too many in my book!). These trainings are not only our longstanding pledge to you to provide world-class animal control and humane law officer certification training, they also represent a significant source of our annual revenue.

So why would cutting fees now be sensible? Wouldn’t the more advisable path be to increase costs?

Perhaps, but that doesn’t sit right with me, not when I meet and talk to officers, shelter staff and advocates who are living paycheck to paycheck yet still want to be a part of the NACA family.

NACA’s strength has always been and will continue to be in our numbers. I know that not only will we get through these dark times, we will get through them together as one.

 

Stay safe and stay proud.

 

Scott Giacoppo

Board President,

National Animal Care and Control Association

Wildlife During COVID-19

Wildlife During COVID-19

NACA has received questions regarding interactions with wildlife during COVID-19. Here is what we have learned from the nation’s leading experts on wildlife and COVID-19.

First, it is important to remember that at this time the most likely route of exposure is between two human beings.  Wildlife is, by nature, usually leery of humans which means their contact time with an infected/shedding individual is going to be minimal.

At this time, there is an unknown risk level associated with wildlife and their ability to carry the virus that causes the disease known as COVID-19.  Animal Care & Control professionals may be required to interact with sick, injured, or displaced wildlife as part of their essential duties, and because of the unknown risk, they should do so with an abundance of caution.  Following the PPE guidance provided in the NACA Statement on Officer Safety during the COVID-19 Pandemic is recommended to ensure Animal Care & Control staff safety when interacting with wildlife.

Additionally, NACA recommends stopping intake of all ‘nuisance’ wildlife and not interacting with healthy wildlife unless absolutely necessary.

NACA will continue to monitor the recommendations associated with Wildlife and COVID-19, and encourages you to review the following resources related to the topic:

AFWA
NCWCOA

Start of Animal Care & Control Appreciation Week- THANK YOU!

Start of Animal Care & Control Appreciation Week- THANK YOU!

Animal services staff members are first responders who are endowed with a unique opportunity: not only do these hardworking people tirelessly protect the welfare of helpless animals that endure injury, disease, abuse, and starvation, but they also protect the people in their communities by enforcing animal control laws, preventing the spread of disease, educating the public on proper pet care.

National Animal Care and Control Appreciation Week, celebrated annually during the second full week of April, is an opportunity for animal care and control personnel, and the communities that they serve, to acknowledge and celebrate the essential services that these fearless people provide day in and day out.

This year’s National Animal Care and Control Appreciation Week is an especially important one, as animal control officers and shelter staff everywhere continue to work on the front lines to navigate the unexpected challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Below are just a few pictures of animal care and control officers and shelter staff across the country who, like other emergency and essential personnel, are showing up to work—risking their safety to go above and beyond for the animals and people that they are committed to serving. While some of them have personal protective equipment (PPE), others do not. While some of them are performing harrowing animal rescues, others are working hard to operate pet food pantries and other outreach efforts for their communities. While some of them are the only healthy and working officer on their force, others continue to work closely together while abiding by safe social distancing practices.

Even though these photos depict the wide range of issues and challenges that animal care and control and shelter personnel are facing, there is one thing that they all have in common: each of these incredible humans is out there, doing what they can, to ensure the safety and protection of all of the beings in their care.

On behalf of everyone at NACA, we thank you for your selfless service and for putting your lives on the line for the animals and humans alike who depend on you.