COVID-19 has changed our profession, possibly forever, and in many ways, for the better. We have started having real discussions with our state and local governments on what it means to be essential. We have adapted our shelter intake models, seeing intakes drop and adoptions soar. In light of these remarkable changes, you would expect to see the staff morale at our facilities sky-high, right? And maybe you are seeing that. But, if you, or your teammates are in a slump right now, it’s okay.
If your agency stopped taking non-critical intakes or calls for service, you likely feel like you’ve been running from one emergency to the next. That your kennels only have profoundly ill, injured or aggressive animals in them. That your citizens are stressed out and overwhelmed and those emotions are getting thrown at you, and if any of these feelings resonate with you, know that you are not alone.
Loudoun County Animal Services (LCAS) is a municipal animal services agency, in a community of about 400,000 people. Normally, this time of year, kittens are arriving at our door by the boxload, while calls for service on dogs running at large and concerns over wildlife keep everyone busy. This year, however, after closing to intakes, other than stray dogs (per county code) and urgent surrenders, our intake numbers dropped by over 70%. One the outside, this seems amazing- and it is! But while the animals still arriving are the same critical or aggressive cases we would normally receive, the boxes of kittens and “I’m moving” dogs aren’t coming in. This means that our staff are missing out on the happy endings that we all got into the field to experience, and don’t quite get the break in between tough cases that we are used to. And those tough cases might either feel harder, or they might actually be harder. Here in Loudoun, we have seen a sudden, substantial increase in violent crimes against animals locally, and bites where owners are the victim have gone up 72% in the past two months. While we should all be proud of the hard work we have done to make positive change, there is no shame in admitting that the current environment is a challenging one for us and our teammates, and these challenges go well beyond our trucks and kennels. Some of our colleagues are struggling to balance childcare, vulnerable family members and compromised income, along with the new stresses of work in a different environment. While we are all going through this pandemic together, we all have our own lives to balance with an already complex profession.
At LCAS, we are trying to keep the environment as low stress as possible- starting a staff garden, hosting grill-out Thursdays in the employee parking lot, permitting pets at work for our shelter staff and dispatchers, making sure everyone has PPE and what they need to feel safe, while allowing telework as much as possible and being flexible with staff schedules. No one has ever said that being essential is an easy job, but it is one that we have taken on with pride. And while the community trusts us to take care of their animals, we need to make sure we are also taking care of ourselves. Reduced intakes does not mean reduced stress.
There is no better time than the present to look after your own mental well-being. If you need to take time for yourself or your family, related to COVID-19, there are federal workplace protections in place for you. If you are feeling overwhelmed, you are not alone. Don’t hesitate to reach out to colleagues, to your locality’s EAP, professional therapists, hotlines or other support networks. Times are changing, and in many ways, it is for the better, but it doesn’t mean that your struggles should be discounted. Recognizing our challenges is the first step in resilience, and while our stats, our resources and our communities are different, we are all in this together. And when we come out on the other side (are we there yet?), I want you all here alongside me to try to tackle the next round of progress in animal services.
Nina Stively is the Director of Loudoun County Animal Services, a municipal agency in northern Virginia, handling animal sheltering, humane law enforcement and community programs for a community of about 400,000 people, full of companion animals, livestock and wildlife.
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.
National Animal Care and Control Association
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.
The American Veterinary Medical Association put an updated statement addressing the SARS-CoV-2 in animals, including pets. This statement provides some excellent information that provides clarity to many of the questions we have heard from animal services staff, volunteers, and the community at large.
The main takeaways are:
- Current expert understanding is that COVID-19 is primarily transmitted person-to-person.
- There is no evidence that dogs and cats naturally infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19) spread it to other pets or people.
- There is no reason to remove pets from homes where COVID-19 has been identified unless there is a risk that the pet itself is not able to be cared for appropriately. The best place for pets is at home.
- If you are ill with COVID-19, you should restrict contact with pets and other animals.
- Despite over one million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, we have only seen examples of two dogs, one cat,, and one tiger with positive tests for infection as a result of suspected natural spread.
As always, our top priority is the health and safety of our animal services staff and the communities (including pets) that we serve. It is for this reason that we are asking animal services, especially municipal shelters or shelters, holding a municipal contract to adhere to emergency field operations only. This means limiting calls for service to public safety concerns, sick/injured animal calls, and legally mandated quarantines that cannot take place outside the shelter. As we begin to see larger numbers of people impacted by COVID-19, we must prepare for the possible influx of COVID exposed animals to our shelters.
The first thing animal services agencies should be doing to prepare for this potential influx is communicating the urgency for pet owners to have a plan. Pet owners should develop an action plan for what will happen to their pet if they are to fall ill and are unable to provide care, including the name and contact information for a family member or friend who has agreed to provide care. Here is a sample outline for such a plan.
In the event that pets must come into a shelter, municipal shelters and those holding municipal contracts are most likely to have staff appropriately trained and equipped to deal with infectious disease outbreaks. These organizations should also have a veterinarian on staff or a contract with a veterinarian who can provide medical oversight/guidance for the reduction of spread. The key points regarding this type of intake transition are:
- Quarantine facilities should only be taking in sick/injured animals, animals exposed or potentially exposed to COVID-19, and animals on legally mandated rabies quarantine that cannot take place outside the shelter.
- Local Non-Profit Shelters (not operating government contracts), rescue organizations, and foster networks should be utilized to take in and house healthy stray and owner surrender pets.
- Animals taken in for COVID-19 quarantine should be housed in isolation (separated from all other animals housed at the facility) for 14 days before transitioning to other placement options, including short- or long-term foster care.
One of the main concerns we have been hearing this week surrounding the COVID-19 Pandemic is timing. No time is ideal, but on the precipice of puppy/kitten season, really?!? Consistent messaging from the leading experts on the subject of intake is Emergency Intake Only! The position statement from NACA on the issue has been endorsed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Shelter Medicine Program, The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement, University of Florida- Shelter Medicine Program, The Humane Society of the United States, and many more. All that being said, what we continue to hear is, “What about the abandoned kittens?” First, are we 100% sure they are abandoned? Information that has been shared over the years continues to show us just how unlikely unweaned kittens are to be truly abandoned. Whenever possible, kittens should be left to the care of their mothers. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care & Control in North Carolina put together a video on this issue, which is easily shared via social media with your communities. If kittens do enter the system, get them out as quickly as possible. The University of Wisconsin-Madison Shelter Medicine Program, in conjunction with the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, has put together a fantastic sheet of recommendations on the intake of kittens during COVID-19. These recommendations will aid in animal services departments balancing human and animal health and safety. Our communities and volunteers are fantastic supporters of the work we do every day, during this time of crisis we must engage them in pushing out the “Don’t Kit-Nap” or “Leave them Be” messaging. Pasco County Animal Services in Pasco County, FL, has had tremendous success with their “Leave them Be” program, and I know their Assistant Director Spencer Conover is always happy to discuss their model. Another group doing fantastic work with community cat programming is the Humane Rescue Alliance; their Director of Regional Outreach (who also happens to be on the board of NACA), Alice Burton is a genuinely amazing person and a fantastic resource when it comes to moving cats and kittens out of your shelters as quickly as possible. The key messages surrounding cats and kittens during this pandemic are:
- Only bring them into your care if it is an absolute emergency, and you have exhausted all other options.
- If you do bring them in, especially the kittens requiring intensive care, get them back out as quickly as possible
- Our priority during this pandemic must be the health and safety of our human staff and citizens first, and one way we can aid in keeping our teams safe and healthy is by encouraging citizens to “Leave them Be”
- We understand and acknowledge the communities concern surrounding the potential for an increased number of kittens this season due to the suspension of SNR services. These concerns are shared by many, but our priority at this time must be on the health and safety of staff and citizens, a conscious effort will be made to make up for ground lost in the area of SNR once we return to normal operations.
Animal control and animal welfare in general have been forced to think outside the box for years, and COVID-19 is no different. In fact, this pandemic has sparked many agencies to begin following some of the nationally-recognized and growing best practice models. These include reducing the number of animals housed in physical sheltering facilities and increasing the numbers being routinely housed in foster care and in the community.
The National Animal Care & Control Association (NACA) is striving daily to ensure that we are providing each of our members as well as other animal control officers across the country with the support and information they need.
As of now NACA has published the following list of position statements, which are intended to provide guidance to shelters struggling to make sound decisions that balance lifesaving and animal control functions. They are:
NACA is also working actively with our partner organizations on the national level to develop and distribute information. We have worked with organizations such as American Pets Alive, The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement (The Association), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Best Friends Animal Society, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Maddie’s Fund, and many more. Here are a few links to tool kits that may help you in developing policies, procedures, and programs in order to maintain or enhance your operations during this pandemic:
Now we want to hear from you, the members that we serve and who are boots on the ground getting the essential work done during this challenging time! What are your current fears, concerns, and needs? How can NACA help? Please share in the comments below what information NACA can work on pulling together to aid you in the best way possible. We are here as a resource for you and we want to ensure that we are providing you with the most impactful position statements, letters of support, and information that you can use to influence, encourage, and directly implement change to ensure the good work you do day in and day out not only survives, but thrives in this time of need!