!! 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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Stress & Ways to Manage it During COVID-19 and Beyond- Written By: Nina Stively

Stress & Ways to Manage it During COVID-19 and Beyond- Written By: Nina Stively

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.

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

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.

What we know about pets and SARS-CoV-2:

What we know about pets and SARS-CoV-2:

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.
Cat and Kitten Intake During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Cat and Kitten Intake During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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:

  1. Only bring them into your care if it is an absolute emergency, and you have exhausted all other options.
  2. If you do bring them in, especially the kittens requiring intensive care, get them back out as quickly as possible
  3. 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”
  4. 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.