!! 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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NACA Guideline on Appointment-Based Pet Intake into Shelters

NACA Guideline on Appointment-Based Pet Intake into Shelters

The outdated practice of unscheduled intake leads to a number of negative impacts (See Appendix A). Some of the consequences of on-demand, immediate intake include animals being unnecessarily impounded; families and pets being needlessly and often permanently separated; increased stress, disease, and death in shelter animals; poor customer experience; compromised staffing efficiency; and decreased organizational effectiveness.

Given the numerous harms and risks associated with unscheduled intake, we recommend all animal shelters replace this practice with an appointment-based system that includes individual assessment and a case management approach for all non-emergency requests.

How has shelter pet intake evolved over the past 25 years? Historically, animal services agencies have provided on-demand shelter impoundment of owned and loose or lost pets. Over the past several decades, as animal services agencies move away from treating pets as simply a public nuisance and increasingly recognize a full 98% of pet owners value their pets as much as human family members, there has been a shift in how agencies manage intake processes. Closing of overnight ‘drop boxes,’ a shift to providing pre-intake counseling, and appointment-based intake management are all reflections of the evolving role of animal services and the high value our communities place on the human-animal bond.

What is an appointment-based approach to shelter intake? This approach involves appointment-based intake of animals in non-emergency situations into the animal services facility. It is appropriate for routine intake of pets being surrendered by their owners as well as stray or lost friendly, healthy animals. Cats, dogs, puppies, and kittens, along with other companion animals can be scheduled for intake following an initial assessment (by phone or web/e-mail) to determine if shelter intake is the only viable option or the best option for that pet and caregiver.

What is the benefit to my community and organization? The purpose of a scheduled or appointment policy is to ensure that pets who can be safely cared for in their communities do not have to unnecessarily enter the animal shelter. When effectively implemented, this practice will reduce the population of pets housed in the shelter, help more pets get home faster, improve community health and safety, and reduce shelter-borne illnesses and behavioral decline associated with crowded animal shelter conditions. Importantly, managed intake frees up shelter resources to ensure emergencies and critical situations are handled promptly and effectively. Scheduled intake is better for pets, better for people, and leads to healthier, safer communities.

What does the appointment-based intake process look like? When a person has a pet they want to surrender or has found a lost pet, they contact the animal shelter via phone, email, or web-based form. Owners or finders may be asked to fill out an information form. A shelter staff member or volunteer then follows up with a conversation to determine if the organization can help the owner or finder identify a solution that does NOT involve the pet coming to the shelter. If no alternative solution can be found, and impoundment into the facility is determined to be the best option, an appointment is scheduled for the finder or owner to bring the pet into the shelter. Depending on the urgency of the situation and the capacity of the shelter, that appointment may be scheduled the same day or up to several weeks out.

Does scheduling intake mean closing your doors? No. Effective intake management practices do not involve closing doors or cutting off access to the public. It also doesn’t mean organizations refuse to help or turn away sick or injured pets, animals in immediate danger, or dogs that pose a threat to public safety. On the contrary, managing intake allows communities to provide faster responses to urgent and critical situations and provide overall better service to the community.

How do shelters make the switch to appointment-based intake? When an animal shelter does implement a managed intake policy, here are the things they should do to ensure both staff and the community understand the new policy:

  • Hold dialogue sessions with staff, volunteers, and other stakeholders to talk about the reason for and potential challenges related to managing intake, and to troubleshoot any organizational barriers.
  • Write internal policies for what constitutes emergency vs. non-emergency intake and communicate these policies with staff and volunteers.
  • Clearly communicate the intake policies and process for the public on the shelter website and other public platforms.
  • Build a prioritization protocol so emergencies (sick or injured animals, dangerous animals, and animals in immediate danger) receive prompt field response and emergency intake as needed.
  • Identify staff and/or volunteers who can talk to pet owners and finders as well as schedule intakes when needed. This may initially be done by intake staff (especially at smaller organizations) but may grow to include staff or volunteers specialized to work with specific situations such as underage kittens, community cats, or potential pet surrenders.

What can members of the public expect? As part of implementing a managed intake practice, animal shelters provide help and support for pet owners. Pet finders, owners, and caregivers should be able to reach the shelter (immediately for emergencies and within a reasonable time frame for non-emergencies) and talk to a representative about their particular situation and needs. The member of the public should expect that the representative will offer alternatives to bringing the pet to the shelter and will ask the person calling to help by holding the pet, getting a lost pet home, or helping to rehome the pet. Some shelters are able to provide additional support, such as services to keep pets in their homes or supplies to care for found underage animals. The person should also expect if no viable alternatives can be identified that the pet will be scheduled for intake into the shelter, based on the urgency of the need and the capacity of the shelter at any given time.

What services can animal services provide to help keep pets out of the shelter? Here are a few low-cost, effective, and simple ways shelters can help keep pets in their homes and gain community support for managed intake:

  • Direct field service officers to attempt to identify dogs in the field and return healthy and friendly dogs instead of impounding them into the shelter.
  • Help pet owners utilize a free self-rehoming platform to safely rehome their own pets.
  • Implement robust lost pet reunification practices like automated, real-time found reporting, use of social media sites like NextDoor and Facebook, and field return of lost pets by animal control officers.
  • Offer pet resources or pet support services to help people find alternatives to shelter surrender and identify resources that can help them keep a pet.
  • Create a finder-to-foster program and safety net foster program to place pets in foster homes instead of the shelter.

APPENDIX A: What are the consequences for communities and shelters of non-scheduled intake practices?

  • Compromised emergency response. Unregulated intake of non-emergency cases often leaves shelters operating chronically at maximum capacity, limiting the ability to respond to true emergencies (e.g., disaster or outbreak response) or critical issues (such as major cruelty or hoarding cases) without resorting to euthanasia to make room or severely crowding the shelter with the related increased risks of disease and injury.
  • Lost opportunities to maintain human-animal bond. Finding solutions for owners struggling to keep a pet is difficult in the busy lobby of an animal shelter with other clients waiting in line. Operating via unscheduled, unplanned surrender of pets limits the possibility of offering alternative possibilities (such as short-term food pantry support, behavioral advice, or treatment of minor medical issues) that could keep families and pets together.
  • Fewer lost pets get back home. Nationally, fewer than half the stray pets brought into shelters will be reclaimed by their owners (Count 2020). Dogs and cats are >11 and >40 times (respectively) more likely to be found within the neighborhood of origin than by a call or visit to an animal shelter (Slater, Weiss, et al. 2012). Allowing found pets to be dropped off at a shelter without at least a brief conversation with the finder to suggest other ways to reunite the pet with its family (such as posting on local lost-and-found websites or having a field officer scan for a microchip) eliminates the most promising path for owner-pet reunification in many cases.
  • Increased disease rates in shelters. Unregulated intake regardless of shelter capacity almost inevitably leads to increased length of stay, crowding, and increased disease transmission (Karsten, Wagner, et al. 2017). Treatment of the resulting illness incurs additional costs, adds to the burden on staff and facility and in some cases, the disease is directly fatal or results in euthanasia.
  • Higher stress levels for animals. Unscheduled intake increases noise and stress as well and limits the possibility of ensuring some quiet times during which animals can rest and/or volunteers can engage in quiet enrichment activities. Stress levels of impounded animals will prolong shelter stays by exacerbating behaviors that discourage adoption, such as barking and hyperactivity, feeding into an ongoing negative cycle. Stress can also suppress animal immune systems and directly result in disease spread.
  • Diminished ability to provide good customer service. Although walk-in access to shelter services may seem like a convenient option, few shelters are sufficiently staffed to provide prompt service on a spontaneous basis for the wide variety of needs presented by community members. Whether looking to surrender a pet, drop off a found animal, adopt a new pet, reclaim their animal, or access any of the other services offered by the shelter, clients are better served by appointment systems that allow shelters to plan staffing in alignment with anticipated needs and regulate flow to avoid long lines and bottlenecks.
  • Staffing inefficiency. Unpredictable workflow means that staff may be underutilized at some times and overwhelmed at others, leading at best to inefficiencies and at worst to significant lapses in animal care or customer support. Unpredictable workflow is also a significant risk for staff stress and turnover, exacerbating staffing shortages and workload issues

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

NACA First Responders Position Statement

Animal Control Officers Should Be Considered First Responders

The National Animal Care & Control Association (NACA) believes all animal field services professionals (animal control, animal protection, etc.), should be considered and treated as first responders. The Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Systems define first responders as “individuals who in the early stages of an incident are responsible for the protection and preservation of life, property, evidence, and the environment”. Animal control officers and other animal field services professionals meet this definition.

The very core of the work of an animal control officer is deeply rooted in community engagement, public safety and the welfare of non-human animals. Historically, animal control officers were on the frontline of protecting communities and addressing public health concerns such as preventing the spread of the rabies virus. Their early role has now been dramatically expanded to include providing community support and outreach, investigating animal cruelty and neglect, and saving animals who are in immediate danger. Additionally, they work alongside other first responders such as law enforcement, EMTs, and firefighters on a regular basis during weather emergencies, natural disasters, and other catastrophic events.

Communities and local municipal agencies should view and support their animal control officers at the same level as other first responders. Additionally, communities and local government agencies should provide on-going training, equipment, and resources necessary to support the work of their animal control officers working at the frontline of their community.

Homeland Security Act of 2002. (2019, May 28). Retrieved December 06, 2020, from https://www.dhs.gov/homeland-security-act-200​

Download: NACA First Responders Position Statement (pdf)

NACA Statement on Officer Safety

NACA Statement on Officer Safety

In this challenging time, we are deeply concerned for the safety of animal control officers around the nation, who continue their work of saving lives and protecting pets and people. Despite the varying situations happening in many of our cities, we want you to know we are with you and thinking of you during this troubling time. We are here for you. Please be safe out there!

In an effort to provide guidance to agencies operating the essential service that is Animal Control, NACA has developed the following recommendations:

– Receive direction from local law enforcement on areas that will be of risk, closed or otherwise have restricted access, and those determined safe for regular responses.

– Agencies should adjust responses as appropriate per the direction received from law enforcement.

– If an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is active in your community, ensure that an Agency representative is available to receive briefings and coordinate with other Agencies quickly. Time and effective communication are paramount in these situations.

– Establish policies for the protection of officers to include individual safety measures, personal protective equipment, and law enforcement support as needed. Refer to the NACA guidelines specifically on the safe use of personal protection equipment

– Provide daily briefings of the evolving situation in the community (non-animal related).

– Ensure any staff working in the field or in a vulnerable position always have at least 2 forms of communication (cell phone, radio, laptop, etc.) in help ensure emergency communication, if needed, is available.

Download: NACA statement on officer safety (pdf)