101 ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// How To Find Lost Pets: A Primer for the Public

How To Find Lost Pets: A Primer for the Public
By Kat Albrecht
In this 101, Kat Albrecht, founder of the
Missing Pet Partnership, gives advice
on finding lost pets. If pet owners come
into your shelter searching for lost
animals but come up empty-handed,
you can still help by handing them a
copy of these tips. (To read more about
Kat Albrecht, see page 24.)
The main text on a lost pet poster should be clear to someone driving by at 55 miles per hour. Kat Albrecht
1. Understand the dynamics
of lost pets.
As every devoted pet owner knows, animals are individuals. The behavior of a
lost animal depends on more than just
species and breed. Her circumstances
and personality—and the way our own
species responds to her—can affect both
where she goes and how you search for
her. Here are some general tips about the
behaviors of particular kinds of cats and
dogs. You may recognize your own pet in
these descriptions.
It is difficult to predict how far lost dogs
will go if they get loose; there are too many
variables. The distance a lost dog travels
depends on his individual temperament,
the environment (terrain and weather),
and the circumstances surrounding his
disappearance. Another complicating factor is that people who pick up stray dogs
often transport them out of the immediate search area. But generally speaking,
your target search area will be within a
mile radius of your home.
Friendly dogs and purebreds
In general, wiggly-friendly dogs who seek
attention from strangers, along with dogs
recognizable as purebreds or rare breeds,
will be picked up more quickly than mixed
breed dogs, who often go unnoticed. The
average, non-rescue-oriented person who
sees a mixed-breed dog trotting down
the sidewalk may not think much about
it, but when the same person sees a dog
of “value,” they’re more likely to realize
something is not right and pull over. (They
may want to keep the dog, but hopefully
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101 // ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
Although it is possible
that someone has
transported your
animal a long distance
from your home,
you must act on the
assumption that your
pet is nearby and that
you will recover him.
If you lose hope or
become discouraged
by others who are
trying to tell you to
“give up” your search
efforts, you will
reduce your chances
of recovering your pet.
they’ll try to help find the owner, especially if you have placed ads and posted
signs around the neighborhood.)
Panicked dogs and skittish/shy dogs
Panicked dogs—for example, those who’ve
been scared by fireworks or involved in a
car accident—and dogs with skittish, shy
temperaments will be more difficult to
capture and are at risk of traveling further. These dogs often run blindly and can
travel for miles before intervention. When
they eventually slow down, they often seek
secluded places (such as wooded areas,
cemeteries, and creeks) where they can
avoid all human contact. People who find
these frightened dogs often mistakenly
believe they have been abused. If all other
methods fail to help you get close to your
panicked dog, you may need to resort to
setting a large humane dog trap. But this
can be tricky; you need to know where
your dog is hanging out and set the trap
in the vicinity. (To learn how, see www.
Animal Sheltering JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2007
We do not know enough yet about lost
cat behavior to predict which cats will remain hidden and which cats will travel. To
be on the safe side, follow the tips below,
and combine aggressive distribution of fliers with the use of baited humane traps;
these traps are your best and primary tool
for recovering a displaced, skittish cat. For
instructions on how to recover a cat with a
humane trap, go to www.catsinthebag.org.
Because cats are often nervous, they
may hide for an extended period before
emerging into the open. Even if some time
has passed since your cat disappeared, you
should continue searching local shelters—
your cat might not come out for weeks and
might not end up in the shelter until months
after his initial disappearance.
Indoor cats with outdoor
access/indoor-only cats
Injured or frightened cats usually hide
within their own territory and remain silent. Indoor-only cats who escape into the
outdoors are displaced from their territory.
Because these cats are traumatized by displacement, they also tend to remain concealed and silent. Their silence is designed
to protect them from predators. Just because you do not see or hear your cat does
not mean he is not right there, hiding in the
bushes or behind your hose box.
Gregarious indoor cats
Displaced gregarious cats may initially
hide in silence, but eventually they will
likely meow and break cover. Some of
them will even show up at your door and
run back inside, but others may travel.
To learn more about the behavior of lost
pets and the environmental and temperament issues that may influence how far an
escaped pet will travel, visit the Missing Pet
Partnership’s website at www.lostapet.org.
2. Start your search close to home.
Search your own property and surrounding neighbors’ properties first, checking
areas where your animal could be trapped
or injured. Dogs can become trapped inside sheds and trailers, get entangled in
wires under homes, even fall into wells or
neighboring swimming pools.
Get permission from your neighbors
to search their property, especially if
you’re looking for a cat—that way you can
search in and under sheds, basements,
garages, houses, decks, and heavy brush.
Do not simply ask your neighbor to look
for your cat; they probably won’t be as
motivated to crawl around on their tummies to look in the places your cat is most
likely to hide.
Your property and the houses within
a three-house radius of your home are the
high-probability search areas for an outdoor-access cat who has vanished. Use a
flashlight and be both patient and hopeful,
calling your kitty in your normal “cat calls.”
You can even try appealing to his appetite using recorded sounds of a can
opener or clinking a cat food can with a
spoon. Just remember that even if the cat
doesn’t appear, he may still be nearby—
and possibly injured, stuck, or too frightened to respond.
3. Distribute posters and fliers
in your target search area.
When developing lost animal posters, use
bright, fluorescent poster board—available
at drug stores or office supply stores—as
the backing for 8 1/2 x 11” fliers (see photo
on p. 41). In giant black letters at the top,
write the word “reward,” and at the very
bottom write the words “lost dog/cat.”
On your 8 1/2 x 11” white flier, use an uppercase, 90-point font to describe your
animal, such as “white” at the top and
“poodle” at the bottom; in a smaller font,
list important information about your
animal, along with your contact information. Put a recent color photo in the center
of the flier; then laminate it. If you can’t
laminate it, make it waterproof by covering it with clear tape when you affix it to
the poster. The size and fluorescent color
of the poster will immediately attract the
eye; everyone driving by will know there’s
a lost white poodle in the area. Place these
posters initially at all major intersections
within a mile radius of the place your animal went missing, and expand outward
within a week if he has not been found.
If you get calls from people who think
they’ve seen your animal, add posters in
the areas they called from as well.
// /////////////////////////////////////// 101
4. Check all known havens.
Be sure to visit all of the animal shelters in
your area regularly. (There may be more
than one.) Talk with the staff and provide
pictures of your animal. Check back regularly, and contact all area rescue groups,
too. Animal shelters and rescue groups
are a high-probability search area for a lost
animal. Many strays are ultimately posted
on www.petfinder.com and other websites, so keep checking those sites in case
your animal has been found and listed.
If you’re searching for a cat, you should
also notify any local “trap-neuter-return”
groups who may eventually trap your cat.
When you visit local shelters, be sure to
notify shelter employees that your cat is
skittish and might behave like a feral cat.
5. Be prepared to respond
to several sightings.
Be sure someone is available at all times
to answer incoming calls from potential
sighters. If you have an answering machine, change your message to include
a mention of the animal (so people will
know they’ve called the right number) and
instructions on how someone can reach
you on your cell phone. If you don’t have a
cell phone, borrow or buy one.
If someone responds to your plea for
help, ask the caller if she is calling from
a cell phone. If the answer is yes, ask her
to remain on the phone with you to keep
you updated on the animal’s location.
This tactic—cell phone to cell phone communication between a witness and the
owner—has proven to be the most effective method of recovering lost pets.
6. Do not give up.
Sometimes it takes weeks, even months, to
find a missing animal. There have even been
cases where pets have been located years
after they disappeared. Your pet did not
vanish from the earth. Although it is possible that someone has transported your
animal a long distance from your home,
you must act on the assumption that your
pet is nearby and that you will recover him.
If you lose hope or become discouraged by
others who are trying to tell you to “give up”
your search efforts, you will reduce your
chances of recovering your pet. AS
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Animal Sheltering JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2007
Masters of Disaster
Michigan shelter makes staff preparedness a priority
“Free-Food-and-Beer Days”? Sounds good.
Days”? Sounds even better. But “Disaster
Days”? That might not seem like a tempting way to spend your free time, but the
Michigan Humane Society managed to
attract almost 80 staff members to four
successful events last spring that readied
them—and their pets—for disasters.
Disaster Days offered plenty of opportunities to prepare and learn. Staff
received disaster planning guides and
copies of their pets’ vet records in waterproof bags. If they brought their pets with
them, the animals were microchipped,
registered, and photographed—in about
15 minutes. The photos were used to create laminated wallet I.D. cards. Staff could
take advantage of free and at-cost supplies to build evacuation kits for their pets,
and both staff and volunteers attended a
one-hour training session.
The shelter made it easy for staff to
take part: Disaster Days took place at
different locations. The events were held
on Sundays, when the shelter is usually
closed. And volunteers helped minimize
staff involvement. The only employees on
the clock were members of the emergency
preparedness work team. In this excerpted
interview, animal welfare specialist Linda
Reider discussed the details with Animal
Sheltering writer Katina Antoniades.
What made the Michigan Humane
Society decide to focus on disaster
preparedness for staff?
We really realized that the foundation on
which all of our future emergency preparedness rests is personal preparedness.
If our staff isn’t ready at home with their
families and their animals, then they’re
not going to be able to help take care of
the animals at work. People that work in
animal shelters have a dual responsibility;
they have their animals at home and they
have the animals at work, and we wanted
A microchip company donated 113 chips to the shelter; each staff person could have one pet chipped
for free and the rest of their pets done at cost. Michigan Humane Society
to make a really easy, fun, quick way for
them to do personal preparedness so that
it was done and it was out of their way.
We billed it as one-stop disaster proofing.
Did most of the staff take advantage
of Disaster Days?
Well, 77 staff took part, and we ended up
disaster-proofing 231 animals. So we felt
really positive about that—and we realized we have more to go. Some people
missed the events because they weren’t
convenient, or some actually don’t have
animals. Then other people were just
sort of waiting and [wondering], “What
are these going to be like?” So we’ve
decided we’re going to be offering them
every six months so that new people or
people who get new animals or people
who just missed it before will have a
chance to do this. We’re going to hold
them in May and November because we
wanted to miss the really busy time for
us, and we also wanted to miss the really
cold season for the comfort of [transporting] the animals.
What kind of training for staff
and volunteers did you have to
supplement the events?
It’s a one-hour training in three parts: introduction to emergency and disasters,
and then how emergencies affect animals
and animal facilities, and then thirdly,
protecting animals at home. We handed
out a family preparedness brochure; we
got those free from the state emergency
management office. And then we inserted
an animal disaster planning checklist that
we made … and we also made another
handout which lists emergency supplies
by species. We recognize a lot of our staff
have unusual animals and they need to
know how to evacuate or shelter in place
safely with a snake or with their birds, or
what to do with their horses.
Then we gave them emergency stickers for their front and back doors, and we
created animal reclaim cards, because
one of our big concerns was people getting separated from their animals and
having a quick, easy way to reclaim them.
So we handed those out in a form that
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Q&A /////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
As part of
its Disaster
Days events,
the Michigan
Society created
pet ID cards
for people to
keep in their
wallets in
case of disaster. Michigan
Humane Society
has a place for them to put a photo, and
then they fill out a bit of information. They
could bring those to the events and we
turn them into wallet cards. The training
is one hour, and we made it mandatory for
all staff who work at least 20 hours. For
volunteers, it’s optional—we had a great
turnout, though.
Were there any staff who didn’t
see the importance as much?
I imagine after Katrina that’s less
and less of a possibility.
Well, the problem we face in Michigan
is, we really are a state that doesn’t have
a lot of large-scale disasters. The most
common disasters in our state are flooding and high-wind events like tornadoes.
So people see hurricane things—and
of course we sent teams down postKatrina and post-Rita, but a lot of people
in Michigan have a tendency to say that
will not happen here. So in our training
we tried to bring across how really what
we’re preparing for is emergencies. And
by being better prepared for emergencies,
we’re actually doing disaster preparedness—we’re kind of coming in the back
door. We’re saying, you know, there’s
a potential for one of our shelters to experience a fire—the other day we had a
hazardous materials spill in front of our
Detroit shelter. They didn’t have to evacuate the shelter, but it was the kind of thing
we can use as examples of emergency
situations that we would face in our facility. Our emergency planning is in phases,
and the first phase was the personal preparedness. I think it’s the last phase for a
lot of places.
Animal Sheltering JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2007
What kind of feedback have you
gotten so far from your staff?
Their comments have been that they really learned a lot that they didn’t know and
that they were really glad to learn about
it in a way that makes them also feel that
they can be safe. And the other thing is
that people appreciated that it was fun.
We had food; our staff were able to chat.
You know, you don’t get to see your coworkers’ animals very often. You hear
about them, you know, because you say,
“So-and-so ate the couch,” but you don’t
get to meet them as little furry people.
We were worried about animals getting in
fights in the waiting room, but we didn’t
have that problem at all.
It sounds like with the evacuation kits
and everything else, this would take a lot
of funding. Did you get deals for buying
a lot of supplies, or were some donated?
We did get some donated supplies—col-
The shelter provided free and
at-cost supplies to help staff build
evacuation kits for their pets.
Michigan Humane Society
lars and leashes in particular. We had leftover leashes from a special event. We had
a lot of donated carriers and crates that we
did not need in our system. For instance,
we had flown an airlift of animals from
Houston to Detroit [after Rita], and all of
those crates weren’t really being used. So
we were able to give those away to staff
who needed to supplement their number
of crates so they’d have one per animal.
We got our microchip supplying company
to donate 113 microchips. We guaranteed
that each staff person could get a free microchip and registration; if they go beyond
that, they had to pay at cost ($11). And at
our facility, it’s “Microchip and register”;
it’s not “Microchip and then you work out
the registration yourself.” We do it. And
then everybody was able to outfit one animal for free and after that, they paid cost
on supplies. So our actual supplies cost
ended up being just about $500, which
was not much. We did have to pay some
overtime to some of the staff people,
but we kept that as limited as possible.
So what we spent per person was like 15
bucks, and cost to disaster-proof an animal was 6 bucks.
How did you produce the
wallet cards for the pets?
We have a connection with a company
that produces them. They normally charge
a dollar a card and they’re charging us 60
cents. We developed an Excel database
that we put the information in, and I used
a volunteer to do that work. The photos
// /////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// Q&A
were taken by the folks who at our shelter
take the photos of animals for Petfinder.
And then [our web designer] merged the
two into a card. That’s probably been the
stickiest part in that it took longer than we
expected. We are looking at this point into
getting our own card printer.
What lessons on disaster
preparedness did the shelter take
away from being involved with the
Katrina and Rita response?
I think the lessons we brought home were
that it takes longer for [people who have
companion animals] to evacuate during an
emergency. I remember when we worked
in Houston, post-Rita. There were a lot
of people who were told to take their animals, and they loved their animals—they
really did. They weren’t ready to go, and
when you have to go on short notice, they
just weren’t ready to take all the accoutrements, and they hadn’t thought it through.
So we’re trying to really get people to think
it through in advance and have a “ready to
go” kit. Having a plan, having a place to go
with animals is really important; that’s part
of our training is to teach people to contact
somebody out of the area who would allow
you to come with your animals. And also,
to be prepared to shelter in place is just as
important. If you’re not going to get help for
three days to two weeks, then you’ve got to
have the supplies ready at home. The organization also said this should be sort of an
employee benefit; if you work at Michigan
Humane, we also care about your animals
at home. And that was a good message to
bring across to staff: that their safety and
the safety of their animals is very important to us. Of course we want them to be
able to come in and help during an emergency situation, but it’s a dual message.
This would be a great thing for national
animal welfare organizations, too.
That was another way we came at this.
Michigan Humane is a pretty large local
humane society. We have a couple hundred staff members, we have three facilities that are full-service veterinary clinics
and shelters, and we have contracts for
housing with municipalities. We have a
separate administrative office, we have
a separate warehouse, we have the Pet
Education Center. We’re probably bigger
than a lot of facilities, and my challenge to
the work team was, if we can do this and
pull this off with our staff, then anyone
can do it. We’ve already had interest from
the Department of Agriculture and the
Michigan Veterinary Medical Association
in using our model to help vet clinics and
the Department of Ag staff prepare their
people because again, these people are
critical during animal emergencies. You
don’t want to have them at home trying
to drag their cat out from under the bed
and figure out what to do. Plus, it also prepared our people to be animal professionals as far as having this knowledge to give
out in an emergency. Not only do they
know what to say; they have done it.
And like you said, it was quick.
There’s planning involved, but the
actual doing of it doesn’t take long.
I would say the average was about 40 to
50 animals per clinic, so 230 animals for
four times. One other key thing was if people had animals that really couldn’t come
to the events because they were elderly,
or they already were microchipped, and
they just didn’t want to transport them,
we allowed them to come through with
a photo of their animal. They could then
just build their kit, get their card made
with the photo that they turned in to us.
The majority actually came in person, but
we did have that option, and that really
helped for some animals. Another thing
that we found is that most of our staff did
not have their animals microchipped—I
think because of the cost, and you know,
they had never gotten around to it. So this
was a way to get a microchip, and a lot of
our staff were really thankful and said,
“Thank you for putting this on and making
it affordable. This is something I’ve always
wanted to do, and now it’s done.” AS
To request a packet of information and forms
for staff emergency preparedness, e-mail
Linda Reider at [email protected]
org. Visit www.AnimalSheltering.org/disaster and look under “Related Resources”
to view the materials used by the Michigan
Humane Society.
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Shelter Medicine
A Blend of Science and Art
What every shelter should know about shelter medicine
By Lila Miller, D.V.M.
colleague recently provided
me with an article describing a shelter parvo outbreak
that led to the euthanasia of
several cats and dogs and the
closure of the shelter’s adoption program
for several days. Those quoted in the piece
included a veterinarian who criticized the
decision and suggested that the shelter
could have exercised better options.
The article then described how another shelter in the same community had
dealt with a disease outbreak very differently, with no euthanasia and only a short
cessation of adoptions.
A close read, however, revealed that
the first shelter, an overcrowded open-admission facility, had minimal resources and
had already filled its small isolation ward.
Furthermore, private veterinarians had advised the shelter to euthanize to prevent
the spread of disease into the community.
The second shelter, on the other hand,
had sufficient resources to send some of
the exposed animals to foster care and to
isolate and treat the remaining ones.
It would seem that the revelation of
the differing circumstances would mitigate the damage to the reputation of the
overburdened shelter, but in such situations, this is seldom the case. Not everyone reads the news with attention to
detail and nuance. Too often, the shelter
stands condemned.
Should it? Maybe. But maybe not. I
imagine some shelters have never dealt
with full-blown disease outbreaks, but I’m
guessing that most shelter workers have
had to at some point. They can be real
heartbreakers, filled with second-guessing, guilt, and recriminations. I was working in the ASPCA shelter when canine
parvovirus first surfaced in the late ’70s.
While it was difficult to euthanize the
animals who already had diarrhea without
knowing whether they had parvo or not, it
was devastating when we finally decided
to euthanize the exposed and in-contact
(but not yet sick) animals to try to save as
many lives as possible.
Many shelters these days are dealing
with canine influenza and other new or unfamiliar problems. Shelters with different
resources will have different responses,
and we should be careful not to pass judgment without all the facts. When faced
with actual scenarios like the ones I’ve
described, how do we offer an effective
and constructive analysis rather than condemnation and rebuke? Each one of these
situations should be taken as an opportunity to learn rather than just criticize.
Let’s look at several points. They may
seem obvious to some, but I think they
bear repetition because failure to appreciate these concepts leads to ill will and
misunderstandings that undermine the
effectiveness of the overall program.
Shelter medicine is still a new field, with
more questions than answers. Enormous
strides have been made in shelter medicine in the last 10 years, but it is still a
young specialty. There are still many unanswered questions about the elements
of a comprehensive disease control
program; we do not yet know everything
we need to about disease transmission,
shelter design, the impact of stress,
sanitation protocols, nutrition, and so on.
Our knowledge is growing so quickly that
some of the recommendations I made
fairly recently are no longer valid.
Shelter medicine, like most fields of
medicine, is a blend of science and art.
Innovative research gives us new information, old research sometimes gives
us forgotten but valid data, new diseases
appear, and old diseases yield some new
surprises. I know now from research
that the quaternary ammonium products commonly used to disinfect shel-
The ASPCA’s vice president of vet­erinary
outreach and veterinary advisor,
Lila Miller is also the president of the
Association of Shelter Veterinarians.
She shares this column with Kate
Hurley, the director of the shelter
­medicine program at UC Davis.
ters don’t inactivate parvovirus or the
Microsporum canis spores that spread
ringworm. It came as a surprise to discover that the old calicivirus that causes
a common “kitty cold” is more resistant
to routine disinfection than originally
believed, and it can also result in a new
sudden death syndrome in cats who’ve
been previously vaccinated. Coccidia is
more prevalent than previously believed,
tritrichomonas fetus is a relatively new
pathogen responsible for diarrhea in kittens, and many of our traditional therapies are no longer as effective as they
once were. I shudder to think about how
many cats are euthanized unnecessarily
for feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) because of erroneous information or faulty
test interpretation.
Just keeping up with all the information that affects the practice of veterinary
medicine in shelters, let alone finding time
to implement the changes the information
warrants, can be a full-time job. Science
gives us the necessary information, but
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Shelter Medicine // ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
Veterinarians should
be informed of the
limits on their input
into certain decisions,
particularly those
related to sanitation,
behavior, nutrition,
and euthanasia.
These are the areas
where veterinary
input is most likely
to be rejected, an
outcome that would
be both unfortunate
and shortsighted.
the art of practicing medicine comes in
how we apply it to each situation.
There is no “one size fits all” answer
to most shelter questions. It is common knowledge among shelter veterinarians that, although we diligently and
conscientiously share information, what
works in one shelter may not work in
another. The fact that we often don’t
know the scientific or medical reasons
behind the failure of certain strategies
can be a huge source of frustration for
veterinarians and shelter workers alike.
For example, the bivalent intranasal vaccine against the feline herpesvirus and
caliciviruses that cause upper respiratory infections in cats has been credited
by some veterinarians with saving lives,
while others believe it has only made matters worse. Valid theories support both
points of view, but we still need more research into shelter vaccination strategies.
There are so many variables from
shelter to shelter that it is often difficult
to predict beforehand whether a strategy
will be successful. This leads to a “trial and
error” approach to the practice of shelter
Animal Sheltering JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2007
medicine that many veterinarians—often
much to their discomfort—must learn to
live with. At the same time, shelter staff
must learn to try to curb their frustrations
and resist assigning blame. The failure
of a strategy to accomplish a particular
goal does not necessarily mean it was the
wrong one to try; after all, it may provide
crucial data that eventually lead to a more
successful approach.
Some general principles of disease
management—such as quick physical isolation of animals with infectious diseases,
vaccination upon or prior to admittance to
the shelter, routine preventive deworming,
and stress and noise reduction—are applicable to all shelters. But others must be
tailored to a given shelter’s situation. It is
tempting to criticize a veterinarian’s expertise when another shelter seems to have a
more successful health care program, but
the circumstances may be vastly different.
Implementing a successful new shelter health care program requires time,
teamwork, and mutual respect. Hiring a
shelter veterinarian is just the first step
in developing the shelter health care
plan. Some plans need only a minor adjustment, while others need a complete
overhaul, from architectural redesigns to
development of new sanitation protocols.
Managers who hire shelter veterinarians
should make the boundaries of the decision-making process clear to everyone
and prepare the staff for change. Staff
training should be provided when needed,
and sufficient time allowed to evaluate the impact of the change. A process
should be established to discuss legitimate concerns about new procedures, but
after all the input is evaluated, the final
medical decision should be made by the
veterinarian; the veterinarian should be
entrusted with the same kind of authority
as any professional hired for her particular expertise. (I have never understood
why some shelters hire veterinarians for
their medical advice and then proceed to
ignore that advice. But more on this later.)
By the same token, veterinarians
should be informed of the limits on their
input into certain decisions, particularly
those related to sanitation, behavior, nu-
trition, and euthanasia. These are the
areas where veterinary input is most likely
to be rejected, an outcome that would be
both unfortunate and shortsighted, since
these are also key elements of successful
health care programs. Shelter medicine is
not just about vaccinations, spay/neuter,
and treatments.
The desire to seek a second opinion is
not a sign of incompetence. We seem to
forget sometimes that it is normal and acceptable in the world of medicine to seek
a second opinion, and that disagreement
doesn’t necessarily mean that if one is
right, the other must be wrong or, even
worse, incompetent. Shelter veterinarians who opt to confer with other experts
should be encouraged to do so. For example, there are many ways to treat hip dysplasia, and the therapy must be designed
with certain things in mind: the size and
age of the animal, severity of the disease,
cost, prognosis, situation at home, and so
on. Recommendations for surgery also
depend on many variables. Surgeons
often make decisions based on what
works best in their hands rather than following textbook recommendations, so it
wouldn’t make much sense to get a second opinion about a surgery from an internist with little to no surgical experience.
That said, it makes sense to consider the source of any opinion; unfortunately, shelters routinely seek second
opinions from practitioners who lack
experience dealing with either shelters
or infectious disease outbreaks. Some
shelter managers seek several opinions
until they find the answer they are looking for, right or wrong.
Making matters even worse, shelter
staff and veterinarians often lack respect
and collegiality toward each other—and
toward those in their own professions.
Not only do shelters criticize other shelters without knowing all the facts, but
veterinarians unfortunately do the same
thing to their colleagues. There is a right
and wrong way to seek a second opinion. I
believe the right way is to involve the first
veterinarian in the decision, and to seek
the opinion of a professional with expertise in the subject in question. The wrong
// /////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// Shelter Medicine
way is to exclude the shelter veterinarian
from the process and simply present her
with the decision after the fact.
But remember that even the experts
disagree! Most of us believe (or at least
hope) that when experts evaluate the
same set of data, they will reach the same
conclusion. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, particularly with shelter
medicine. Here are a couple of examples.
In my reading of several respected
textbooks, I found three different opinions regarding the length of time that
parvovirus could be shed from the body
after infection. This is important data because recommendations for quarantine
and isolation periods will vary depending
on this timeframe.
Disagreements over the effect of vaccination on parvo testing also linger, and
although we seem to be finally reaching
a consensus, many veterinarians are still
debating over how often to vaccinate
companion animals. And protocols developed for the private practitioner are often
not effective in shelters.
Disagreements over recommended
protocols may be due to a lack of evidence
or any number of other reasons, including philosophical differences, conflicting study results, varied interpretations
of the same results, and failure to consider all the circumstances. Regardless
of the final outcome, all parties should be
treated with respect when good-faith recommendations based on the latest data
are made. There are only a few experts
in shelter medicine as yet, but the field
has grown substantially: Large institutions such as Cornell University, Colorado
State University, Ohio State University,
the University of California at Davis,
the University of Illinois, the University
of Pennsylvania, and the University of
Wisconsin have shelter medicine programs or residencies or employ infectious
disease experts willing to help shelters.
Turning to a column on shelter medicine, many of you would probably prefer
to read about parvovirus or canine influenza, and may think this was an overly
simplistic or unnecessary discussion of
management or communication concerns
rather than shelter medicine issues. But
shelter medicine cannot be separated
from shelter management. Every shelter
veterinarian I approached for feedback on
this topic felt there was an urgent need
for this column.
Here is a typical letter from a shelter
veterinarian: “I am new in shelter medicine
and have had my own treatment protocols
undermined by the staff and volunteers.
They have been used to the shelter manager running things and making decisions
about medication or not medicating. Then
I came along and change is involved. That
change is hard for staff, ergo, a lot of backtalk, resistance, and confusion is happening
as we speak. I am going to have a meeting
with the manager and really try to open the
channel of communication. It is definitely a
communication issue for this shelter.”
When I talk to shelter veterinarians
about their dissatisfaction and their reasons for contemplating leaving the field,
the most common complaint I hear is not
the low salary, the high euthanasia rate, or
the lack of resources. It is lack of respect
from shelter staff. Shelter veterinarians
complain that their expertise is ignored in
favor of measures proposed by less qualified veterinarians, long-term employees,
board members, and volunteers. Of course,
there are two sides to every story. Shelter
workers complain that veterinarians give
bad advice, don’t appreciate the years of
experience of the workers, or don’t understand their particular situation or mission.
This all has the potential to undermine
the effort to promote shelter medicine as
a rewarding and viable career option, an
outcome that would in turn threaten future progress in advancing the medical
and behavioral care of shelter animals.
I hope every shelter struggling with its
shelter medicine program or veterinarian
will make an honest assessment of programs and attitudes and see if any of the
points made here apply. I also hope every
veterinarian working with a shelter will do
the same. We must find better ways to
work together, respect each other’s expertise, and understand the limitations we
all face. Failure to do so will only hurt the
animals in the long run, and that would be
a tragedy. AS
See you in Dallas! Visit www.AnimalSheltering.org/expo
The Behavior Department
The URI Challenge
Keeping shelter cats healthy through stress reduction
By Donna Mlinek
Upper respiratory infection is a common
occurrence in shelter cats, but is it inevitable? Good sanitation and infectious
disease control are essential prevention
measures, but healthy immune systems
can help cats resist the (hopefully) small
amounts of viruses we cannot eradicate
from the environment.
Stress depresses a cat’s immune system to the point where he is less able to
ward off URI viruses and the accompanying secondary bacterial infections—and
unfortunately, shelters are very stressful
places for cats. The finer points of stress
reduction methods will vary greatly from
shelter to shelter, depending on physical
layouts, available resources, and staffing limitations. But considering what
stresses a cat and what makes a cat feel
safer can help you develop a plan for your
shelter that will minimize stress for the
cats in your care.
Subtracting the Stressors
We all know what cats find stressful. We
just need to think about it in the context
of a cat’s life in the shelter. At the Dumb
Friends League in Denver, we are analyzing our processes, movement of animals,
and use of space with cat stress factors
in mind. Think about what you can do
in your own shelter to eliminate or minimize the following stressors:
Other cats
Cats can be stressed by the mere presence of other cats, especially when they
can see them at relatively close range.
At the Dumb Friends League, we examine the placement of kennel banks
and the use of physical barriers; for example, we try to place banks of Snyder
kennels back to back, rather than facing one another.
n Think about the kinds of cats you
house together. If feral or very unson
cialized cats are housed near more
laid-back cats, the sounds and smells
of the fearful cats can cause stress for
the easygoing ones.
n Remember to monitor colony cats carefully for signs of fearfulness. Colonies
are advantageous when they reduce
the stress of shelter cats, but if we
overcrowd them or allow ongoing conflicts among cats in a colony, they can
become far more stressful than individual housing.
Welcome to The Behavior Department!
In this space, a series of experts
will sound off on best practices,
ongoing controversies, and exciting
developments in animal behavior
training, stress reduction,
temperament testing, and related
topics. If you have a question you’d
like our authors to address, contact
us at [email protected]
See you in Dallas! Visit www.AnimalSheltering.org/expo
The Behavior Department ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
Cats usually feel more
secure when they
can survey comings
and goings from high
places. This also makes
them less susceptible
to passing dogs and
children. In our intake
area, we have added
a high shelf where
the cat’s cage can
be placed during the
intake process.
Where in your shelter are cats exposed
to dogs? If cats can see dogs going by,
consider covering their cages or creating physical barriers so the dogs won’t
be visible. If barking dogs are always audible to the cats, consider using a white
noise machine or playing classical music
to block out the noise.
Changes of environment
Cats feel safest when they are familiar
with their surroundings. Every time you
move a cat from one place to another, the
displacement causes stress. Think about
how you can minimize moving cats from
cage to cage. For example, does a cat really need to be moved out of its cage during daily cleaning?
Adding Stress Relief
There are also things that make cats feel
safer. Consider these “security blankets”
for cats and how you can create them in
your shelter:
In her new role as an animal projects
manager at the Dumb Friends League
in Denver, Colorado, Donna Mlinek is
responsible for helping the organization
fulfill its long-term strategic plan for
cats. She has also worked extensively
with dogs during her nine years at
the shelter. As a Humane Society
University instructor and a teacher
in the Pets for Life program, she has
taught courses on adoption-matching,
behavior evaluation, stress reduction,
kennel enrichment, and behavior
helplines. Mlinek highly recommends
that all shelters view The Emotional
Life of Cats, a DVD created by Nadine
Gourkow of the British Columbia SPCA.
Animal Sheltering JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2007
When a cat is anxious about something,
his instinct is to flee or hide. Since fleeing
is not an option in a shelter cage, it is imperative that we provide a hiding place
for the cat. We use shoeboxes for this
purpose; every cat gets one upon intake.
The box is deep enough for the cat to feel
hidden, but it still allows visibility for patrons. Many adoption kennels leave cats
feeling exposed because they are open on
both the front and back sides. Draping a
towel over the back side (leaving a small
opening for the cat to see and be seen)
can help make the cat feel safer. Partially
covering the front side of a Plexiglas kennel window with a decorative opaque
window film can also help.
that smells like him (a towel or box) to
his new hangout.
High places
Cats usually feel more secure when they
can survey comings and goings from
a high place. This also makes them less
susceptible to passing dogs and children.
In our intake area, we have added a high
shelf where the cat’s cage can be placed
during the intake process.
Feliway is a synthetic version of the
pheromone cats leave when they “facemark.” Since cats face-mark when they
are happy, this pheromone is believed
to lower stress. If your shelter has a high
rate of air exchange, the plug-in diffuser
version of Feliway may not be effective
(and intact males reportedly feel the
need to overmark the constantly dispersed pheromone, which could increase
their stress). We use the spray version,
but this requires a plan for usage. You
might want to assign certain staff or volunteers to walk through cat areas twice a
day and apply the Feliway in the kennels
of cats who appear stressed. Feliway can
be sprayed on any absorbent object, and
it is best to spray the object outside of the
kennel before placing it with the cat.
Human Companionship
Interactive play can relieve stress, as can
grooming. Our volunteer Kitty Comfort
squad grooms cats and plays with them
in their cages and in colony rooms. They
also provide cats with toys and scratching opportunities. We get carpet square
samples donated by carpet stores to use
as scratching pads. Toys and scratching
posts must be disinfectable or disposable so they do not become carriers of
Having their own scent around makes
cats feel more com for table—t hat ’s
why they go to all that trouble to mark
things. When cleaning cages, it is important to leave some of the cat’s scent in
the cage instead of eradicating all of it
through daily deep-cleaning. When the
cat must be moved, move something
A clean, accessible litter box
Litter boxes should be cleaned frequently
enough that cats don’t avoid using them
for long periods of time. If possible, provide an extra-large box for your extralarge cats. In a colony room, make sure
there are enough litter boxes so that no
cat can prevent others from using one.
// ///////////////////////////////////////////
Having a predictable schedule gives cats
some feeling of control over their world.
Consider whether cleaning and feeding
can be done at about the same time each
day. If possible, have the same people
work with the cats so they become familiar with their caretakers.
Sleep cycles
We all know that cats sleep—a lot. The
busy shelter environment disrupts a cat’s
natural sleep patterns. Take an afterhours walk through the shelter, turn off
any indoor lights or music that didn’t get
turned off, and check for security lights
that may shine directly into cats’ kennels. This helps ensure the cats get peaceful, uninterrupted nighttime rest.
Through the “URI Challenge” we’ve initiated to address these concerns, we believe we can decrease the likelihood of
upper respiratory infection—and reduce
the severity of its effects when it does
occur—by working to make our shelter
less stressful for cats. We challenge your
shelter to do the same. Good luck! AS
Read All About It at
n For more information about
spot-cleaning a cat cage,
see the “101” in the
May-June 2005 issue
spot­cleaning) and “The Doc Is
In” col­umn in the Nov-Dec 2004
issue (www.AnimalSheltering.
n To read a review of The
Emotional Life of Cats video,
see the “Scoop” ­section in
the May-June 2004 issue
n To learn more about
the work of Nadine Gourkow,
read a Q&A with her in the
Jan-Feb 2005 issue (www.
See you in Dallas! Visit www.AnimalSheltering.org/expo
Marketplace / /////////////////////////////////////////////////
Animal Sheltering JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2007
See you in Dallas! Visit www.AnimalSheltering.org/expo
Marketplace ///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
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2 to 8
P.O. Box 127, Springtown, TX 76082
1-800-880-6089 Phone: 817-220-5535 Fax: 817-523-6685
Animal Sheltering JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2007
// ////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// Marketplace
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Off Leash / //////////////////////////////////////////////////////
An Exercise in Empathy
To increase donations and adoptions at her local shelter, a volunteer
lived the doggy life for a month
By Carrie Allan
s a dedicated volunteer for
the Marion-Grant County
Hu­­mane Society in Marion,
Indiana, Cheryl Walker already
knew the inner workings of the
shelter pretty well. A board member for two
years, she’d cleaned the aging facility, worked
in the office, and provided foster care.
But in September, Walker had an idea
that would make her a real insider—in a
way few shelter volunteers or even staff
ever plan to be.
“It all seemed very, very hopeless one
day when I was out there. Our building is
just falling apart, and we’re nonprofit, and
I couldn’t seem to get anybody to listen
to me,” she says. “And I went home and I
was just really upset and went to bed and
curled up in a ball and said to myself, ‘You
think it’s bad for you, you ought to be one
of the dogs.’ ”
And Walker decided to do just that.
After getting support from her family, she
suggested her idea to the shelter’s board:
She would go canine.
Walker’s family drove her to the shelter and “relinquished” her to the organization. She moved into a kennel, committing
to 30 days of confinement that included
Animal Sheltering JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2007
no family visits, sleeping and eating in the
cage, and leaving only to shower and help
out around the shelter. She hoped her
presence in the kennels would encourage
people to think about the animals who live
there every day—enough to inspire them
to donate and adopt.
Shelter staff were thrilled with the
project and its potential to shine a light
on the state of the facility and the plight
of the animals within, says Walker. “We
thought if nothing else, it would get people out there to see me,” she says, “because I’m a crazy woman in a kennel.”
And sure enough, people who’d never
been to the shelter before showed up during Walker’s period of confinement—some
to gawk, others to adopt. “We got 110 dogs
out in 30 days, and that is phenomenal for
us. … Normally we were lucky to get three
a week,” Walker says. “And out of that,
we managed to get 20 big dogs. Now,
we don’t get three big dog adoptions in a
month. We just don’t. So to get 20 out, I
was absolutely thrilled with that part.”
Walker set an astronomical goal of
raising $3 million—much more than the
$8,000 actually raised during her shelter
stay. Even though she’s back home with
her family, she won’t consider herself “adopted” until she brings in more money.
“I’m only in foster care,” she says.
Though the money didn’t pour in as
anticipated, the long-term effects of her
stay may be just what the shelter needed.
Moved by what they saw when they visited the facility toward the end of Walker’s
kenneling, local firefighters offered to
help build a new facility using their own
construction skills and the free labor of
friends who can perform plumbing, electric work, and construction. “I was bawling when they told me,” Walker says.
The adoptions and her new hope for
coming changes made the month worthwhile, she says. But it was exhausting.
During the first few days, the dogs didn’t
know her and kept her awake with their
constant barking. The hardest thing was
not seeing her family, who didn’t visit because of Walker’s desire to emulate the
experience of dogs left behind.
While isolation provided insight into
the loneliness of kenneled pooches,
Walker’s feelings about what dogs experience in the shelter aren’t all negative.
Dogs who’ve been cared for and housetrained by families may find the shelter
terrible and frightening, she says. “But for
some of those dogs, it’s the best home
they’ve ever known,” she adds. “Some of
them have been without food or water,
have been abused or neglected or abandoned. In the time I was there, on five different occasions, [the shelter] went into
homes where people had left these animals for weeks on end.”
After 30 days of shelter life, Walker
went home and immediately burned her
shoes, threw her clothes in the washing
machine, and took a good long shower
“with flea shampoo,” she says. And while
the experience was tough, she’s quick to
point out that the dogs have it tougher—
and to give credit to the humans who made
her pet project possible. “I actually have
three children, and my best friend was
stuck with the children and the six dogs …”
she says, laughing, “so I think maybe I got
the easier part of the deal.” AS
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