Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Public Education and Owner Retention

Today I was going through some old stored documents for a friend since we were talking about the possibility of setting up a community outreach program here in Jacksonville.  I had put together a program, one I sent in to our local Animal Control Division, way back in the "olden days" (yes, to the kids now 2004 is way back...)

This program was strongly based in three areas: First, pre-ownership education.  We need to be able to get information out to prospective pet owners as to their responsibilities and the value of their anticipated pets before they commit to adding a family member. This would prepare new owners (or those to whom their past pets are only fond, kind of fuzzy, warm memories) for the good, and bad, of taking in a new pet.

Second, I felt that providing owner retention resources, such as training, advice, and pre-panic guidance for current pet owners was essential.  The three largest causes of pet death are still housetrainng, barking, and chewing, as observed so clearly by Dr. Ian Dunbar way back then.  These three behaviors are the top real reasons for surrrendering pets to shelters, regardless of the often creative excuses given.

Thid, I felt (and still do) that owners of problem pets should be required to pursue training for their dogs and themselves (no offense to cat people, but you guys are rarely possessors of dangerous or nuisance animals) in order to meet the requirements of local ordinance violations.  This gives us a lever to bring offenders back into the fold of responsible pet owners instead of just nagging them with fines and criticism.  We can take this opportunity to not only correct bad behavior, but to help instill good behavior and habits in that segment of the population that is most in need.

So here is my modest proposal for education, owner retention, and remedial training for recalcatrant owners. Not bad for 2004.


Public Education Proposal
Responsible Pet Owner Education Program for the City of Jacksonville

Program and proposal copyright 2004 James W. Crosby

Overview of Public Education Plan

Statement of Purpose

The purpose of this proposed plan is to:
1. Reduce the number of pets surrendered to or seized by Jacksonville Animal Care and Control (ACC).
2. Reduce the number of pets euthanized by ACC by increasing adoptions.
3. Improve the general quality of life for pets in the City of Jacksonville.
4. Improve the quality of life for the citizens of Jacksonville by reducing pet-related nuisance problems such as barking, animals at large, and waste disposal.
5. Improve the safety and health of the citizens of Jacksonville by taking proactive steps to reduce threats caused by dangerous animals and dog bites.

Goals of the program

Education of prospective pet owners and future pet owning families before they commit to the ownership of a pet.
Assistance for prospective pet owners and adopters in choosing an appropriately matched pet.
Pro-active training assistance for new pet owners and adopters to reduce the likelihood of adopted pet return or entry of the pet into the Rescue/Shelter system.
Increasing the adoptability of shelter dogs through in-house training, socialization, and behavioral assessment.
Educate owners of problem and dangerous dogs to reduce future bites.

1. Educating the public before they get a pet

People like pets.  Studies have shown the benefits of pet ownership are great, ranging from reduced blood pressure and anxiety to longer life spans and greater satisfaction in life in general.  But too many people jump into pet ownership without adequate preparation.  We have learned through time that responsible pet ownership is not something that people “just know”.  Dated information, incomplete information, and simply bad information affect the quality of life for many pets and their owners.  Results of such bad information range from pet overpopulation to pet abuse, abandonment and dumping on shelters.  Mismatching of breeds to families also results in pet abandonment, surrender and mistreatment.  The most common reasons for pet surrender, though, are training issues such as barking, housetraining, jumping up, etc.  Educating the consumer before they make a long-term commitment to a pet is the key to reducing surrenders and mismatching.

        Part one of this program aims to educate prospective pet owners before commitment to a pet.  The proposed City of Jacksonville/ACC Public Education Program will;
Offer free seminars for prospective pet owners through Community Centers, Libraries, and other City facilities.  These seminars will be staffed with volunteer presenters recruited through the local Rescue network and area dog and cat clubs with guidance and support from ACC.  A Community Lecture Series could cover specific topics such as “Bringing home a new pet” and “Choosing the right breed for your family.”

o Center for Disease Control statistics show that low-income and minority residents are more likely to suffer from dog bite and less likely to report a bite incident.  Similarly, low-income areas suffer from greater numbers of at-large and stray animals.  Community seminars in these areas can be coupled with aggressive low-cost spay and neuter programs and efforts to control and reduce strays, along with aggressive bite reduction education.

Teach Responsible Pet Ownership through Public Schools.  ACC Education personnel and volunteers can combine forces to present educational programs in schools and begin responsible ownership education early.  Live demonstrations coupled with lecture and question/answer session geared to the age level of the students make such a program lively and interesting.
o Elementary School-The program will concentrate heavily on bite prevention.  According to CDC figures, dog bite injuries rank third only to bicycle and baseball/softball injuries as the leading cause of emergency admissions of children to hospitals.  The audience of greatest risk is children grades kindergarten through 4.  These children would be taught through adapting such programs as the Humane Society of Ottawa-Carleton (Canada) “Dog Buddies” program that features their “Know! Slow! Freeze!” series of instructional pictures and directions.
o Middle School-At this level bite prevention will still be primary, but added information addressing the humane treatment of pets, responsible pet ownership, introduction to the need for and methods of humane training and rudimentary introduction to the need for spay and neuter of pets will be added.
o High School-In our High Schools bite prevention education will still be included, but more emphasis will be made on issues of responsible ownership and care, spay/neuter and responsible breeding, and humane training methods.  Additionally, legal responsibilities of pet ownership will be introduced to this nearly-adult audience, accompanied by legal and ethical issues revolving around dangerous and aggressive dogs.

Sponsor other school-based education efforts.  With the ease of technical production and reduced costs of technology today, CD/DVD presentations and video tapes can be provided to schools to integrate into their curriculum on such specific topics as bite prevention.  Many outreach programs are available for dissemination through the support of organizations such as the American Kennel Club.  Many of these programs are season-specific, such as summer safety, National Dog Bite Awareness Week, and various events such as Humane Society and ACC Pet Expos, etc.

According to Dr. Ian Dunbar, DVM, founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and author of numerous training books, the three main causes for the death of pet dogs are…housetraining, barking, and chewing.  These three problems lead to the surrender and eventual euthanasia of more dogs than are claimed each year by injury or disease.  The great tragedy here is that all of these causes can be eliminated through education.

2. Educating existing pet owners

Most pet owners are well intentioned.  They mean to provide good homes, mean to take adequate care of their animals, mean to keep them under control-but responsible pet ownership is not something that “just happens”.  Even those who have owned pets for years may have significant gaps in their experience, gaps that become evident when problems crop up.  For instance, a well meaning owner that allows his dog to jump up and “give them kisses” may not realize that they are setting themselves up for a potentially serious bite incident.  Someone who tolerated their dog barking before neighbors moved close suddenly faces Ordinance violations.  Or perhaps an owner that mistakenly thinks his or her dog should be “mean” to guard their home must then cope with the tragedy of a dangerous dog attack.
Educating existing pet owners and providing “safety nets” of training and behavior advice is the second focus of this proposed program.  Steps taken to help current pet owners cope with problems and treat their pets better will inevitable reduce the number of those pets that enter the Rescue/Shelter system.  Education cannot prevent unexpected life changes such as sickness, job or family status changes, but the “Big Three” causes-housetraining, chewing and barking-can be addressed successfully, even for those owners already in crisis.
Proactive and reactive strategies addressing current pet owners are in order.  Proactive methods will include the following:

Proactive strategies:
Attracting current pet owners to free training lectures offered through the Community Centers and Libraries.  Although some of these seminars will be targeting new owners, issues of concern to existing owners will be offered.  Seminars will include such topics as “Behavior Problems and Solutions”, “What Do The Pet Ordinances Really Mean”, “Principles of Humane Dog Training” and “Introducing A New Dog Into Your Home.”
Include current pet owners in adoption support efforts such as “Adopters Anonymous” (detailed in section 3).  Provide telephone and/or e-mail support for owners with behavior questions.
Provide guidance and advice to owners seeking to voluntarily comply with local pet ordinances by offering constructive facility inspections.
Offer owners a voluntary evaluation of their pet with recommendations for appropriate training or management.

Reactive strategies will include:
Post-citation training classes for owners of pets cited under local ordinance.  These owners could be offered the alternative of successfully completing approved training classes in lieu of paying full fines for cited offences.  For example, an owner cited for allowing an animal to run free could elect to attend a series of training classes, at their expense, and pay one-half of the standard fine.  In this way, not only is the owner corrected for their misconduct, but a mechanism is put in place likely to reduce the chance of further, escalating violations.  This system is already in place in such areas as driver safety training and domestic violence intervention.

A trained dog isn’t that difficult to achieve.  It only takes ten minutes…every day, for the rest of the dog’s life!

3. Support for adoptive pet families after adoption.

Our happiest cases are those wherein the new family and the adopted pet immediately bond and live happily ever after.  The cold reality of shelter work, however, is that many shelter animals carry baggage from their past placements, or lack thereof, and those animals and their families need help.  Outside training classes are great, but not all families know where to find competent training, especially if their adopted pet has specialized problems such as past abuse or under-socialization.  ACC should take the lead in adoptive situations by providing an introduction to basic manners and obedience training with all adoptions.  Each adoptive family could, for instance, be given a certificate allowing them four free classes,  either offered by trainers donating their time or through in-house classes offered by ACC.  These classes would help inform the new owners how to teach their dog, how to handle common behavior problems in a humane and efficient manner, and how to address any special needs of adopted shelter animals.
Rescue groups, particularly breed-specific Rescue groups, can provide substantial help in this effort.  Breed specific groups have a base of experience particular to the problems of the chosen breed.  This experience should be placed at the disposal of the pet owning public by referral to cooperating groups.
Specific support measures for adoptive families will include:

Post adoption basic obedience classes offered by ACC.  Classes can be offered on-site at the main ACC facility and at satellite adoption centers.  A series of two to four introductory classes should be offered, with further classes available at a reasonable cost.  Adopters could be referred to programs such as the Jacksonville Humane Society’s Pet University  where such programs would give first classes free when shown proof of recent adoption.
A behavior problem referral and support service provided by ACC.  This may take the form of a call-in hotline or actual meetings.  The Open Paw program in California has established “Adopters Anonymous”, a forum where pet adopters “get free advice from trainers and counselors so that prospective owners can learn how to teach their pets good habits from the start, while current owners can learn how to retrain pets with bad habits.”

Statistically, fully fifty percent of all children will suffer a dog bite sometime before they graduate from High School.  According to the Center for Disease Control, over five million Americans are bitten by dogs each year.  Injury rates are highest among children aged 5-9 years.  Each year an average of twenty six people die from dog bites.

4. In-house training initiatives to increase adoptability.

Animals in shelter environments often become “de-trained” with time.  Animals may lose housebreaking and socialization to people and other animals, and may actually become fearful or anxious because they are forced to eliminate in their kennels and their social interactions between other animals and humans are limited or intimidating.  In California, the San Francisco SPCA, working with Dr. Ian Dunbar, founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, have developed a protocol for working with shelter animals called Open Paw.  The Open Paw program has established practices for shelter personnel, combined with design and management techniques, that aim to increase the socialization of shelter animals, provide humanizing influences, and begin basic manners-based training to pets prior to adoption, making those animals more attractive to potential adoptive families.
These techniques can be combined with the advanced behavioral assessment techniques and an assessment plan that aids shelter workers in safe management of shelter animals with an eye to increasing adoptions and reducing returns through effective evaluation of potential problems before the animal is ever released for placement.
Some of the techniques used, for example, at the Berkeley East Humane Society in Berkeley, California as part of their Open Paw program are:

Hand feeding of shelter dogs.  This makes the dogs friendlier, calmer and happier when approached by people in the shelter.  Using food treats the dogs learn traits more acceptable to potential adopters.
Kongs!  This part of the program uses toys stuffed with kibble that help calm the dogs at the end of the day.
Catopia.  This is a dedicated, toy-filled cage free room for cats.  Cats are rotated through Catopia for play, exercise and socialization.
Daily dog walks.  Dogs in shelter runs have to eliminate in the same space they sleep and eat in, potentially damaging any housetraining they already have.  Multiple daily walks for all shelter dogs allows already trained dogs to maintain their housetraining, while staff can easily identify those animals needing remedial housetraining.

“Open Paw is designed to address those issues through the education of prospective and existing owners, and through the promotion of minimum mental health guidelines for shelter animals."

5. Remedial training for dogs involved in bites and control measures for dangerous dogs.

Dangerous and aggressive dogs are a growing problem across the United States.  An average of twenty six people are killed each year in dog attacks.  Recent studies show that there is no single factor universal to all attacks.  Unneutered male dogs are the most common offenders, but a great range of breeds of dog have been involved in such attacks.  Seventy six percent of the victims of fatal dog attacks are children, according to the CDC.
Those persons wishing to retain dogs classified as dangerous are required under the law to provide well defined measures for the secure containment of those animals.  Management standards are in place detailing the handling of such animals in public and on private property.  A provision not currently in place in Jacksonville is a public education component of the dangerous dog provisions.
In the 2001 report of the CDC Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions, published in the June 1 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Association (Vol. 218, number 11, June 1, 2001) the following section appears in Appendix 4, “Model legislation for the identification and regulation of ‘dangerous’ dogs.”:

“Attendance by the dog and its owner/custodian at training sessions conducted by a certified applied animal behaviorist, board certified veterinary behaviorist, or other recognized expert in the field and completion of training or any other treatment as deemed appropriate by such expert.  The owners of the dog shall be responsible for all costs associated with the evaluation and training ordered under this section.”

This remedial training would involve a projected series of four (4) two hour classes followed by six (6) one-hour classes, for a total of fourteen (14) hours of instruction.  Attendance at three of the four two-hour blocks, and four of the six one-hour blocks would be required for successful completion.  The two-hour blocks would involve one hour of classroom instruction, followed by one hour of hands-on dog work.  The classroom blocks would cover topics including:

Requirements of the ordinance-“How did I get here?”
Dynamics of dog attacks.
Foundations of aggressive canine behavior.
Use of physical management tools such as fitting required collars and muzzles and proper use of leads and leashes.
Humane correction versus improper punishment.
Safe containment at home-runs, yards and kennels.
Liability for owners of dangerous dogs and legal consequences of further aggressive incidents.

The hands-on blocks of training would cover basic control and obedience: sit, stay, heel, down, come when called, no jumping (proper greeting behavior), etc.  This pairing of classroom and hands on will ensure that each owner is adequately informed as to their responsibility to and for their pet, while assuring that at least a minimum time is actually spent training the dog while supervised by a trainer.
This remedial training class should also be offered, as a voluntary option, to owners of dogs not adjudged dangerous but involved in bite or aggressive incidents that, if allowed to progress unchecked, could result in behavior that could be deemed dangerous under the statute.  In these cases the training provides a safety net allowing owners to assume a proactive role in preventing dangerous behavior by their pet.

Seventy percent of fatal dog attacks and more than half of bite wounds requiring medical attention involve children.  

6. Funding-the inevitable question.

In City government, the question of funding is always the bottom line.  Funding for the start up of a wide-reaching education program such as is proposed here will obviously be substantial.  Cost of education, however, must be weighed against the current, sometimes hidden, cost of “business as usual”.  To quote the report of the American Veterinary Medical Association Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions published June, 2001,
“Costs associated with dog bite injuries cannot be readily measured, because so many intangible quality of life issues are involved….Intangible costs include time spent by volunteers and paid community officials on animal-related issues, deterioration of relationships between neighbors, building appropriate medical support, citizens’ concerns about neighborhood safety for children, homeowners’ insurance costs within the community, and animal shelter support for unwanted pets.  These are quality of life issues that ultimately determine the desirability of a community to its citizens and that can motivate proactive community officials to institute a prevention program.”
Federal and State grants and support programs are available for such community safety issues.  Private donors can also be a substantial source for financial support for such a progressive, proactive program.  Likewise, use of volunteers can supplement paid staff in a meaningful way.  For instance, for an organization to be recognized by the City as a listed Rescue organization, such a group should be required to provide a specific number of volunteer man-hours to the Public Education Program every month.
However funding is obtained, the commitment of dollars to the health and safety of the community and their pets can only pay off in the future with reduced demands placed on Animal Care and Control.

Most shelter animals and strays are surrendered or abandoned because of predictable behavior, temperament, or training problems.  Many problems worsen in the shelter environment.  Most problems could easily be prevented or resolved if only pet owners and shelter staff and volunteers knew how.  Preventive education is the key to keeping cats and dogs in their original homes, and out of shelters.
Kelly Gorman, “Open Paw” 

Program and proposal copyright 2004 James W. Crosby

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