Tenet #2 – Establish a Volunteer Program

Since the petition made its debut, Metro Animal Care & Control (MACC) has been very adamant that it does have a volunteer program, contrary to our claims.  MACC even scheduled a volunteer orientation for May 18, but because the orientation conflicted with a Crossroads Campus event, it was moved to Memorial Day weekend.  Despite the holiday, the room was packed – standing room only.

During the May 25 volunteer informational session and orientation, aspiring volunteers were introduced to the “small but mighty” group of current MACC volunteers.  A MACC employee boasted of the more than 11,000 volunteers hours accumulated since 2007.  But what does that really mean?  It means that, if each volunteer worked the minimum hours required (and we’re told these volunteers actually work more), MACC has maintained a roster of approximately 19 volunteers  over the past 6 years.  To put that into perspective, Seattle Animal Shelter and Capital Area Humane Society, both which have a comparably sized staff relative to MACC,  have over 600 active volunteers on each of their rosters.  (“Active” is defined as having volunteered in the last 6 months.)  Seattle alone logs 7,000-8,000 volunteer hours monthly.  Now THAT’s a volunteer program.

More about MACC’s volunteer program…

  • Volunteers must complete a background check before they may be considered.  The background check costs $50 through Metro Nashville & Davidson County’s contracted company.  Even if a volunteer’s background check results are favorable, there is no guarantee the volunteer will be chosen.  That said, we do not know what criteria might be used to reject a volunteer.

    Recommendation: The health department should either foot the bill for the background check (as do several other departments in Metro) OR approve volunteers for service pending a clear background check report.  This way, a volunteer only pays for the report IF he/she is approved to begin work.

  • Each volunteer must commit to a minimum of 8 hours per month, Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m-4 p.m.  Volunteers must work 2-4 hour shifts, and there are to be no more than 4-6 volunteers in the building at a time.  As there are only so many Saturday volunteer slots available, this requirement is particularly limiting for those of us who work Monday-Friday during regular business hours.

    Recommendation: There should be no minimum requirement.  To manage the large number of volunteers, we recommend identifying Lead Volunteers, who would receive “train the trainer” training from a MACC employee and be tasked with managing and orientating other volunteers.  Concerned Citizens for Change offered to build, implement, and facilitate this process and were told our services we not needed.

  • Volunteers are ONLY permitted to work with animals in the adoption room, which holds about 45 animals or less out of the total 250 (when the building is at capacity).  This means most animals are never exercised or socialized.  The longer an animal goes without human contact, the less likely it is to pass a temperament test and be deemed “adoptable.”  Also, though Dr. Paul has publicly stated MACC needs help with PetFinder photos and bios, volunteers are not permitted to help with this effort.

    Recommendation: Volunteers should be utilized in every capacity possible, including exercising and socializing animals not yet available for adoption.   Speaking of temperament tests, many animal advocates in the Nashville area are certified in temperament testing protocols and could help move animals into the adoption area more quickly.  There are numerous other asks for which volunteers could be used, including staffing adoption days and events off-site, as well as photographing animals, writing bios, uploading photos and bios to PetFinder, and keeping the PetFinder site up-to-date.

MACC cannot hope to have a successful volunteer program if it deters and prevents caring people from volunteering and refuses to allow volunteers to help with tasks outside of MACC’s adoption area.  There is so much work to do, and MACC’s staff simply cannot do it alone.  A roster of 600 volunteers, each working even 4 hours per month, could do the work of 13 FULL TIME employees.  Imagine the possibilities!

Tenet #1 – Establish a Rescue Program

Metro Animal Care & Control (MACC) claims to work with many nonprofit rescue partners, though there has never been a written policy pertaining to rescue partnerships. A mere 1% of animals impounded at MACC in 2012 were transferred to rescues, evidence which suggests rescues are an underutilized avenue to save animals. For several weeks we have submitted feedback on the draft rescue partner policy, as well as provided national and local data regarding successful policies implemented by shelters with low kill rates. Yesterday via press release, MACC unveiled its new policy and procedure for the certification of nonprofit rescue partners, in effort to reduce their kill rate.We are ecstatic to see this monumental step in the right direction.  The good news is that the application process seems relatively simple.  However, the rescue partner program, as debuted, unfortunately does not include all the components for which we’ve advocated.  The major barriers to the program’s success are detailed below.ADOPTION/TRANSFER FEE
Best practice:
Rescues are not required to pay an adoption/transfer fee.

MACC’s policy: Rescues must pay a reduced adoption/transfer fee.

The problems:

  • This practice deters rescues from becoming partners with MACC because they can do business at no charge with many shelters in neighboring counties.
  • It costs more to kill an animal than to send an animal to a rescue.

VETTING & STERILIZATION
Best practice: 
The animal control facility entrusts all needed medical care to the rescue partner, freeing up the time and resources of the shelter’s staff and enabling them to prepare more animals to move into the adoption area.

MACC’s policy: All animals must be minimally vetted and spayed/neutered before leaving MACC, unless the rescue  partner has a physical shelter equipped for surgical procedures (e.g. Nashville Humane).

The problems:

  • This practice creates a backlog for MACC’s on-site veterinarian, thereby preventing animals from being moved into adoption efficiently.
  • Most rescues across the country utilize several foster homes, not one physical shelter.  Most rescues are not equipped to perform surgical procedures; rather, they use the services of a local veterinarian.

ANIMALS AVAILABLE TO RESCUE PARTNERS
Best practice:
Rescue partners are permitted to pull any animal that has fulfilled the 3-day stray hold mandated under Tennessee state law (with the exception of animals that have been temperament tested using proper protocols and deemed too aggressive to be rehabilitated OR animals that are deemed medically unfit).  There is no additional waiting period to pull any animal.

MACC’s policy: According to the press release, rescue partners are permitted to pull animals that have been available for adoption for a minimum of two weeks.  (This is contrary to the information provided by Dr. Paul in the health department’s Council budget hearing.)

The problems:

  • This practice is fiscally irresponsible.  During that two week waiting period, MACC absorbs the cost to feed and house each animal, as well as the cost to perform euthanasia if it is not adopted.
  • This unnecessarily lengthens the time an adoptable animal is in shelter.  In shelter, an animal is more susceptible to stress, lack of socialization, increased aggression, and death or illness.
  • The longer each kennel in the adoption area remains occupied, animals in quarantine and impound are more likely to die due to time and space constraints inside MACC.
  • Not all adoptable animals make it to the adoption area at MACC.  In fact, most are never seen by the public or given a chance to be adopted.

No reputable animal welfare organization or veterinary professional would argue that shelter is a better environment than a foster home.  Rescues remove animals from the less than optimal shelter environment and agree to take full responsibility for their care, eliminating a piece of the burden shouldered by the shelter (and tax payers) – an act most would consider a public service.

These facets of MACC’s policy defy the industry standard for best practice, which is to move all healthy animals out of shelter as quickly as possible, thus lowering the kill rate at the facility.

We’re happy to see some of the bricks loosened, but we must keep pushing if we want to knock down the wall!

Did you pick up this week’s City Paper? Here are the highlights.

James Nix of Nashville’s The City Paper recently did some impressive investigative reporting.  Nix details some of Metro Animal Care & Control’s questionable spending of funding intended for animal education and welfare programs in his article “With euthanasia rate high, some seek more spending for pet spay-neuter programs.”

Here are some highlights…

In 2009, Councilman Phil Claiborne and Councilwoman Karen Bennett co-sponsored a bill that increased daily animal boarding fees and set aside $3 of each boarding charged into an “animal education and welfare” fund….

…A breakdown of the items appearing in a MACC expense report shows that of the $27,800 collected in fund so far, the two biggest items include the installation of what officials described as a cat condo listed at $4,050 for the adoption are at the Harding Place facility, as well as a 55-inch television and digital media software server to display pictures of animals up for adoption as well as educational videos on responsible pet ownership, to be viewed by MACC customers in the lobby.

Metro also paid $1,649.77 to Francis Communications Inc. (including $690 for awareness bracelets) and $4,150 for custom printing from C Specialties Inc. for what Paul described as bracelets, leashes and magnets with the MACC contact information printed on them.

Also listed as expenses is a $450 charge from Art Pancakes Party & Wedding, for two costumes – a dog and a cat – worn by MACC employees at community events and when speaking to school children on how to be safe around animals and help take care of them.

We strongly encourage you to read the the article in its entirety.  Do you think Metro Animal Care & Control has demonstrated responsible stewardship of tax payer money?

Follow James Nix on Twitter —> @MistaNix

ORDINANCE NO. BL2013-452 – UPDATE!

Many of you have heard our call to action and have written the Metro Council – the animals thank you!  We know many of you are receiving responses from Council members, assuring you that, with the passage of this bill, the Council still retains final approval of the Metro Public Health Department’s fee schedule and the dog license fee.

Because there seems to be some misdirection coming to Council members in the form of emails from the Department of Health, we feel the need to provide further clarification…

The dog license fee (which, as we all know, is essentially a tax paid by only responsible dog owners) is $4 per dog, as explicitly indicated in the Metro Code.  If the Council wishes to increase the fee, it would need to pass an ordinance (3 readings, requiring 3 votes).  We responsible dog owners are given more than 6 weeks (from the release of the first agenda to the third vote) to learn of the proposed increase and contact our duly elected representatives to express approval or disapproval.  This is a fair, transparent process.

Unrelated to the license fee, the Department of Health drafts its own fee schedule (for boarding fees, adoption fees, etc. – – – fees NOT levied on every dog owner), which passes before the Board of Health and then to the Council for adoption by resolution (requiring 1 vote).  The Council does NOT have the power to amend the fee schedule document – it can merely vote to approve or disapprove it. If the Council disapproves the fee schedule, it would then go back to the Department to be amended, then before the Board of Health, and back to the Council.

In short, what does this mean?

  • If this bill passes, the dog license fee will no longer be part of the Metro Code, and the Department of Health, not the Council, will originate all proposed increases.
  • It will take 1 vote from the Council – not 3 – to make such increases effective.
  • Because the fee schedule is an attachment included in the full agenda analysis provided only to Council members, we would never see it unless we requested a copy of this analysis from the Council office.  In other words, under this new process, it’s likely we responsible dog owners would never know a fee increase was being proposed.
  • Especially considering the Board of Health meets only monthly, it’s completely unrealistic to expect the Council would vote to reject the Department’s fee schedule and hold up the entire budget approval process.
  • This new process lacks transparency AND Council oversight.

If anyone tells you that you don’t have your facts straight, let them know that’s not the case.  Knowledge is power.

Keep writing – councilmembers@nashville.gov!