Friday, December 7, 2012

Shortcomings at MADACC - Lost and Found Services

This is part three in a series of blogs that will focus on issues at Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission, an agency that serves the nineteen municipalities of Milwaukee County.

One of the primary functions of a municipal animal shelter is to return lost pets to their rightful owners; to be a "central clearing house" for the community's lost animals.

Here is a statement from the "Purpose" on MADACC's website:
  • Assure safe, temporary shelter, veterinary and humane care for stray, unwanted, abandoned, mistreated and injured animals.
  • Provide a central location for owners to find and recover their lost pets.

Wisconsin has a seven day stray hold. This is the amount of time that a shelter or stray holding facility must legally hold an animal before putting it up for adoption or "euthanizing" it. Click this link to read an article about the hurdles to overcome if your dog or cat becomes lost and ends up in a stray holding facility. 

To become a well-functioning lost and found center, a shelter has to develop a high level of trust. The public must trust that the shelter will care for any lost pets they bring in and will make every effort to locate the owners. The owners of the lost pets must trust that their pets will be cared for until they can locate them.

One of the biggest problems at MADACC is the lack of public awareness that the shelter exists. They do very little public relations or community outreach to let people know that they are the stray holding facility for Milwaukee County. They don't do outreach to the non-English speaking communities. Most people don't even realize that this is where their dog may be taken and by the time they do, it may be too late or the fees may be so high that the owner cannot afford them. Or their dog or cat can be sick and costly vet bills will burden the owner, or worse yet their pet may have died or been killed.

MADACC does put pictures on line of all of their incoming animals (Thank you!) but these pictures are often very far away or of poor quality. I have blogged on this before and you can read it by clicking this link.  

Here is a picture of a cat brought into MADACC on December 6, 2012. It can be virtually impossible to identify your cat from the pictures they post online. Dog pictures are slightly better but are taken very far away.

In fact, the UC Davis Report points this shortcoming out clearly: 

Cats are photographed in their carriers leading to poor quality photographs that do not accurately show markings and may not allow rescue/transfer partners to assess candidates for rescue by their programs.

The UC Davis Report also clearly points out problems in the microchip scanning protocol:

The scanners currently in use do not reliably detect the most common microchip used by many shelters (the AVID scanner does not detect some chips at all, and the AKC scanner only detects less than 70% of newer chip types).

Although staff generally did scan animals at intake, technique was inconsistent.

And they recommended eight steps to improve the process (all simple, low cost). Here is an example of their recommendations: 

Ensure that all animals are scanned at pick up in the field, at intake, at outcome, and if possible, multiple times during the shelter stay. Multiple scans substantially increases the likelihood of microchip detection.

Ensure that any collars removed from incoming animals are photographed on the animal, maintained with that animal, and recorded in the Chameleon record.

I am going to share three excerpts of letters that I have received from members of the public.  Again, I am very grateful to everyone for sharing their stories. The first step to fixing a problem is knowing that there is a problem, and that is what this blog is about : 

1. I took my first stray there and will never take another there until they overhaul the system. The cat I took there was friendly and outgoing enough for me to out him in a carrier. When his seven days were up he was deemed"crazy" and claimed they couldn't examine him. He was not put on the transfer list. He was killed. I will always feel awful about taking him there. A shelter is supposed to be a haven, a safe place for an animal. Madacc does not even fit the most basic definition of a shelter.

2. "I found a young orange cat, less than 1 year old. I'd been told it was best to take strays to MADACC so owners can find them, and I could retrieve it after 7 days if no one claimed. That was my plan. I kept the sweet kitten in a basement room overnight with a bed of blankets etc. It LOVED me. Extremely friendly. I named him James.
In the morning I brought him to MADACC. I filled out the paperwork required to reclaim him after 7 day hold. I was VERY trepidatious about this, but this was the system and I was bound by law/ordinance/system to follow it. I felt it was my duty. I called twice during the 7 day hold to confirm that I was on the file to be notified if he was not picked up. Yes, they confirmed I was.
Day 6 or 7 (Cant recall) I called to inquire again and was told the cat was deathly ill with a URI and had been PTS (put to sleep). The cat was not in ANY way sick when I brought it in, so this mysterious URI must have come on with a vengance in 6 days enough that he had to be PTS for the sake of humanity. I found that to be suspicious and unlikely. I cried for hours over the role I played in his death. I cried that he had trusted and loved me and I'd betrayed him and his trust. I'd sent him off to his death, all the way there promising he was going to be in good hands when he got there. I vowed to fight this system and inform others and use his death to save the lives of other unwitting cats who might end up there. Vowing to steer others AWAY from sending strays to MADACC, even though that's what the system says we should do. Which I have done. I go around the system and I show others how to go around the system. Therefore, the system is broken, and every time they betray their public's trust, they break the system further. Therefore, it's in their best interest to restore the public's trust."

3. "Co worker found a cat near her home, she called me but I was out of town and did not answer. By the time I got the message she'd brought the cat to MADACC. I contacted a local rescue, explained the story, said cat was friendly and could we sponsor it's rescue if they pulled it. Rescue agreed and contacted MADACC to place cat on hold for transfer to rescue. MADACC obliged. On day of transfer, rescue noted the cat's ID # was not on transfer list (Sent to all partner rescues) so called MADACC to double check that cat was noted to be held for transfer, also sent email stating
same. Was told yes, pick cat up by X time (don't recall time). The original finder of the cat volunteered to pick the cat up at MADACC. Rescue confirmed w/MADACC in the afternoon that cat was ready for transfer. When volunteer arrived at MADACC (perhaps 2.5 hours later), the cat was dead. Had been killed in the intervening 2 hours. MADACC claimed there were "no notes on the cats file" stating it was to be held for transfer (despite at least 4 contacts from rescue to confirm and reconfirm). Finder/volunteer in tears, angry, swearing off MADACC and the "System" for good. My take away from this is 2 things. 1) their notes facility is either faulty, they are negligent/sloppy, or the cat was killed out of spite for some reason. 2) this type of behavior (which I've heard of over and over) undermines the public's trust in the "system". The city asks us to follow the "System" and turn in strays to MADACC, so that owners have a 1-stop place to look for lost animals. When the public upholds their end of the bargain, MADACC betrays their trust and does not uphold theirs... thus undermining the system and causing increasing numbers of people to "go around" the system. Which in effect, makes the system ineffective for city and owners."

My own personal anecdotes are many but one last summer stands out in my mind. A woman was asking advice. She  found a very friendly cat which she was sure belonged to somebody. She wanted to get it scanned for a microchip and did what I told her was the correct thing to do - she called MADACC. She had to go to work and they couldn't come for several hours so they told her to "box the cat up and leave it on the porch".  The temperature was over 90 degrees that day.  How can a shelter that is supposed to be caring for animals suggest to the public that they should leave a cat in a box in sweltering heat for hours? An owner found doing that would be charged with cruelty. But the shelter suggests it and gets away with it?

MADACC has lost the trust of the public. Recovering that trust  and  becoming a safe haven for lost pets is an important part of the puzzle. 

Proactively returning lost pets to their owners (preferably in the field)  is one of the most over-looked yet most cost-effective strategies that a shelter can improve and develop to save money AND lives. I will close today with this quote from Mitch Schneider, director of Washoe County Animal Services in Nevada.


  1. I offered my totally ametuer photography skills a few years ago because the on-line pictures are so poor. I was told be then acting Director John McDowell that my offer was not practical. My e-mail inquiry as to why it was not practical did not receive a response. Mr. McDowell is again the acting Director at MADACC. I see their website has removed Mr. Flagler's name as the Director (he resigned many months ago), and it does not state Mr. McDowell is the acting Director. Why?

  2. Having had my only experience at MADACC be in recovering my lost cat from them, I will say that having the pictures of strays on the website is awesome (it was how I found him), but I have to agree that the quality of some of those pictures was awful. One of the things that bothered me about our experience in retrieving him is that we had been in to look at the strays once before we actually located him and at that time, we had left our information along with his description and the area he was lost so that they would call us if a cat matching the description was found. We never received a call. We had to see him on the website. And to the story listed above about the worker claiming a perfectly friendly cat was "crazy," I have my questions about some of the staff's animal handling skills because when we picked our cat up, the employee who went to get him took our crate and was gone for quite awhile. When she returned, she had him in the plastic box bed he had been sleeping in and said she couldn't get him out. First of all, my cat was so weak from dehydration and malnutrition, he couldn't walk, much less fight her. Secondly, this cat's personality, even when under this high of a stress level, is always chill. So my assumption is that expected him to walk right into crate (which he couldn't do because he COULDN'T WALK) and when he didn't, she gave up. Again, it is a small thing, but having worked for the last 15 years in the animal field at kennels and a vet clinic, it really didn't leave me feeling very confident in their animal knowledge and handling abilities ...

  3. From what I have been told Mr. McDowell has been the acting Director a few times already. My question is why is he still being out in charge if he was not good enough to be made permanent director either time he was tabbed as "acting director" why do they keep putting him in charge