Thursday, January 3, 2013

Shortcomings at MADACC - Dog Socialization and Behavior Evaluations

This is the sixth installment in a series of ten blogs outlining current issues and problems at Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC).  I am going to focus on the inconsistencies of the dog walking, evaluation and socialization program.

As you can see in the chart above, MADACC  killed 1652 dogs through November 30, 2012. This does not include those that were dead on arrival, died in their kennel, or were euthanized at their owner's request. There is a strong likelihood, based on other shelters around the country, that over 90% of these 1652 dogs were healthy or easily treatable, friendly, adoptable dogs.

At a well-functioning animal shelter, these dogs would either be reclaimed by their owners, or if unclaimed, put up for adoption or transferred out after their seven-day stray hold expired. The dogs would be evaluated to determine which type of home they were best suited for, and volunteers would be allowed to socialize, walk and train the dogs while they were awaiting transfer or adoption.

As a nation, we are adopting more dogs than ever before. More people than ever are choosing the adoption option, and this is clearly seen in statistics from around the country. In fact, over 23,000,000 Americans will acquire a new pet each year. Many of these 23,000,000 will go to their local animal shelter to adopt. Nationally, we are killing between 3 to 4 million animals per year. So you can see, that it is not a problem of "pet overpopulation" like many people like to claim. "Pet overpopulation" is an excuse used by shelter management and boards of directors to defend the killing and hide their inadequacies at marketing and efficient use of their staff, volunteers and resources. If you are still unclear about this please read this article. 

Dogs that have had the opportunity to be walked and socialized by volunteers have a much better chance at adoption than those that have been left in their kennel for days on end with little to no human interaction.

MADACC's problems lie in the huge inconsistencies in their volunteer dog walking and socialization program.  Dog walking is one of the easiest volunteer positions to fill. Animal lovers, with or without their own dogs; enjoy coming to a clean, well-run shelter to spend an hour or so interacting with the dogs and making a difference in their lives. They are thrilled when one of their favorites is adopted and they will work hard to do everything possible to improve the "adoptability" of a dog, including training and marketing the dog.

But MADACC is not a well-run shelter. I have been watching this for several months and there is no rhyme nor reason to MADACC's dog walking program. The volunteers are asking for more dogs to walk and market; and even though MADACC claims they are at or near capacity, there are times when there are only 2 or 3 dogs on the walk list.

Elmbrook Humane Society and Wisconsin Humane Society graciously send a trained, experienced evaluator to MADACC several times a week. This is called the MAX (Madacc Adoption Express) Evaluation program and was designed to fast-track the animals out of MADACC when their stray hold is up. When the dog receives a good evaluation and has finished stray hold, they should be allowed to be walked. But often times, they're not. Or if they are, they are re-evaluated by  MADACC staff who have no formal training in behavior evaluations. The previous shelter manager was said to "evaluate" dogs by rattling the kennel bars. If the dog showed any sign of fear - it was a death sentence.

The MAX evaluations are often disregarded or replaced by MADACC's evaluations - preventing the dog from being walked, socialized, transferred and adopted.

When a concerned citizen asked the Interim Executive Director, John MacDowell, about the procedure for evaluating dogs at MADACC, this was his response:

YOUR REQUEST: 1. Behavioral evaluations procedures: process for selecting
which animals receive them/when are they performed/what Madacc staff members
performs them/ what credentials and training does Madacc require of the

RESPONSE:. I have carefully considered this request, I have reviewed the
records of which I am the custodian, and I have not located a document that
appears to be responsive to this request in my files. This is not a denial,
it is simply an advisory to you that 1 have not located such a document, and
therefore I will be taking no further action.

Here is a recent example of this lack of evaluation procedure that has resulted in the death of a dog.  I am paraphrasing it from an email:
Dog A254572, a 3 year old male. Suitable for a home with children 6  to 10 years old. Knows how to sit, walks excellent on a leash. Gentle, mellow and easy to take food and treats away. Responds to praise and petting. Settles and chews on a toy. 

This dog, A254572, came into MADACC on December 10th. He had an excellent MAX evaluation, but when I went to look him up on the site, he did not have an intake picture.  I emailed the vet techs to get it and they emailed me back his photo... but never uploaded it to the site.  Seriously, who is going to notice a dog without a photo?  What if he had owners?  Well, it gets even worse.  I had a couple of rescues potentially interested in him.  One rescue had emailed  about him and the techs said no one had expressed interest.  The rescue went to evaluate him on December 31 but MADACC was closed to rescues (without notice).  They were also closed on January 1. The rescue planned to go see him today, January 2, but then last night they noticed he was no longer on the transfer list.  They emailed MADACC to find out what happened to him and received the reply "this dog failed his evaluation and was euthanized."  As soon as I heard that today, I emailed the vet techs to find out if MADACC does their own evaluations anymore, because I heard they don't.  Their reply "No we don't do evals anymore."  So, I ask you.... what eval did he fail??? His MAX evaluation was flawless.  I just sent an email to the techs inquiring about what happened to him. The response "We are not at liberty to say."

Guidelines set out in the AVSMA Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters (2010) clearly states: "Animals should receive some type of positive social interaction outside of the activities of feeding and cleaning on a daily basis (eg. walking, playing, groomin, petting, etc.)  Training programs for dogs and cats also serve as an important source of stimulation and social contact.  For dogs, such training has been shown to increase chances for re-homing." You can read the entire set of guidelines by clicking this link. 

The UC Davis Report that was published in 2011 as an independent evaluation of MADACC reported the following problems:
  • A number of dogs appeared stressed particularly during cleaning.
  • Significant causes of stress at MADACC include: lack of dry resting areas since both beds and floors were often wet post-cleaning, being sprayed with water during cleaning, inadequate access to food, limited positive social interaction with people, noise, proximity to other stressed dogs, and living (sleeping, eating, resting) on surfaces contaminated with feces.
  • Noise levels due to barking were often unacceptably high causing stress in dogs and staff.
  • Dogs are not approved for walking in a consistent manner.
  • Not all dogs past their stray hold had been evaluated for dog walking.

Recommendations include:

  • Remove dogs that have been approved for walking after their stray hold from their kennels twice daily and walk them briefly outdoors, to allow them to eliminate.  This maintains dog's house training habits and makes an easier task of keeping the kennels clean.
  • Provide dogs with positive human interaction for a minimum of 20 minutes per day.  This may include training, playing fetch, or walking.  Dogs are highly motivated to gain human social interaction.
  • Provide dogs with physical exercise and "quiet time" away from the kennels. Aerobic exercise can reduce anxiety and stress. In addition, "quiet time", where the dogs are allowed to sit with a person and RELAX, may be beneficial in reducing stress, especially with fearful and anxious dogs.
  • Provide dogs with feeding enrichment such as food stuff Kong toys or Kibble Nibble dog toys filled with dog food, and buckets outside their cage with dog food and treats in them so that visitors can provide dogs with positive social interaction by giving them treats when they are well behaved (sitting or standing quietly, not barking or jumping). 

From the contract that MADACC holds with the 19 municipalities of Milwaukee County:

Scope and Extent of Services, Exhibit C reads:
1. (c) Comply with State law with regard to shelter and care: will use euthanasia only as a last resort.

MADACC is currently not using euthanasia as a last resort and thereby not fulfilling its contract. They are using it as a first resort, instead of implementing the suggestions and recommendations that have been made to them in the UC Davis Report. They are not even meeting the minimum guidelines set out in the ASVMA Shelter Guidelines.

If you are a resident of Milwaukee County and are concerned about how your tax dollars are being spent and how your community's animals are being treated I suggest that you contact your alderman or elected official.  Thank you for caring.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this article Kathy. I will never understand the thinking behind this type of abuse/misuse of animals that would make a great companion to someone. I urge Milwaukee to stand up for their animals, Milwaukee's Neediest!

    Not only are more people adopting than ever before I see more and more people adopting the bully type breeds and loving them. This is the year of the "Pit Bull".... it is time for folks to take a look. Become involved. Call your MADACC rep and take back Milwaukee's Strays!