We pitched the idea of a Neighborhood Animal Services Officer model to the mayor’s office through Chairman Brodsky in December 2015. It was well received, but Chairman Brodsky had other priorities at the time. Could Antoinette Brown’s life have been saved if a program like this was in place? We think so.
We sent this Trapping 101 document to the Boston Consulting Group back when they were actively conducting their assessment of Dallas Animal Services (DAS) over the summer. While we were pleased to see the BCG findings show data that DAS Animal Control Officers (ACOs) were less efficient than other ACOs in other cities, we were very disappointed to see very broad strokes that pointed to administrative tasks to help improve efficiencies. At the core, DAS management and ACOs do not have the proper training to understand a good ground game when it comes to catching and rehabbing our city’s loose animals. Here’s the document we sent to BCG. As “new management” takes over DAS, we hope they begin to see and understand the difficulties they will face attempting to pick up hard to catch dogs using current practices. Perhaps this reality check will finally bring behaviorally sound training and best practices along with a Neighborhood Animals Services Officer (NASO) model to DAS.
Here is the document we sent to BCG:
GOAL OF TRAPPING
What is your ultimate goal? Is your goal to pick up the animals only or to pick up the animals and give them a chance to succeed? How you traps matters to the animal’s outcome.
Two ways of thinking about the goal of trapping:
- Trap the animals and don’t worry about the outcome.
- Trap the animals and as part of the broader goal to help the animals succeed. If this option is chosen one must consider the best approach for a positive outcome for the animal, which always includes a behaviorally sound approach. This of course is our recommended way of viewing trapping.
Community cooperation is also often dependant on which mode of operation you are committed to. Most citizens are not inclined to help if they think trapping is an immediate death sentence for the animal. We’ve written about that before, and we’ll touch on that more later.
BEHAVIORALLY SOUND APPROACH
A behaviorally sound approach is one that relies on trust to condition or recondition a dog into a desired behavior. This approach is built on the premise that in these loose dog situations, a human is essentially a dangerous predator. Loose dogs are in a fight or flight mode of survival. If the human and the dog have a negative experience it will enforce the dangerous predator assessment and the dogs will be less likely to interact with the humans in the future.
This mental state of mind is why so many dogs run from humans when they are loose and afraid. This is also why when DAS officers chase a dog and don’t catch it, the dogs will then associate the sounds of the van, the uniform, and any equipment they used with a negative experience. Each time DAS chases a dog and does not catch it, they are creating a dog that is not just exponentially harder to catch, but will also run at the sight or sound of the DAS van, making a future catch next to impossible.
A behaviorally sound approach requires patience, and a calm, trustworthy leader that can become part of the pack. All the usual means humans use to communicate with dogs and to coax dogs are not helpful in the initial interactions with street dogs, loose dogs, and feral dogs. Normal tricks humans use to sooth dogs can be counterproductive with these dogs. For instance, many of the street dogs are NOT food motivated. Human voices, whistling, or clicking are not soothing or helpful. The dogs are afraid of and confused by humans talking to them and they are often terrified of human touch. This is why training and practice are so important to a successful catch and a successful outcome.
An additional thing to consider is that how you trap one pack animal effects how resistant other animals are to the trap. When done incorrectly, other dogs witnessing a trapping can be taught, by association, to not enter or go near a trap. Theses dogs are referred to as “trap savvy”. They have witnessed a trapping or have been in a trap themselves and were able to escape from the trap. Thoughtful, behaviorally sound trapping does not discourage other dogs that witness a trapping from entering a trap.
HOW TO HELP THE ANIMALS SUCCEED
Once the animals hit the shelter, they have a limited amount of time that they are “safe” under their stray hold. The hold is 72 hours for your garden-variety loose dog. Owned dogs with a collar and tags or a microchip get 10 days. In this three-day hold period, a lot can happen to move a dog forward or move a dog backwards in the shelter environment. How you trap sets the bar for the dog’s mindset when it hits the shelter.
REHABILITATING A STREET DOG FOR ADOPTION
We can write more on this process if you are interested. Based on real life case study, we feel most loose dogs can be “flipped” and made adoptable in a short amount of time. Street dogs are not house pets, YET. We know how to get them there with limited assets in short order.
- BEHAVIORAL ASSESSMENT
- BEHAVIORALLY SOUND INTERATION AT THE SHELTER
The City has governmental immunity and therefore they are at very minimal risk if a citizen or an animal is injured during a trapping. Very few people will be willing to carry liability insurance at the rates required to cover the kind of liability insurance. A Memo of Understanding (MOU) with the City and a trapping partner could address the liability issues.
AREAS OF LIABLITY
- Rabies infected animals or known aggressive animals could potentially be lured into an area by a trap.
- Citizens could get injured by putting hands, arms, legs etc into the trap and then the trap triggers
- A citizen’s pet could be injured by the trap
- Disease exposure for volunteers or trappers:
- All people who interact with loose animals or the trap should have a pre-rabies vaccine designed for humans. This is an initial vaccination, followed by a booster, and then a follow up titer test. These shots run around $200.
- If a dog bites an employee, volunteer, citizen, or good Samaritan, who have not had a pre-rabies vaccine, they could be potentially exposed to rabies and this potential exposure could cost the dog and or the human their life. Having to euthanize a trapped dog for rabies testing is counter to the project goals.
- Rabies exposure is not only through dog bites. If a human has an open cut or sore that is exposed to saliva from a rabid animal, they can contract rabies.
- Many of these dogs have unknown vaccination histories and also carry fleas, ticks, worms, intestinal parasites, mange, and other contagious diseases.
BAITING AND SETTING A TRAP
WHEN TO TRAP | TRAPPING LAWS |PICK UP TIMES
Per City SOP CCS-WKI-142, it is against the law to trap under certain conditions. During times when it is raining or when temperatures under 40 degrees and over 90 degrees, it is illegal to trap. If in the morning the projected temperature is in range, but during the day the temperature will fall out of range, trapping is prohibited as the dog could sit in the trap awaiting pick up to 24 hours. The trap is not to be considered shelter and therefore trap location is also important to humane trapping.
Large animal traps are not designed to hold dogs for an extended period of time. If left in a trap for an extended period of time, a dog can potentially break the trap and escape, be injured, or be left without food or water (you can’t get water in there once they are trapped) for inhumane, life threatening periods of time.
Dogs that break out and escape a trap will most likely never enter a trap again. Upon escape, the trap door will most likely be damaged beyond repair. Successful trapping requires quick response times for animal pick up. Under an hour is ideal.
The faster a dog is removed from a trap, the less traumatizing it will be for the animal. The less traumatized the dog, the faster it will move across the rehabilitation spectrum and the easier it will be to crate train the animal in the future.
Once a dog is trapped, it is helpful to have a human sit quietly with the dog discouraging the trapped dog’s attempts to break out and to help calm the dog by simply doing nothing and being part of “the pack.” Quietly sitting with the dog while the dog is trapped continues the trust relationship. If other pack dogs are in the area, continuing to feed and reward the other dogs while their friend is in the trap will maintain the trust relationship with the human and the trap. This is key to catching ALL dogs from the same pack.
SETTING THE TRAP
Strategy must be used to make an attractive trap that the dogs will willingly enter. After observing the dog’s behavior around the trap, in the field adjustment can be made to make the trap more attractive and less dangerous and threatening looking to a dog.
HIGH VALUE BAIT like hot dogs, bologna, cheese slices, and roasted chicken are the best bait. Canned cat and canned dog food, while smelly, are often not high enough value to lure a street dog or a trap savvy dog into a trap.
FEEDING SCHEDULES: Dogs are creatures of habits. It doesn’t not take them long to figure out a feeding schedule means consistent resources with little or no effort. It is important for the dogs to realize that the trapper is the person who provides the food. Visual contact during feeding time is ideal. The trapper becomes accepted as part of the pack as the human is gaining status as a reliable, excellent hunter for the pack. It is important to get the trapper’s scent on the food. This established the trapper as a trusted partner and pack hunter. High value food will also encourage the dog to enter the trappers’ space and to get close enough to be slip leashed or catch poled.
TRAP FLOORING NEEDS WALK IN APPEAL: Many dogs do not like the feel of the trap’s metal wire flooring. By covering the floor, and in some instances the trap trigger, with sheets or blankets, the trap offers a less threatening environment to the dogs.
COVERING THE TRAP with a sheet or blanket creates a more appealing cave like environment for the dog. The dogs often feel safer entering a covered trap. Blocking the dogs view of the outside environment also helps the dog focus singularly on the task at hand, reaching and eating the food.
The seasoned trapper can watch the dog’s behavior and reactions and gage what is needed to make the dog trust the trap environment and feel safe enough to enter the trap.
TRAP PLACEMENT needs to be accessible to an object that will allow the trap to be chained up. Additionally, trap placement needs to be strategic based on the dog’s patterns and preferences. Placing a trap against a building wall or line of shrubs often helps the dog feel more secure in approaching the trap. Placing the trap in the middle of an open field is not recommended.
The dog’s patterns, street traffic, human activity in the area, and availability and proximity of a trap monitor, all need to be considered when placing a trap. The goal is to provide the most attractive trap site while balancing the safety of the surrounding community humans and animals.
Consistent trap monitoring is another key to success. This can be done in many ways. Devices can be set to allow remote monitoring and remote notification.
Such devices can extend trapping times and efficiencies. If such devices are not available, good old-fashioned human monitoring is needed.
The goal is to make sure the trapped dog is in the trap for the shortest amount of time possible. Regular scheduled checks of the trap are key to getting the dogs out quickly. Having a human that has a relationship with the dog onsite can help the dog relax in the trap, and can help keep the other pack dogs close by.
Traps also often unintentionally catch unwanted animals. Cats, possums, raccoons etc. These animals should be released from the trap immediately. Additional cat trapping and TNR efforts might be needed to temporality lower the cat population in an area if they are interfering with the dog trapping.
TRAP MAINTENANCE is one of the keys to success. If a dog enters a broken trap and is able to escape, it is very unlikely the dog will ever enter another trap. Each time the trap is set, all the doors, triggers, and seams should be inspected for weakness. Setting a weakened trap is counterproductive. Traps must always be in good working order.
TRAP SANITATION: Traps must also be properly sanitized after each use. Dogs in traps often urinate, defecate, and express their anal glands out of fear. The next time the trap is used if the next dog can smell this fear in or on the trap, they will not enter the trap.
THEFT OF TRAPS: Traps are attractive to neighborhood “recyclers”. Traps need to be chained and locked and have clear labels with a notification stating that the trap belongs to the City. The identifying sign is also needs to emphasis that stealing the trap is a crime punishable by law with a fine up to xxx amount. Additionally, the trap needs to have a large, easy to read phone number for people to call if they are concerned about the trap or an animal in the trap. The number needs to be clear and easy to read from a distance.
TRAPPERS’ CODE OF CONDUCT: The trapper must form a relationship with the dog or the dog pack. Their behavior must be non-threatening and as that of a friend, not a threat. Mistakes in body posture that telegraph intent to catch (and thus threaten) will often cause a dog to run.
Dogs will often not “buy” the trappers story of wanting to be part of the pack on the first day. This is why feeding stations are important. Feeding a stray on a schedule and sitting in the area while the dogs eat establishes trust.
The trapper must become a part of the environment, part of the pack, and must not project any kind of threat. Trappers should speak in calm tones and in a normal tone of voice if they are to talk at all. Often, talking confuses to the dog as the human is essentially speaking in a language the dog does not know and a language the dog does not understand. Trappers must learn dog body language so they may speak to the dog in a language it understands.
Trappers cannot make quick movements, loud sounds, or make too much eye contact. They should be patient and avoid forcing a capture. Patience is key. As the stray becomes habituated to the trapper and their movements they will begin to understand them as non-threatening.
If the trapper has gained the dog’s trust, a slip lead along with bait might work. Many dogs have never been on a leash or have had a bad experience on a leash so trappers need to be prepared for the dog to put up a fight or to get aggressive once they are slip leashed. They may urinate, defecate, and express their anal glands while resisting, but most feral dogs will put up a fight for about a minute before submitting. In this slip leash condition, there is nothing protecting the trapper if the dog turns truly aggressive. This is where having a two person trapping team comes in handy. If a catchpole is needed, the second party can help facilitate looping the pole around the dog’s neck for safe control of the dog.
TRANSPORTING A DOG. There are many challenges to transporting captured dogs.
Transporting a trap in an open bed truck or vehicle is dangerous as the animals can get loose during transport and jump from a moving vehicle. Transporting an animal in a trap requires a closed vehicle or the removal of the animal from the trap into an appropriate vehicle design to confine and transport animals. Removing an animal from a trap is tricky and more often than not requires a catchpole.
Not all dogs have been in a vehicle before. Loading them freely into a car can be challenging. Again, if they are afraid, they can urinate, defecate, or loose their anal glands in a car. If they are loose and become fearful they can destroy the car or attack the driver.
A dog may be transported in a closed vehicle in a kennel. There are a few issues with kennels as determined dogs can break out of many kennels with very little effort. A dog’s fear factor and potential for aggressive behavior should be considered before transporting a dog in a crate in a closed vehicle. If that mode of transportation is chosen, all crate doors, gates, and connection points should be zip-tied for extra safety. Again, if the dog is afraid, they can urinate, defecate, or loose their anal glands in crate in the car. The mess might not just be confined to the kennel.
Ideally, best practices for transporting dogs would use a closed vehicle properly equipped and designed to transport animals.
WHO ARE YOU TRAPPING?
Every loose hard to catch dog is unique and requires regular assessments of the dog’s health, temperament, and overall progress toward a trusting relationship with a human. These assessments are integral parts of an overall plan to catch the dog and move the dog down a path to rehabilitation and adoption.
The urban feral and loose dog population is diverse. Many think that bait dogs make up a portion of the urban stray population. They are most likely a very small portion of the loose dogs. These bait dogs are smaller, weaker animals used to train the fighters. Often identified by torn or missing limbs, by their numerous scars from the attacks, the wires and ropes used to tie them down, and by their conditioned fear of humans and other dogs. These dogs are dumped and in time, these dogs turn into street dogs. But do not be fooled, all dogs with scars are not bait dogs. Often male dogs fight for the love of an in-heat female and those battle scars can be epic. Illegally tethered dogs, or resident dogs, that escape can have scars from the tethering and or embedded collars. Tethered dogs are often unsocialized and can be very fearful and reactive to humans.
Truly feral dogs born on the streets are the “untouchables”. They have never been touched by humans and are so fearful of humans they will often urinate and defecate when touched.
Many street dogs are lost intact housedogs that have reverted to a feral state for survival. Some were dumped on the streets at early ages, others escaped their homes never to be seen again. Those that were discarded early on and or escaped may seem to be wild, but actually do have memories of positive human contact. These dogs usually rehab more quickly. This is a large percent of the loose dogs roaming our streets.
If a feral dog does not die of sheer starvation, diseases such as parvovirus, heartworm, or intestinal parasites are just a few of the challenges facing the street dogs. Many feral dogs have mange, however, it is not the mange parasite that kills a dog, it is the loss of hair, skin infections, and subsequent exposure to the elements, that gets them. Fleas, ticks, and flea dermatitis are very common with the street dog population. TVT, transmissible venereal tumors, is becoming an epidemic among street dogs. Additionally, street animals often suffer abuse and neglect ranging from gun shot or bb gun wounds to having rocks thrown at them, being sprayed with garden hoses, fighting with other dogs, and injuries by motor vehicles, etc. etc.
Depending on amount of time on the streets, you will find varying degrees of wildness in loose street dogs. The time a dog has been owned, the quality of human contact the dog has experienced, the state of the dog’s health, and the range of abuse or neglect it encountered all contributes to the dog’s status.
TRACKING AND TRAPPING A DOG
Tracking and trapping a hard to catch street dog requires information. Where is the dog going? Where is he coming from? What time of day is he where? Is there a time of year they appear?
You need local residents and businesses to help with this reporting. You need partners in tracking and you need a point of contact to receive and document this important detailed information.
We propose DAS use a model like the Neighborhood Police Officer (NPO) model used by DPD to tracking hard to catch loose dogs. These NPOs are dedicated officers who are the facilitators of information. They work closely with a crime watch groups, DPD teams, and the public. They are able to cut red tape and get help and resources into the neighborhoods when there is a need.
They manage multiple neighborhoods acting as a liaison at neighborhood association meetings, crime watch meetings, national night out events, and community events. They humanize and personalize police service while cascading information to and from the department into neighborhoods at a human scale. Their intimate understanding of the neighborhoods often helps connects the dots from crime trends to the local criminals. They are the concierge of neighborhood law enforcement and are in place to make sure the needs of the neighborhoods are being heard and met.
A Neighborhood Animals Services Officer (NASO) could act in the same role, but with chronically loose dogs, dog packs, and dangerous dogs peppered throughout neighborhoods. They could help DAS know where and how to focus their time and assets to reach the goal of picking up all loose dogs.
Once neighborhood partners have been identified, many reporting mechanisms could be used to gather information on the loose dogs. Nextdoor, facebook, text messages, and custom apps could all help track loose dogs and their habits.
Upon request, we can provide a few more examples of that how that service works using a private citizen as the neighborhood liaison. The system works. It makes finding and catching the loose dogs much easier and more efficient.
Here are a few examples of a neighborhood tracking effort:
Tips on how to catch a loose dog (the community requested this) http://www.gypsydogops.com/?p=6936
Once you establish the dog or the dog pack’s habits, you can understand the best method, the best place, and the best time of day to try to catch the dog.
EDUCATING THE PUBLIC: Getting neighborhood help and buy in requires some organized education efforts. NASOs can hear any community resistance first hand and work a message house with them to get buy in. NASOs can speak at neighborhood meetings, schools, and events as part of their job. They create circular communication as they are the funnel of official information going into communities and then they convey the needs of neighborhoods back to DAS and the City.
CHALLENGES WITH TRAPPING PARTNERS
- Most 501 partners won’t trap without a guaranteed that the dog will go to a foster or rescue. If euthanasia at DAS is a possibility, they generally will not catch.
- Trapping partners must have consistent training and SOPs or they could potentially make a dog less likely to be caught.
- Trapping partners should have a MOU
BENEFITS OF ENGAGING COMMUNITY TRACKERS IN LIEU OF TRAPPING PARTNERS
- Real time information
- Free labor for tracking
- No liability for citizens
- Many opportunities for partnerships for reporting: schools, parks and rec, libraries, neighborhood associations, crime watch groups, postal workers, code officers, utility company workers, and sanitation workers.
- Creates a sense of buy in, ownership, and pride within the community for the collective animal welfare efforts
- Natural opportunity for loose dog census like the National Audubon Christmas Bird Count
Tracking and trapping are the most dynamic and unique parts of animal control and animal welfare. A behaviorally sound system with the goal of catching and rehabbing the dog is the most efficient and cost effective. This protocol is also widely accepted and supported by local residents and community leaders. If Dallas is serious about getting its crisis level loose animal issues under control, a comprehensive behaviorally sound trapping program must be instituted.