After the Webinar: Advanced Return to Owner. Q&A with Nick Walton

Webinar presenter Nick Walton answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Advanced Return to Owner: Beyond the Scanner. Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: How many different types of microchip systems are there out there?

Nick Walton: Oh, good question. They’re coming out every day. I don’t have that answer ready in front of me There are several that are most commonly used across the country. But even at the most recent conference I was out there was a brand-new microchip company there. And so, I don’t want to give an answer that is incorrect. I know that they are starting to be more prevalent and starting to create more microchips nowadays, but I don’t have the exact numbers.


Audience Question: And so, then does that mean that all the new microchip scanners can scan each other’s microchips? Or is that you need a completely separate microchip scanner that is “universal”?

Nick Walton: Yeah so the new microchips that I’ve seen coming out are already set up that way, they can be scanned by the universal microchip scanners that you already have within your departments. You wouldn’t need to theoretically get a new microchip scanner to utilize that brand-new microchip. Typically speaking, the newer companies will weave that into their existing hardware.


Audience Question: Can you restate how to get those coloring books?

Nick Walton: Absolutely. If you aren’t familiar with Maddie’s Fund, it is just another fantastic resource for all things. So Just Research Maddie’s Fund and you look up their Coloring Book Program. They have other really cool things that they can do for your agency, as well. The amount of training and learning opportunities that are available through Maddie’s Fund is borderline unprecedented. I’m a fan. I highly encourage everybody to learn about it, as well. I mean, just as much as I encourage you to learn about what Best Friends has to offer look outside of that as well. But just Google Maddie’s Fund Coloring Book Program. Agencies across the country are getting them shipped to their door. It cost no money. And it is a fantastic resource.

Editor’s Note: We have posted links to the coloring books on the webinar resource page. Please click here to find and follow those links to the coloring pages.


Audience Question: How can you issue a verbal warning without getting an ID?

Nick Walton: So, first and foremost, if you are going to be the officer testifying, right, You say I have made prior contact with this individual at this address. He identified himself as David, and I gave a verbal warning regarding this dog being loose. You do not need to even, I mean, in some cases, you don’t even need to get the last name. Because on your shelter software, oftentimes you will be tracking the address, and that dog will be tied to an address. Good question. This is one of those I had to get out of my comfort zone a bit because I recognize that it isn’t necessarily going to be mainstream, it is slightly taboo. But we have to understand the concept. And I would ask for an ID if this dog was underweight, or if this dog was the third time that it got out, or X, Y, or Z, I want to make sure that we add balance. But like if my dog was walking around having a good time because my son left the gate open, and I asked for someone’s ID. I don’t think that that secures the narrative. What we actually do for a living, I think that that might be doing too much. And good question. I’m not upset at it whatsoever, because I understand it could be considered as taboo. But, yeah, you don’t need to. You don’t need to see an ID if you are just giving a verbal warning.


Audience Question: What is a verbal warning considered or can you kind of define that for us?

Nick Walton: Yeah, so it’s case by case. But let’s say I’m in court, right? And a lot of times warnings are used to develop prior contact. And in court, I can use a verbal warning, in our system we would code it the same way as we would code a written warning. But under the description, it would be stated that it was just verbal. And so, in court, I can say that on this day, at this time, I arrived at this address. I advise them of the law and provided a verbal warning regarding the dog being loose. And so, if the purpose of a warning is prior contact, it suffices. It’s still in the system under that address. And so, things of that nature, I think I recognize that PIDs are important (person IDs). And, once again, this is where balance comes if this is not a big deal type of situation. You know, a Chihuahua got loose from the front of a wrought iron gate. Well, I’m just going to fix that fence, tell them, “Hey, look, it’s illegal for your dog to run loose in this county. Do you need some dog food? Have a good day, my name is Nick. Here’s a business card, give me a call.” And that could be considered as a verbal warning because we advise them of the law. We let them know that we’re going to try to solve your problem. And so, it doesn’t happen again. And that can be testified to.


Audience Question: So, you talked about putting posts on social media with pictures of the dog. Do you ever wonder or worry about a person ‘claiming’ to be the owner, and yet, there they aren’t, and so, in essence, they’re stealing the animal? And if so, how can we prevent this?

Nick Walton: Sure, well, I mean that same topic can be applied to any return to owner effort, to be clear. Any door you knock on can say, “Yeah, that’s my dog.” I think that oftentimes what we do is look at the circumstance. And so, does the dog seem to know this person? Does the person have any photographs of the dog? It’s case by case, and I don’t think that this is black and white. It’s really difficult to answer that question without knowing your specific situation. And this is where you run it up the chain, talk to supervisors, talk about what is our policy going to be for this. How are we going to handle this? Different agencies handle it differently. But if I see this dog, and it starts wiggling its tail and is going up to this person and this person is in tears and is playing with their dog. I don’t need to see pictures. You know? I know that this dog knows you, you know this dog. And I don’t want to bring it back to the shelter. And you know, the shelter is not a good environment for pets. And oftentimes the stress from getting onto a stranger’s truck, getting bumped around the town, going back to the shelter. It’s loud, it’s noisy. You could catch diseases. You’re getting stuck by people with shots. And you may not necessarily have the best experience there and that could potentially result in euthanasia or a dog going back to its owner sick or lawsuits or things of that nature. And so, I want to stress that my goal is to not bring the dog back to the shelter. And if it’s, if I find somebody who claims they’re the owner and all of these things match up, I’m just going to get that dog back.


Audience Question: You talked about leveraging an agency’s call takers or dispatch to help with lost dogs. What is your advice on how we implement that? So, is there additional training or additional staffing levels we need to keep in mind? What’s your advice in terms of taking that next step, and involving our dispatch, or call takers?

Nick Walton: Yeah, so is it through 911? Or is it in-house? Or is it the emergency service? There are a number of different ways or is it just a volunteer that sits at the front desk and handles these calls, every agency has different resources available. And every answer to that question depends on how your structure is set up, but we do offer dispatcher training through Best Friends. And so that’s another, and I believe there might be one on Justice Clearinghouse. So, that is a good place to start. We do train dispatchers and call takers in general, on how to field animal-related calls. Maybe how to solve the problem on their own, if applicable. And that, once again, will free time for officers and whatnot. But I do think that  if it’s in-house dispatch, we’ll build a relationship with that person that is taking those calls and let them know that “Hey, this is what I, as an officer could really benefit from. So, if somebody’s calling in about a dog that they lost, I need to know these requirements.” And if it’s police based, well, once again, I hate to say it, it’s relationships. You know, go build relationships. Let them know what the best thing that you can do to help them help you is, and oftentimes, you might see that they will try their best to help you, but it’s very difficult to answer that question, depending on the circumstance.


Audience Question: Once an owner has been found, how do you prevent this from happening again? Do you take the time to chip the dog, right then? Do you go to the house and kind of walk around the fence to see if there are any holes that need to be addressed? How do you recommend we do this?

Nick Walton: Good question. And you mentioned do we chip it right there? And absolutely, if you are legally allowed to, officers are able to carry their chips and we actually implant the microchips. That is one of the more progressive things taking place today is the officers are just doing it right there. Just boom, now you’ve got a microchip and it’s obviously in cooperation with the owner, but that is a fantastic point and honestly, I might want to weave that into the next presentation, so thank you for asking the question. But yeah, it’s scenario based. And you talk to the owner, “Hey, how did this dog get out?” “Oh yeah, I got this raggedy fence back there.” And if it’s a massive, widespread problem on a fence, maybe let’s think more creatively. There are agencies now that have gotten veterans together and formed a group of former military veterans that just want to help build fences. And that is something that is happening right now, and it started from nothing. And so, it shows me that is possible. If it’s a small repair, carry a toolbox with you and carry some wire. You’d be surprised at how much you can fix with a broken dog crate and a couple of zip ties. My dad used to say “If you want it to move, Use WD-40, if you don’t want it to move use duct tape or zip ties.” And so, I don’t want to make this answer too simple but at the end of the day, it’s really circumstantial and asking how the problem originated. Is this the second, third time, or fourth time? And all of these factors play into the response, but the key denominator is the relationship that is built through that in trying to resolve the person’s problem without passing judgment or issuing unnecessary paperwork.


Audience Question: Sometimes a repair for a gate or a fence is beyond a renter’s responsibility. It’s actually the landlord. Have you ever seen, or do you see any opportunities to work with landlords or landlord groups to be able to help contain pets in yards?

Nick Walton: Fantastic, fantastic. Because what we’re talking about is building relationships, right? And that’s all that this comes down to. And yes, absolutely, there are plenty of Facebook groups, or there are plenty of, you can even contact that landlord or, you can try to resolve the problem that way. And oftentimes, everybody wants the fence fixed. And I can’t tell you before we had resources. I would be throwing rocks, pieces of wood, and random logs that I find just to keep that dog inside of the fence, and I never went to check with a landlord if I can do that. Also, never once heard of an animal control officer being tried in court over a fence repair. That is a common issue or common rebuttal that I get, and my main thing is, first and foremost, my goal and my intent, is to keep the dog from getting out, and this is why I did what I did. I think that if you can show me one time in history, where an animal control officer was found guilty of fixing a fence in any shape, form, or fashion, then I’d be willing to listen to it. But I really have tried to find it, and I can’t find anything. That goes to the point of fixing a fence for somebody who may be renting the property. For me, personally, now, I’m not saying that this is the golden standard, and I’m not holier than that, trust me, but it wouldn’t stop me from fixing their fence.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Advanced Return to Owner: Beyond the Scanner. 



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