After the Webinar: Community Engagement – The Lifesaving Philosophy. Q&A with Nick Walton

Webinar presenter Nick Walton answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Community Engagement: The Lifesaving Philosophy. Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: Where do you see the role of social work in this contemporary view? 

Nick Walton: Beautiful. Yeah, and so, we are going to come across a number of situations, as I mentioned, that are not related to animal welfare. And so, building relationships outside of the pet stores and those kinds of things that I was mentioning such as elder services, social workers, mental health advocates and domestic violence groups, and building relationships with all of these different groups, you’re going to come across will be important. I think is equally as important as anything else that I’ve said throughout this presentation. So, I wanted to say, first off, thank you so much for that question, because it is, as I mentioned equally as important as anything else. So, if you have further information, feel free to reach out to me because that is something that I would love to loop in this presentation in the future, thank you for the question. Please leverage social work and social services of any shape, form, or fashion in your day-to-day routines. Absolutely.


Audience Question:  So many agencies are stretched so thin both in terms of people and resources. How do we get those extra rolls of chicken wire, those extra rolls of fencing wire, or wood to repair fences? When we’re so stretched so thin in terms of time. How do you approach this so that you can solve more problems with so few people? 

Nick Walton: Yeah, another good question. And first and foremost, from a leadership perspective, what I would recommend is quality over quantity in terms of cost rate. And respond to your priority calls, obviously. But if you have three dog at large calls that came in, 2 or 3 days ago, we should not be rushing, boom, boom, boom to get there, maybe you can take 10 minutes, pull over to a home improvement store, introduce yourself, and keep it moving to your next call. So that’s the first thing. Make sure that our priorities are in line. And are we busting our rear ends going call to call without any actual outcome? Quality over quantity, in terms of calls, will begin to free up some more time for your officers to begin to lay the groundwork in the foundations for community engagement support-based law enforcement. The second piece of this is to leverage a potential volunteer. Volunteer programs are going to be an essential solution to the lack of staffing, and that includes shelter, obviously, mostly in the shelter. And so, there are agencies currently that have a very structured and tiered volunteer program to where if you make that third tier, you’re essentially as good as an animal control officer. They call them ACAs, animal control assistants, and so they can be responsible for going and building these relationships and sourcing resources. And if you don’t have a volunteer program reach out to Best Friends, and we might be able to help you provide some resources and education on how to get them going. I don’t want to simplify and make it seem like it’s just so easy, because I do recognize where you’re coming from. You don’t have anything. You don’t know, and oftentimes, you may not even have a home improvement store in your area. So, what do you do? Also, leverage networks. Best Friends, if you want to join and become a network partner, you can have access to a lot of different grant opportunities that you may not know existed. You also might have access to a lot of different transport potential, and things of that nature, as well. So, shameless plug to best friends there, but I do think that we are under-utilized. And a lot of agencies could get a lot from some of these grant opportunities, even if it means we have to go buy some resources based on a grant.


Audience Question: Our officers prioritize offering education and resources over law enforcement. Any advice on dealing with community members who see that approach is not really doing anything? 

Nick Walton: Can I get some clarity on that question? So, is the question based upon, where do we lie between law enforcement and community assistance? Is that the basis of it?

Host: I think, from what I’m interpreting from the question, and Stephanie, if you’re still on the call, certainly, text in. But it’s the notion of when the community comes calls in and complains about a situation. The animal control officers are emphasizing education and providing resources over punitive approaches, and sometimes that’s perceived as they’re not really doing anything.

Nick Walton: So, the goal is to obtain compliance, right? And so, what we are bound by law is to obtain compliance on this call. Would that be the dog doesn’t have water? “Okay. Well, here’s how you dig a hole in the ground and put the bucket there, so dogs don’t flip it over, right?” And so that’s where community engagement can be implemented on a call. So, if somebody calls and says, hey, my neighbor’s doing this, this, this, and you go, and you obtain compliance, even if it takes a 24-hour warning to fix this problem. And you get compliance in the end. What that neighbor is probably doing is using you as a stick to poke their neighbor with, right? And they’re upset that you did not take them to court, because they’re probably upset based on something different, probably some non-animal related issue, or something along those lines. And I don’t want to lump it all into one category. But I guess, the root cause, what I’m saying here would be based upon compliance, and if we obtain compliance, then that’s our job, and if they’re upset that we obtained compliance, then I’m not quite sure what to tell them.


Audience Question: So, kind of taking that same technical question, but approaching it from a slightly different perspective. Nick, you talked about a very positive approach, rather than a punitive approach to animal welfare, but my boss is all about the tickets and how that shows productivity. How do we change our agency’s culture when leadership is all about charging fines and issuing tickets? 

Nick Walton: Really beautiful point. And so, this is a common problem we see is officers are judged based upon A, how many citations they issue; and B, the animals they impound. And that’s a archaic view of the success of an animal control officer. And so, in order to get started on changing, the mindset. What I would recommend is diving into some data and some studies on the subject to show the way that we’re operating actually is not the best way to obtain compliance. Also, we’re spending a ton of money on this, right? And I think if you familiarize yourself with the data and numbers, and we start to dive deeper into it, you might be able to change some minds that way. Another point would be to lead by example. Don’t ask, go source your dog food, go give out dog food. Go build relationships —–lead by example, and show some of the newer officers that, hey, look, I’m doing the right thing, I know I’m doing the right thing. If I’m getting judged by the amount of citations that I’m issued, and I think that what needs to happen is a systemic change within that agency. And so, I believe that, as I mentioned before, we are on a trajectory past that model. Agencies of all sizes, and particularly really, large agencies are embracing this philosophy. This isn’t just Best Friends talking to you. This is a national movement that’s taking place. So, I do believe in the upcoming years those philosophies are going to fade out because the results speak for themselves. But I would advise to lead by example. Do what’s right no matter what you’re told.


Audience Question: Nick, we are in that time of year when there are food pantries and thanksgiving baskets and Christmas baskets. And everybody is aware of those who are in need because they don’t have enough food in the house. Are we seeing more dog pantries or animal food pantries to accompany those food pantries in our communities? 

Nick Walton: One hundred percent. The pet food pantry concept is really awesome. Now I will say there are times where people may not feel comfortable to come down and ask for help, right? They may feel a bit of shame to be able to come down into that pet food pantry. But I still love the idea and I think that every agency across the country should have a form of it. One agency that we’re working with, did a really cool thing. I’m not sure if y’all are familiar with it. Drop boxes. In the past, typically seen as an old-school model there would be drop boxes where you can come and drop off a dog or a cat or an animal, and just walk away. Well, this agency repurposed that, and for the sake of anonymity, so that people could feel more comfortable coming and getting supplies and dog food and things of that nature. They transform their drop boxes into an anonymous resource site so people could pick up as much whatever they want without having to feel any form of judgment or whatsoever. Yeah, absolutely. People are using pet food pantries across the country. I think it’s fantastic. I do also think that there’s a role in animal control in this as well. If animal control isn’t seen as an extension of that pet food pantry, then what’s going to happen is the good guy, bad guy type of thing, Good cop, bad cop. We don’t want a separation like that, we want to be able to be an extension of the shelter to be a street team of sorts, to be able to help provide these resources on the spot when we see the need.


Audience Question: Do you think it’s important to train police patrol officers in animal welfare-based community engagement to the same degree, or at least similarly to what animal control or humane officers are? 

Nick Walton: For sure. I think that that’s a really, really important question because what it does is it helps to establish relationships with your local law enforcement, right? Here’s how you handle an animal. Oftentimes police departments will have animal control officers who are really seasoned come in and train police officers on how to handle animals’ and how to respond to certain calls. “If you see this, this is what you need to do.” But the real benefit of this is positive relationships with your law enforcement agencies, right? And vice versa. Then maybe you can have access to some of their training, whether that be an emergency response or whether that be an active shooter or whatever these trainings that oftentimes animal control does not have access to, this can be that bridge between the two agencies. And the same thing is the question earlier with social services. And I’ll say it again, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. So, if you want to go build relationships and have no money for resources, just go introduce yourself and explain your goals, and your intent. Awesome question. Definitely build relationships with your law enforcement.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Community Engagement: The Lifesaving Philosophy.



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