Webinar presenter Harold Holmes answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Every Day Ethics for Animal Control Officers. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: What is an ACO to do when they see others in the agency or organization who are behaving unethically or maybe just doing something that just doesn’t look right? If we confront our peers, we might be seen as a rat or a narc. If we don’t say anything, we might be seen as approving the behavior. How would you recommend ACOs move forward in situations they’re not comfortable with?
Harold Holmes: Well, if you’re uncomfortable, and it’s perhaps not a clear violation, or even if it is perhaps, rather than being confrontational, I would ask, approach the officer, and go, “Excuse me. I have a question. Are you sure that this is the right thing to do? And what about this other approach?” Maybe you’ll enlighten them on something that they hadn’t considered, you may educate them on an approach that they weren’t aware of. If you’re uncomfortable with it like I was when we had that hoarder case in Oceanside that I described. I raised my objection, as politely as I could, and I said, “I’m sorry, I cannot be involved in taking any of these animals. I can’t participate in this call.” I couldn’t just leave so I kind of assigned myself to assemble cat carriers, and in doing the log and so on. But I didn’t want to be involved in the actual taking of animals. So that’s, that’s one way that you can protest as well.
Audience Question: What would be considered absolute proof of ownership if no documentation exists?
Harold Holmes: That’s a really good question that’ll be dependent upon the circumstances. I don’t know if there is such a thing as absolute proof. You’re going to have to make the best decision you can with the evidence that you can obtain at the time, whether it’s photos, vet records, or anything at all, and be prepared that you may get a countervailing claim sometime later. Generally, the rule is first in time is first in right, so I would look at what the earliest evidence, of any consequence, or any credibility that you have is and go with that.
Audience Question: On ownership based upon vet info and microchipped listed in the other person’s name. In Georgia, all we have to do is establish care, custody, or control, and they’re the lawful owners or the custodians. So, when the mom in that situation would have been considered the owner, at least in Georgia.
Harold Holmes: I’m not sure from what you’re describing. You’re assigning ownership responsibility from a legal standpoint. As I learned in law school, ownership is like a bundle of sticks. It’s a bundle of rights. So, I’m not sure that you can impose that on someone. You can certainly impose upon them, like we do in California, that if you’ve possessed a dog for over a certain length of time you have to license it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you own it. It just creates an obligation to do certain things. As soon as you possess the animal, you must provide care for it. You don’t have to be the owner to do that. And you could be held accountable for not doing it even though you’re not the owner. So, I really haven’t answered the question, but I’m really not sure that the state can impose ownership unilaterally. They can impose some of the duties of ownership, though.
Audience Question: When you have ethical issues like the situation with the ACO, some agencies knee-jerk reaction might be to simply say, well, that’s just one incident, or they’re just one bad apple. But what would you recommend is, are there systemic or methodical ways that agencies could respond to situations just to kind of make sure, re-examine the situation and get everybody up to a certain ethical standard?
Harold Holmes: I think that we need to constantly work on that. All of our agencies need to make it a department-wide priority. We need to do it periodically just like we do strategic plans, and we do budget so that we do all these things on a cyclic basis. We need to be looking at ethics cyclically as well.
We need to be willing to take input from all levels of the organization. As an executive, I can tell you it’s very easy to get caught up in the theoretical world and the philosophical world. But what happens in our facilities late at night on a weekend might be completely different. It’s important to get input from the people doing the actual work and educate those people. Those people that do the work, you need to lead up and educate your supervisors and executives. Tell them what’s really going on, so that they can make the best decisions and get the resources that you need so that you can make ethical decisions.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Every Day Ethics for Animal Control Officers.