Webinar presenter Anna Walton answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Life-Saving Dispatch: Lessons for Animal Welfare Agencies. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: You talked about how we should be doing training and maybe re-imagining the dispatcher role in animal welfare agencies. How much training should agencies be doing specifically for their call takers? Think about it in terms of how many hours, or how many weeks? And for hiring purposes, should we be looking for certain types of experiences that a person should have to be a successful dispatcher?
Anna Walton: Those are really good questions. In terms of how much training, it’s going to vary from agency to agency. But I would say you should take a look at how much training your field officers have, and start with something comparable to that. Typically, you’ll have about a week learning your shelter software. Sometimes people catch on quicker, and they can move quicker through training. But I would say, you should save some time, at least a week, to have ride-alongs with all the officers and to cross-train in different departments. And then in terms of hiring people. A background in customer service, call centers, that can be very helpful. 911 dispatchers are great dispatchers. So, if you have someone apply with that background, take that opportunity. They don’t really need to have animal experience. You can teach somebody the difference between a dog and a cat, right? But customer service is a harder thing to learn. So, that’s what I would say, a customer service background (would be very helpful).
Audience Question: How do you deal with callers who want to talk a lot. I bet you’ve run across these people.
Oh yes, especially when it’s about community cats, those conversations never end. I mean you have to finesse those situations, right? You have to let them know, while being open and honest, let them know that you have priority calls coming in. Sometimes it can be hard to even get a word in, but that’s why it’s important that we maintain control of the conversation from the beginning, and set that expectation that we do care, and we want to listen to your story, but this is not the time and place for that to happen, right? Be open and honest and let them know that. That’s easier said than done when you can’t get a word in, but that’s what I would say: Inform them of your priorities that you need to handle.
Host: And maybe if they have that much to share maybe they can become a volunteer for your agency!
Anna Walton: Yes! Have them come in and fill out an application.
Audience Question: I never would have thought of this but do vets charge for scanning for the microchips?
Anna Walton: I don’t think so. I’ve never heard of that. Some agencies are reaching out to their local businesses and supplying them with microchip scanners. So local fire stations or even like the Wal-Mart, they’ll have places that they can tell people to go where they have given them a microchip scanner so they can have the animal scanned somewhere locally.
Audience Question: You talked about an agency that sends out letters for first-time offenses. Do you happen to have templates or samples that we could use? Or is that on your website somewhere and you can send us the URL after the show?
Anna Walton: It’s not, but if you e-mail me, I can get them for you. Yes.
Audience Question: The sound deterring mechanisms that you were talking about, are there any effects on other animals or wildlife that we know of?
Anna Walton: Birds don’t seem to be bothered by them, but anything bigger than a squirrel, a big squirrel would probably set it off. No, it’s not harmful, it’s just like a high-pitch sound that bothers them.
Audience Question: What are the names of those products that you mentioned, the deterrence that you mentioned?
Anna Walton: So, there’s the one that is hooked up to a garden hose. Havahart is the brand, and then it’s called Spray Away. Havahart Spray Away. Then the other one is in a solar-powered ultrasonic motion detector animal deterrent. If you “Google” that, you’ll find it. There’s not a brand that I would recommend there. They’re all kind of the same.
Audience Question: How do you handle neighbor disputes?
Anna Walton: Hmm, it depends on what kind of neighbor disputes. But I think, you probably know, a lot of calls you get are just neighbor disputes. Use your detective work, through your questions that you’re asking, to find the call within the call, right? You have to take what they’re saying, seriously. But, at the same time, we want to get facts, right? So, you need to make sure that you’re getting all sides of the story. That’s a tricky question.
Audience Question: Are there ever any concerns about liability in regards to telling someone to hold onto a pet or place it in their car? Just any thoughts you might have regarding that?
Anna Walton: Liability concerns. I would start by saying to the person, you know, “if you’re comfortable doing this”, or “this is not something that I’m requiring you to do, you don’t need to catch the dog”… You need to put that in the hands of the caller or complainant. And give them that as an option. They, by no means, have to try to catch that dog if they’re not comfortable.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Life-Saving Dispatch: Lessons for Animal Welfare Agencies.