Webinar presenters Adam Leath and Dr. Mark Flowers answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Proactive Responses to the Community’s Concerns: Successes in the Field for Today’s ACO’s. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: Adam, you talked about the significant decreases you’ve had in field service calls, like animal cruelty investigations, and search warrants. How much of that was because you had fewer calls due to COVID? What was the COVID effect or impact on those operations? And how will this change now that we’re coming out of our way of calling it our COVID ops impacts?
Adam Leath: It’s a really great question and there are a lot of very intelligent people studying the COVID effect on Animal Welfare. I can tell you, just from our own experiences, I can’t say that there is a cause-and-effect relationship. I can’t say that the calls were a direct effect of us providing resources to pet owners. What I can say is that those are happening at the same time, and we did not experience that decrease in years past. So, I can’t say that there’s a direct cause and effect relationship, but we can say that those happen simultaneously. So, we hope that that trend continues. And the longer that it happens, the more I’m going to start leaning in on whether or not there’s a cause and effect relationship there. But the answer to your question, COVID has had a significant impact on our community. The number of calls that we get for individuals for the need for resources, has dramatically increased. So, I would say, at this point, we probably have about equal parts, people calling and asking for resources, as we do people calling in their typical complaints, or calls for service. So, yeah, I would say it’s probably about a split between the two of those.
Audience Question: Who are the other organizations that might be able to address some of these types of issues that we just might not be thinking about? So maybe in our community, we don’t necessarily have a jail that could build dog houses, but maybe there’s a trade school or a tech high school that does construction trades? Help us think out of the box here for just a few minutes. Who are some of the other organizations that we should think about, to help us address some of these common challenges that our agencies are facing?
Adam Leath: Well, being plugged into your community is incredibly important. Going and engaging organizations like the Rotary Club, and faith-based organizations, and attending your community engagement events, whether they’re your events or other organization’s events, might find that you’re interacting with people that you may not traditionally interact with. And so, each community is unique. So, I would say for us, corrections have obviously been a huge partner as well as our other divisions, but we’ve also had a lot of partnerships with other cities who are doing similar work but may have expertise or resources that we don’t have. So, when I started thinking about who’s available, I start finding ways where people professionals are congregating if that makes sense. So, you’ve got a group of professionals, whatever the civic organization, whatever the group is, certainly faith-based organizations, educational institutions are a really good one, first responder organizations are a great one. You start looking at your police chiefs’ associations, your law enforcement associations. There’s an association almost for every profession if you will. And identifying what players are in your community will depend on your level of engagement and how often you’re plugged in. And so, while I can’t say that there is an exact organization or community that might be a player, I can say that if you’re always on the lookout for professionals gathering to discuss programs and services and resources, you might actually find that some of these ideas happen organically, which is how it happened in some cases for us.
Host: Not to forget that there’s a whole bunch of colleges and high schools out there who still do service-learning projects as well.
Audience Question: What percent of residents in Volusia County are low-income or below the poverty line?
Adam Leath: So, I would actually need to look at our most recent census. We actually mapped it by area, but in terms of the overall percentage, I would say we’re probably about 25%. That obviously changes, depending upon geographic location within the county. Some of our more rural areas may not have access or the same access to resources and may traditionally be of low and no income or resource deserts as we kind of refer to them as. So, I could give you an exact number if I would pull up our most recent census data, but we looked at it in terms of the map. So specific communities, rather than the overall percentage for the county, we wanted to look at it more microscopically in the street, the community, the particular city, and have those maps available. And our GIS folks are the ones that gave us access to all that. They’re the ones who are the subject matter experts in identifying. We just told them. Here are the parameters that we want, to help us focus on what we need to be aware of. We need to be providing resources.
Audience Question: The GIS folks that you’re referencing are folks who are employed within the county government. Is that right?
Adam Leath: That is correct for your global Information systems and departments. Most of them are going to be your mapping departments. We’re talking about, in Florida, we’re always talking about disasters, flood maps, those types of anytime that you’re looking at, a map that identifies resources in your community. It was likely identified and created by your GIS department. So, most all counties have, if it’s not within the county, it’s contracted, but have GIS experts to be able to map, because we can map all sorts of things. And this is not a new technology. It’s been utilized by a lot of different professions to identify trends across many different communities.
Audience Question: Do you have to be a county-operated animal control services organization to be able to access those GIS staffers? Could you be a local humane services organization or animal welfare organization to be able to work with those county officials?
Adam Leath: Well, it’s a great question. I can tell you, that here, in the county, our GIS department works with a lot of different internal, but also, external stakeholders. When you start thinking about some of those outliers, that we just described in terms of what organizations might be providing resources that we don’t know about, those are the types of resources that are in times of disasters, pivotal. So where is your local evacuation shelter if that’s okay? So, when you start talking about mapping in disasters, it literally can mean the difference between life and death. So, your evacuation routes, you’re safe shelters, all of those are going to be mapped for your county government. And I know here at our county, we always work with internal and external stakeholders, because the reality is GIS folks are experts in mapping, they’re not necessarily subject matter experts and all things that exist on a map if that makes sense.
Audience Question: Do you have a sense of the percentage or density of older people in Volusia County who might also benefit from your assistance for these projects?
Adam Leath: You know, it’s a challenge that we are still struggling with, quite frankly, because, when we start trying to find ways to engage the public, we have to think about all the ways in which people get information and, that’s all over the board. So, one way that we’ve learned was to engage our volunteer base. A lot of our volunteers are, let’s just say, retired, and not at the beginning of their careers. So, you know, just sitting down and talking with them, and asking, How did you even know about us. Where did you hear of this? What issues do you think exist out there? And so, it’s really been very anecdotal in conversations, but what we’re partnering with, the counseling on aging, or we’re partnering with community college. You know, those types of engagements might be a way for you to figure out how that particular section of the population received their information because it’s drastically different than other sectors of the population.
Audience Question: Mark, have you run into any pushback from people? Staff, community, and politicians, who feel like people in jail are just there to be punished. How do you overcome those attitudes? And maybe, Adam, maybe you can chime in too because I’m sure you’ve run into the attitude of, “Well if people can’t afford their pet, they shouldn’t have one.” How do you overcome those opposing perspectives?
Dr. Mark Flowers: Yeah, for the jail side, I’ve spent most of my career in prisons and long-term incarceration facilities. And when your work in a jail, you know, you do have a small center population, I believe, you can throw away the key. But when you turn it back on them, and you said that 90% or more of the people that are in institutions, they’re coming back to society. You either prepare them better, in hopes that they become productive citizens and don’t rely on you and your tax dollars, to continue to support them down the road. They almost like, see the light come on, and then they start thinking, not everybody… but when you keep in mind that 90 to 95% of every inmate incarcerated to come and back to society, it just depends on where they’re going to live. Because they could be your very close next-door neighbor.
Audience Question: You share that not all of the people in your jail have been convicted, they are awaiting trial, right?
Dr. Mark Flowers: Correct. And I’ve got some really bad folks in custody, but the majority are not really bad folks. They’ve been folks that have been given a difficult situation and didn’t make the best decision available. So now they’re doing their time, so to speak, with hopes that they gain some valuable tools, whether it’s skills, whether it’s decision-making, opportunities, or whatever, and hope that they never come back through this.
Audience Question: How about you, Adam? How do you overcome those people who push back and say, well, why are we helping these folks if they can’t afford the responsibilities of being a pet owner, they shouldn’t have one?
Adam Leath: Well, I think the biggest challenge is addressing that within your own team, because, quite frankly, if your own team feels that way, I mean, they can smile and they can tell you what you need to be told. But at their core, they believe that someone just is inherently incapable of doing one thing or another. It’s a pretty binary way of looking at life. And so, one of the ways that I’ve sort of challenged that is to identify those folks and put them in situations with resources available. I’ll give you an example, we have individuals who are routinely accepting phone calls from the general public, asking from all sorts of different things. And then we have people that walk in our doors. There were some initial conversations with someone in particular, like, I’m thinking about where, just as you described, well, “If they can’t have it, why do we have to provide it? And if we don’t provide it, what are they just going to go out and get another one?” The reality is all that’s doing is alienating people. If we’re hoping to give a hand up, or we’re hoping to try to make headway, that complainant may actually turn out to be a volunteer, may turn out to be a sponsor, may turn out to be someone very influential in the community, that you don’t even know. It’s happened to us on a number of occasions where we didn’t even know who we were talking to. And it turned out to be an elected official from another city or a nearby county. And they’re trying to figure out what we’re doing. And it’s really oftentimes a misperception that we have to start even within our own team, and then take that same philosophy out to the rest of the community.
Audience Question: You spoke about free microchip clinics by looking into grants. Could you expand on that a bit more? What kind of grants should we be looking for? Any good push in the right direction?
Adam Leath: So, we like to squeeze our microchip providers. When I say, squeeze we try to get the microchips for as cheap as we possibly can. So, we try to buy in bulk, so we get some free microchips that way or get them at a reduced cost. What I would suggest doing is starting with the main the big microchip companies, the Michelson Found Animals, the 24PetWatches, the Avids, I mean, there are a lot of microchip companies that are out there. So, you have to identify in your community what solution might work best for you? One of the challenges that we experienced was where this chip is going to get registered. Is it going to get registered in our system and nationally? Or do we have to pay a fee for that? Is it easy for a pet owner to change or update their address, or phone number when they move or do they have to pay a fee for that? So, we went through a lot of different companies before we settled on where we are now and trying to squeeze them for as much as we can. So, in terms of grant funding, it’s typically under access to care in veterinary services. And there’s a lot between the Petcos, the PetSmarts, the large pet supply organizations or companies. There are a lot of different promotional-type things that can be put out there, but then some of them are just organic, you going to them and trying to say, “Hey, if I bought this much, what could you give me a discount?” Or “Is there any way that we can try a few of your chips and work through that process, and then figure out whether or not you can get it at a reduced rate or maybe get it free?” So, for us, we’re buying them 5,000 at a time, and my cost is $4.25. And so, the argument that I make to a lot of elected officials is our average cost to shelter a pet for three days at any one of our partners is $88. So, I can either pay $88 without knowing the outcome of the pet, or I can pay $4.25, and it’s permanently identified for life. Now, it’s not a fail-safe, but there are still issues with microchips, but it’s certainly far and above better than having no form of identification.