After the Webinar: Problem Oriented Response for Animal Welfare Agencies. Q&A with Scott Giacoppo

Webinar presenter Scott Giacoppo answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Problem Oriented Response for Animal Welfare Agencies. Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: Do all agencies have access to software that does this kind of analysis that you talked about during today’s presentation? Or do you most software packages, do what you, what you demonstrated? And Kelly specifically wanted to know which software you used?

Scott Giacoppo: Well, as I mentioned in the presentation, we use Tableau, and it is a pretty expensive software. We don’t use Tableau just for this, Best Friends uses it for a number of other reasons. And we found that it can help animal control agencies in this aspect. So, I got a license from one of my guys to work on it, you know, we used it. But I know Shelter Love is a really good one. And Chameleon also has access to a mapping component. You may have to expense up, I’m not sure how that all works. But I do know that first things first, you should identify what you have and then, reach out to your representatives within that agency to find out what capabilities they have that you might not be aware of. And B, that link that I shared has an article on how to just use a basic Excel sheet. Download all the information onto an Excel sheet, and then using Google Earth, you can upload it into Google Earth. I’m not going to get into all the technicalities. I’m not a tech guy but I know that’s why I had I co-wrote with a guy from Chameleon, Jason, who is the tech guy, and he’s a really great guy. But the articles are out there for you. But the first thing I would do is check with your software company, and if you’re a municipality, check with your IT department because if you have access to crime maps and your community most do? Then that means you do have it. You just have to convince them to let you in.


Audience Question: About some of the data that you shared during the presentation, going back to the dog bites reported. Did you find out which months we’re seeing more dog bites? More specific than just spraying versus winter, that kind of thing. 

Scott Giacoppo: Yeah, you can, We do monthly trends. For the purposes of this presentation, I didn’t include that slide, do it by month, and you can break it down. You can break it down, as long as you gather the data you can run a map on it. You can run a chart or graph on it so you can determine. Like I said, with Pitt County with the altered versus unaltered, we used to do the age group, the victimology, which is part of the working with other agencies on now so that we can identify, not only when it’s happening, where it’s happening, but who it’s happening to.


Audience Question: You talked about how we often need to take a step back and look at that bigger picture to get to the root cause of some of these issues that agencies are facing. But how do we do that, when so many agencies are so short-staffed that they’re often in just pure reaction mode? 

Scott Giacoppo: One of the things that I did, and I’ve seen other agencies do it, especially when you are able to run the data like this is run the types of calls you’re running. You look at all, the different types of calls you go out on, and can any of those be eliminated? Now, philosophically, and this is my opinion, I do not believe that animal control should be responding to dead animal pickup, nor should they be responding, responding to your basic dog barking dog call. I think a barking dog is disturbing the peace and should be handled by the police. Now, if they’re crying in pain, yeah, then you need a welfare check. But those are two things, in particular, that animal control officers are forced to do that take up a lot of time. And I just had a meeting with a city manager recently about that, and if you think about it because of one of the mappings we did realize that almost 20% of the call volume was dead animal pick up. And now, you have a highly trained animal control officer making, hopefully, a decent salary, and you’re paying them that much money to go, just to pick up an animal that’s been hit by a car. A dead deer, a dead hog. It takes two officers to go and pick up a dead hog or a dead deer, that’s a waste of taxpayer dollars. You have the Department of Sanitation or Department of Transportation, who is already out on the road picking up traffic hazards. I’ve had disagreements with people. My good friend Jamison, Vice President of NACA. He and I have had that conversation many times. But what he did was he actually got the city to agree, if I’m not mistaken, and I think I recall him telling me this, he got the City to fund a couple of pickup trucks and some lower-paid staff members to do that, and then that gives them the opportunity to free the officers up to do more. But it also gives those people, maybe the opportunity to learn more about animal control, a pathway into animal control, and almost like a professional development going up. So, what I’m saying is, I always look at, what are you doing that you shouldn’t be doing? And I’ll be, I’m willing to bet every agency out there is going to look at what they’re doing that they shouldn’t be doing. “Yeah, we should be doing this. We shouldn’t be doing this.”

Host: Kind of like a mission creep for lack of a better way of saying, I know in projects we talk about scope creep and mission creep in this instance.

Scott Giacoppo: Yeah, I mean, I know officers whose primary responsibility, even some of my own staff members and friends are not going to like me saying this, but officers are often used as ——– where they know we have to get this dog over to the animal hospital so we can get spayed today. And they’re responsible for transporting animals to the animal house. They’re responsible for picking those animals up and bringing them back to the shelter. They’re responsible for going over. I got into it with a few people that made my day. Animal control had to go to the local donor and pick up some blankets that they would donate. Because the donor, the big donor, had some blankets, but they didn’t want to drive them over to the shelter. So, basically, without getting too deep in the weeds, animal control shouldn’t be treated like an Uber. They have a critical job to play. They are the tip of the spear, the animal protection, and that agency’s base in the community. And they need to be out in the streets, talking to people, and interacting with people, engaging with people, solving these problems. But they can’t when they come in and they’re looking at five different calls that came in. Looking at a response, you get a running at large call on a Saturday night, okay. Agencies that are functioning on an on-call basis. They’re not going to send an officer out for on-call, for running at large, it’s not a priority. That call waits in the queue till Monday. The Monday morning officer comes in. It has to address a stray dog running at large from Saturday night. That dog is gone. But because the call came in, agencies feel we have to respond. As I mentioned earlier, an agency and I don’t know if they want to be mentioned or not, but their dispatch talks to people, and says, “You know what? I’m sorry. We’re not going to be able to get an officer out there. If you see this dog hanging around, or if the situation changes, call us back. But right now, our offices around trying to help animals that are being abused or that have bitten someone,” or whatever higher priority calls, I was actually with an officer, once they got a call, there was a dead bird in a city council members driveway that had been there for days, and we had to go pick it up. We have to scrape it up. Now, it’s just ridiculous, and animal control shouldn’t be treated like that, and what happens is when animal control gets treated like that, they start feeling like that’s their life, like there’s no end in sight. That’s one of the things I loved about being a part of NACA, and I love NACA. We want animal Control Officers to stand up for themselves and say “No, I am a professional.” Now I’m going on my rant. Sorry guys. But this is the type of stuff we have, real problems in our community that need to be solved, and they need to be solved not in the way we’ve always done it by picking up animals and issuing citations. We need to solve the problems long term. We need to be a part of the community. We need to be there. But we can’t be there when we’re running around doing all this stuff that is thrown on us. And I’m willing to bet anything that every officer watching this is nodding their head right now because that’s the life of animal control. We have to find a way of breaking that cycle, and this is part of it.


Audience Question: So, it sounds like you’re almost talking about a triaging system, where the calls that need to be addressed by an officer get an officer. Are there other ways? So, for example, as you were talking, I was thinking, are there certain types of calls that feasibly could be addressed simply by a letter that’s mailed to the owner? Dear Mr. Homeowner, we’ve received 15 calls in the last month about your dog barking. Is there a way to triage some of these calls, either through an e-mail or through a letter or something along those lines? 

Scott Giacoppo: A lot of agencies are resorting to letters. I’m writing letters about barking dogs, and so forth. Now, incidentally, let me just throw this out there, too. If you get a repeat offender, if you keep trying to help someone, I’m not saying we don’t use enforcement at all. It’s a necessary tool that we have in our tool belt, but when we’re so crunched for time and we have this mindset, it’s the only tool we use. It’s a tool we can use, and we need to use it when it’s appropriate. Repeat offense, I’m not naïve. I’ve been out on the road. ———– things to myself that I can’t say given public. Right? Those are the situations that all the kindness and support you want to offer, you’re not going to get any and you have to protect that animal, to enforce, but it’s not your first tool ——–.


Audience Question: How can you keep the relationship positive when so much negative is coming from one house or that one house that we all have in our jurisdictions? It’s the one that the rules, they seem to think that it never applies to them. They don’t even listen to a judge. How do you stay positive in light of those instances?

Scott Giacoppo: One of the things that I notice. I think this applies to a lot of agencies, a lot of professions. Is when we start to view the entire community through a clouded lens. This guy, that house you’re talking about, I know them. Everyone’s got one. But what happens is, we get this negative image of the whole community being ——- and it’s even more common when the only time people get to interact with us is when something bad happens. So, we started viewing the entire community in a negative light. It’s their fault that I do what I do. An animal control officer is seen as the dog catcher coming to pick up your dog, walk to your doors, don’t answer. You know, it’s that contentious relationship, because we only see the only time an individual gets to deal with them or when something bad is happening. When we’re knocking on their door for a problem. We only see the bad because we don’t break out and interact and engage with those people that aren’t the —-. So, we get this whole view of the community. I’m sorry, I apologize. I forgot the individual’s name, who asked the question. But, trust me, every officer watching this and every officer in the country, has one of those houses, at least one. The thing to do is look at that as not as if that is the rule, but the exception. Because most of the people in your community who care about animals, don’t want to see anything bad happen, and when they get out, when their animals get out, it’s an accident. And that’s why on the maps that I showed earlier, we had them color-coded the gray ones mean it’s a first-time offense. So, if that dog accidentally gets out, like the contractor left the gate open, how many times have we heard that? Well, guess what? The contractor has left my gate open. It happens. And so, you know, when a dog gets out accidentally, do we really want to be punitive and punish that person? Write them a ticket and take their animal away and have them come down to animal control and pick up and bail their dog out? How many of those people can afford to bail their dog out, so to speak, to pay the fees and fines. And they just say, “You know what, I can’t do it. So, I’m not going to do it.” That dog had a home but is now stuck in the system ends up in the shelter. And what do they do? They get another dog. The answer to know that you will have those individuals, but the community as a whole shouldn’t be seen in that light ——–.


Audience Question: Well, I suspect too, as a manager, as a leader, you’ve been in this position where if that officer is on that hair-trigger, they’re starting to see the entire community in that light, you have to take a step back and say, is this person being burned out, or they are they now falling victim to compassion fatigue, which is also a problem in the industry. 

Scott Giacoppo: It is absolutely, Chris. We’ve all been there. When I was a cruelty investigator, I’ve seen the worst that humans can do to animals. Day after day, you’re looking at things, and you just like, “Oh my god, how could someone do this to an animal?” And you just get on edge. And that’s where it, that’s where compassion fatigue and all of that stuff comes into play. But a good leader is going to pull that person out and try and recognize it. Pull that person out and try and shake things up a little. You get 2 or 3 people assigned to animal control and animal services. Cops don’t want to do anything, so that any animal-related call, they’re sending the animal control guy down to this house, and it’s horrible, day after day after day. It’s easy to get burnt out.


Audience Question: Why don’t shelters have community service officers just like police agencies do? I have to admit, based on some of the things you’re describing, it kind of does sound like a Community Service Officer role. What are your thoughts?

Scott Giacoppo: I love it, I love it, and here’s where I go with, I think every animal control officer first and foremost is a Community Service Officer. Because very few animal control agencies are large enough to have those special positions. A Community Service Officer in the police department is a unit. Then there’s patrol, detectives, there’s all of these different units, that drug unit, the gang unit. Animal control isn’t big enough. Right? So, that’s why, you know, I said it on the resource slide, that I think every animal control officer should have training on community-based policing. Because first and foremost, that’s what we should be doing. I don’t want to call it a movement or progressive. Most of today’s animal control agencies aren’t embracing that community approach. That’s where it stems from. A lot of great resources out there for you to learn, including NACA. I mean I love NACA. I think NACA is the best thing that happened in animal control officers since the dawn of time.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Problem-Oriented Response for Animal Welfare Agencies. 



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