Webinar presenter Nina Stively answered a number of your questions after her presentation, When the Evidence Wags Its Tail. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: What is the best way to retrain staff on some of these best practices in documenting behavior and physical condition?
Nina Stively: I think that a big part of it has to be when you bring them on because it’s so much easier to create good habits and to break bad ones. But if you already have folks who perhaps have not necessarily integrated best practices, I will start with rewriting some of your policies and procedures. Make sure it’s in writing so that it is not an option for folks to take pictures. It is not an option for people to write notes objectively. If that is part of their performance plan and their work expectations, then it is a little bit more difficult for you to hold them to it. So, once you’ve done that, get them together and do some practice sessions. And make it fun if you can. If somebody’s got a fat dog at home, bring that dog in and have them body score it. If you have some skinny dogs, come in over at your shelter, say, “Hey, will you just give our office a call and let us know the next time you get some skinny dogs in because we’re practicing body condition scoring, get some hands-on effort.” Do some fun practice. Set up a mock crime scene at your shelter, and take an hour into a brown bag lunch, and just practice documenting things. Give out a little prize. Give out a $5 Starbucks gift card to whoever writes the most thorough report. Any way you can kind of engage people and help them see the value and give them the opportunity to practice these good tricks, the better it will be for everyone in the agency.
Audience Question: I’ve always been told to use the Tufts Animal Care and Condition Scale. Is it not as good? Could you share more details on why the Nestle Purina Scale is your preferred choice?
Nina Stively: Sure, I think that the Purina scale is just easier, and it is more widespread. I recognize at Tufts is often used by veterinarians. And by those when north-east I started my shelter career in the north-east, and with Tufts being based up there, it’s completely understandable because they are exceptional. I think that Nestle is just easier for laymen, and many people in our profession do not have access to a veterinarian, as we saw about 30% of the people in this group do not have access to a veterinarian. I think the Purina Scale leaves less to interpretation. And, it’s just is easier for beginners and for laypeople. And you have to keep in mind that in the court system, most people are laypeople when it comes to animal welfare and animal body conditions, So you want to be able to use language and show them a pretty colorful chart that they can use and understand.
Audience Question: I’ve been told never to give a body condition score unless the person giving the body condition score has had training in body score conditioning animals. Do you think being able to articulate what you’re seeing using the Purina condition is enough to have a report?
Nina Stively: I think if you don’t have access to formal training, then it’s going to have to be. In an ideal situation, you should have formal training through a State Academy or a veterinary school, the reality is that most of us don’t have access to that training. If you can go to, maybe, there’s a neighboring agency that has some experienced officers who can walk you through some body condition scoring, that would be considered training. There isn’t a day-long class out there in body condition scoring. So, if folks are waiting for that class to appear before doing body condition scoring. Don’t. Try to just get your hands on animals and practice as much as you can, and, and run it off of somebody who is more experienced than you to see what they think. It’s ok to give a range if the animal. if the score goes from 1 to 9, the animal is really skinny, but I don’t think they’re quite a one, it’s okay to say one to two out of nine, based on my knowledge and experience. Don’t be hesitant to try and use your tools, because if you don’t have the opportunity to practice them, then they’re just going to go by the wayside. You’re not ever going to have the chance to practice them. So, if, if I don’t know where you are, but if you’re local to us, we’re happy to have you come out and we can walk you through it. We’ve got a vet on staff and we’ve got some great officers who are well experienced. But check with some of your larger agencies because some of those officers have been to trainings where there has been somebody who’s formally instructed in that and it will give you the opportunity to get some practice.
Audience Question: Could you say that they are showing feral behavior?
Nina Stively: You could but what is that? really because a feral cat for the most part, if we’re talking about cats, I mean, if we’re talking about dogs like in the south-west of the feral dogs, I think that’s probably a different conversation. But if we’re talking about feral cats, as most of us would be. I think, what is feral behavior to you? To me? Feral behaviors they’re hiding in a box. Who else hides in a box usually? Usually, it’s your spoiled house cat when Aunt Nana passes away and you get two of her 12-year-old cats. They also hide in the box. When you go in to get them, they might hiss. A confident young cat in that situation might behave in a different way. But saying they have feral behavior. I think feral unfortunately is kind of subjective, depending on who you are talking to, in their level of knowledge and experience. So, I try to stay away from feral whenever possible. I describe more of the behavior as just because it’s safer. And we all know that there have been cats that you think that count is a trip, that cat is no joke. And then, you know, mom walks up, and all of a sudden, the cat’s rubbing around your legs, no big deal. So, cats are tough when it comes to behavior, so, whenever possible, would prefer to describe exactly what I am seeing because you will look like a fool if somebody shows a picture of them cuddling the cat that you just described as feral. So, don’t put yourself in that position.
Audience Question: What rights do you have as an animal control officer to take a photo inside or around someone’s house?
Nina Stively: Well, you shouldn’t be inside the house without them. If they let you in the house, then it would fall under plain View. So, be aware of any local or state restrictions you might have on plain view. Make sure if you are not a sworn law enforcement officer that you are being accompanied by somebody who is or has been trained in this law by somebody who is. If you are outside, then, again, probably plain view. I’d be really careful about looking over fences and windows, things like that. Those would not be something I would typically recommend unless it is necessary, completely vital to your investigation if you’re trying to figure out if an animal’s abandoned and you’re trying to locate an offense to post something like that. So, I would be extremely cautious if you do not have plain view doctrine training and taking photos inside of a premises.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of When the Evidence Wags Its Tail.