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Shortcomings at Milwaukee Animal Control - Cat Socialization

Milwaukee Animal Control killed 3353 cats through November 2012 when simple, inexpensive life-saving alternatives were available.

This is the fifth installment in a series of ten blogs outlining current issues and problems at Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC). Today I am going to focus on the cancellation of the cat socialization program at MADACC.

As you can see in the chart above, MADACC has killed 3353 cats in 2012 through November 30th. In November alone, 272 cats were killed. Cat intake typically declines in the fall and winter months. Well-functioning animal shelters around the country are implementing methods to save lives. But MADACC is not a well-functioning animal shelter.

Stress in shelter cats causes a weakened immune systems and vulnerability to upper respiratory diseases that makes cats sick. Sick cats are usually the first to be killed. But one of the main ways to relieve stress in shelter cats is to provide them with socialization and enrichment opportunities. Cat socialization is a cheap and easy way to prevent cats from getting sick. A happier cat has a stronger immune system. Volunteers can be enlisted to socialize cats and enrich their lives; thereby saving their lives.

The Guideline for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters produced by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians (2010) has a whole section on Behavioral Health and Mental Well-Being.  In it it clearly states:

Enrichment should be given the same significance as other components of animal care and should not be considered optional.

But at MADACC, socialization by volunteers for shelter cats is non-existent. The cat socialization program was discontinued by the veterinarian, Dr. Gutting.  Apparently the reason was to reduce disease transmission. Sort of like the chicken and the egg.  Since socialization and enrichment boost immunity, why discontinue it? Wouldn't it be better to just make sure that volunteers and staff are adhering to good sanitation practices?

This is another statement from the ASVMA Shelter Guidelines:

Animals should receive some type of positive social interaction outside of the activities of feeding and cleaning on a daily basis (e.g walking, playing, grooming, petting, etc.)  

In the UC Davis Report (an assessment of MADACC procedures), these were just two of the problems noted in the Feline Welfare, Stress Reduction and Enrichment section:

Significant sources of stress include: absence of social interaction (with humans); cages of insufficient size to permit virtually any normal behavior such as walking, jumping or stretching; lack of separation of food/resting area/elimination area; lack of an appropriate scratching surface; and delayed recognition and treatment of disease

Cats are approved for socialization on an inconsistent and apparently random basis.

And the Recommendations:

Provide cats with positive human interaction for a minimum of 20 minutes per day. This may include playing, petting, grooming, talking to the cat. Most cats are motivated to gain human social interaction; providing it reduces their stress.

..remove them from their enclosures once daily and take them to a location where they can run, play, scratch a scratching post (use disposable surfaces, such as cardboard scratchers, or scratching surfaces that you can hang against a wall or doorknob. ‗Quiet time‘, where the cats are allowed to sit with a person and RELAX, may be beneficial in reducing stress, especially with fearful and anxious cats. Sitting with a cat and talking/reading to them (but not otherwise interacting directly with them) may decrease their fear and anxiety related to living in a stressful place.

Even though these problems had been clearly noted by the UC Davis assessors, the current MADACC veterinarian, Dr. Gutting still chose to discontinue the volunteer cat socialization program.

On Saturday, December 15, MADACC hosted a cat adoption event where 30 cats were adopted out in just a few hours. Clearly, there is a market for socialized, adoptable cats in Milwaukee. Reinstating the volunteer cat socialization program could save lives.

From the contract that MADACC holds with the 19 municipalities of Milwaukee County:

Scope and Extent of Services, Exhibit C reads:
1. (c) Comply with State law with regard to shelter and care: will use euthanasia only as a last resort.

MADACC is currently not using euthanasia as a last resort and thereby not fulfilling its contract. They are using it as a first resort, instead of implementing the suggestions and recommendations that have been made to them in the UC Davis Report. They are not even meeting the minimum guidelines set out in the ASVMA Shelter Guidelines.

If you are a resident of Milwaukee County and are concerned about how your tax dollars are being spent and how your community's animals are being treated I suggest that you contact your alderman or elected official.  Thank you for caring.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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