BOOKS: National Animal Control Training Guide

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2001:
National Animal Control Association Training Guide
NACA (P.O. Box 480851, Kansas City, MO 64148), 2001. 370 pages, spiral binding. $50.00.

The most influential book about animal care-and-control ever written, at the practical level, was the 1989 first edition of the National Animal Control Association Training Guide. It brought together for the very first time the corpus of knowledge about animal care-and-control “best practice,” as learned on the job by several dozen of the most respected animal care-and-control personnel in the U.S., and swiftly became “The Book” at public animal shelters not just across the U.S. but around the world.

Since 1989, to go “by The Book” has meant literally going by the NACA recommendations, reinforced at countless seminars using the NACA Training Guide as a text. “The Book” consisted of four main sections, covering animal care-and-control law, animal handling skills, occupational and public safety, and communications, plus a supplemental chapter by the late Leo K. Bustad on “The Significance of the Human/Animal Bond for Animal Control Personnel.”

At the time, “The Book” seemed enormously progressive, because the majority of animal care-and-control personnel were still trained almost entirely by senior people within their own departments. The annual American Humane Association conference was the only training event routinely attracting a few hundred participants. Animal care-and-control was still largely a matter of catch-and-kill. So far as anyone knew, the numbers of dogs and cats to be captured and killed each year were still going up. The techniques of high-volume adoption, high-volume sterilization, neuter/return, and care-for-life sheltering had not yet been popularized.

The most urgent concern at gatherings of animal care-and-control people seemed to be the “dogcatcher” stereotype, which had been reinvigorated during the late 1970s and early 1980s by the activist campaigns to abolish the use of decompression chambers to kill animals and abolish the sale of dogs and cats to laboratories. Such gatherings tended to take place mainly in smoky saloons, where animal care-and-control staff tried to drink away frustration and depression resulting from too many years of killing too many animals.

So much has changed during the past decade that even though most of the advice in the 1989 NACA Training Guide is still sound, some sections are glaring artifacts of the “bad old days.” Most notorious are the pages on how to build a box to facilitate anonymous drop-offs of unwanted pets. Night drop-off boxes may have prevented millions of animal abandonments along roadsides and in public parks, but they also signify a “throwaway” attitude toward animals which tends to make the pet overpopulation problem worse instead of better.

The progressive approach today is to oblige the person with an unwanted litter to make direct contact with the shelter, and while accepting the puppies or kittens, arranging at the same time to sterilize the mother (and father, if possible).

The 2001 NACA Training Guide emulates the structure of the 1989 edition, but much of the content is new. The difference is most marked in the replacement of a chapter entitled “Animal Return and Placement Guidelines,” by then-Humane Society of the U.S. staff Phyllis Wright and Barbara Cassidy, with just “Animal Placement Guidelines,” by Pam Burney and Darlene Larson.
While Wright and Cassidy emphasized why various people should not have pets, Burney and Larson emphasize working with local nonprofit animal rescue organizations to get the right sort of pet into each home. Wright and Cassidy anticipated adoption failure; Burney and Larson anticipate helping adoptors resolve problems with their newly acquired pets. Wright and Cassidy were stern; Burney and Larson are upbeat, sounding like people who now enjoy their jobs.

The most important all-new section may be “Developing an Animal Disaster Plan,” by Lorraine A. Moule. Back in 1989 the AHA offered the only trained animal disaster relief team in the U.S., and what it could do was more symbolic than substantial. Now at least three national organizations send well-equiped animal rescue specialists to disaster sites, and a fourth organization, United Animal Nations, trains hundreds of volunteers in disaster relief each year, mobilizing dozens whenever and wherever needed.

The strengths of the NACA Training Guide are still there, while the outdated material has been updated. Animal care-and-control training, neglected in 1989, is now a growth industry served by at least four national conferences and dozens of regional conferences, plus two university curriculums, but “The Book” is likely to remain the most used reference in the field, and now it is again up to the demands of the job.

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