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Animal Health and Public Safety: Community Vision and Improved Management Oversight Needed
By Terry Bray

Public outcry and numerous complaints about the Animal Health and Public Safety Division prompted the City Council to direct the city auditor to conduct an audit of the division.
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BACKGROUND

Kansas City uses a public private partnership to handle the city’s animal control and care services. The city’s Animal Health and Public Safety division (AHPS) is charged with performing and managing animal care and control services for the city. AHPS enforces the city’s animal care and control ordinances. The city contracts with a not-for-profit partner, Kansas City Pet Project (KCPP) that operates the city animal shelter.


DIFFERING VIEWS OF ANIMAL CARE AND CONTROL

Balancing the need for protecting the public’s health and the safety of humans and animals requires great compassion and care. AHPS and KCPP, however, have differing views on how to achieve that balance. AHPS’s focus is on public safety and animal health through enforcement of city ordinances. KC Pet Project focuses on animal welfare, saving lives of healthy and treatable pets. These differing views created tension between the two organizations. This conflict has negatively affected the partners’ communication, trust, and ability to collaborate.


ENFORCEMENT VERSUS EDUCATION

AHPS has made writing citations a priority in how it carries out its mission of improving the overall delivery of animal health through the enforcement of ordinances. Impounding animals for cruelty-neglect violations and writing citations for lack of pet licenses does not always have the intended outcome of resolving a code violation. Less than a third of the animals impounded by AHPS for cruelty-neglect were reclaimed by their owners. Not all owners can afford to pay the impound fees or citations. Educating owners may be more effective in some of these cases. If an owner cited cruelty-neglect simply were to replace the impounded animal with another animal or owns other animals, the cruelty-neglect behaviors may never be addressed or corrected.

Likewise, Kansas City pet owners found guilty of not licensing their pets frequently do not obtain a pet license. Our review of 155 pet owners who were found guilty of not licensing their pets in Kansas City, Missouri found only about half of owners obtained licenses following the citation.
  
Education and field resolution is an emerging practice in animal control. Other municipalities have had success achieving compliance of animal laws through education and connecting people to resources. Some cities have developed programs to educate citizens on responsible pet ownership and given animal control officers tools and resources to resolve problems in the field. Enforcement is still a necessary tool and having animal laws and enforcement processes can help solve animal problems when voluntary compliance does not work.1  

To determine whether AHPS could have opportunities to resolve some violations in the field rather than impounding, we asked a subject expert to review the documentation for five cases where AHPS impounded the animal for a cruelty-neglect violation and the animals were returned to their owners on the same day or next day after impoundment. We asked him whether there were alternatives to impounding that would be more or equally effective for those cases. His review found that in three cases the officers did have alternatives to impoundment. In general, he said it would be better to secure the animal without impounding it, or it would be better to leave the animal and return later to educate the owner.


ENFORCEMENT EFFORTS NOT CONSISTENTLY IMPLEMENTED

Cruelty-neglect cases are not always receiving needed follow-up by the division and follow-up is not always required to ensure violations are fixed. AHPS practice does not require animal control officers to make a follow-up visit to investigate a cruelty-neglect complaint if the officer is not able to view the animal and talk to the owner on the first visit. AHPS policy states if the owner is not at home and the animal has not been observed, an officer will post a notice to the door of the residence informing the owner to contact the office within 24 hours. Management stated that officers do not follow up on these cases if they do not hear back from the owner after 24 hours until they receive another complaint.

Likewise, AHPS does not always require rechecks when needed to ensure animals do not return to the same cruelty-neglect situations. According to AHPS’s policy addressing communication between AHPS and KCPP, officers can choose whether AHPS staff must recheck a property to ensure violations have been abated before the animal can be released to its owner. The policy was not clear on what violations would or would not require a recheck. We found violations that resulted in impound were very similar for cases that officers required a recheck and cases where officers did not require a recheck.

Similarly, in some cases where ACOs left the animal with the owner rather than impound, they did not recheck to confirm animal owners had fixed the violations. We reviewed a sample of 25 cases, investigated by 10 different ACOs, where officers documented that they observed cruelty-neglect violations but did not impound the animal. Eight of the officers did not perform the required recheck on 12 of the cases. When a recheck is not performed, there is no assurance that the owner has followed through and fixed the cruelty-neglect violation.

We also found that the ACOs were not adequately documenting investigations according to division policy. In most cases, the officers did not complete a required investigative report or cruelty checklist and did not include many of the required photographs. We also found that management’s supervision of field activities was not sufficient to ensure proper follow-up and documentation. We brought the lack of investigation to the attention of management prior to the conclusion of the audit and then reviewed an additional sample of cases only to find continued documentation problems.


DANGEROUS DOGS AND BITE QUARANTINES

The AHPS division is not enforcing the city’s dangerous dog registration and licensing requirement and is not consistently following up on some confirmed bite cases to ensure animals are quarantined. The city has ordinances to address dangerous dogs in an effort to protect the community; however, the AHPS division is not enforcing the dangerous dog registration and licensing requirements. Our review of AHPS’s documentation of potentially dangerous and dangerous dog declarations show that since 2011, 16 of 19 owners of potentially dangerous or dangerous dogs who kept their dogs never obtained the license or certification required by the city code. Three owners met the licensing and certification requirements the first year of the declaration, but have not maintained their certification and license in subsequent years. As far as the AHPS knows, the dogs are still in the city. Dangerous dogs that are not adequately supervised and controlled may pose a threat to people and other animals. The registration and licensing requirements on dangerous dog owners imposed by the city help ensure public safety.

Likewise, AHPS is not consistently following up on some confirmed bite cases to ensure animals are quarantined. We identified 12 bite cases between January 1, 2017 and April 30, 2017 where the animal control officer confirmed a dog bite occurred and the dog owner’s name or address was known, but the animal control officers did not ensure the dog was quarantined. Quarantining and observing animals for 10 days following a bite is important because there is no way to test for rabies in live animals and observation is needed to ensure no sign of rabies develop. We found no documentation that AHPS notified the bite victim in these 12 cases that the dog was not quarantined.


ONGOING ANALYSIS OF DATA CAN INFORM MANAGEMENT DECISIONS

Analysis of AHPS data can help evaluate timeliness of Animal Control Officer’s (ACOs) response to calls for service, assess staff scheduling in relation to call volumes, and identify enforcement patterns.

We found that AHPS only reports one of three segments of response time, from the time dispatch of the call to the ACO’s arrival on the scene. This approach doesn’t capture the responsiveness from the caller’s perspective or the amount of time an animal control officer spent on a call. We used AHPS’s response time data to break response time out by segments. Additional data analysis of time spent on calls can be used to assess whether ACOs are allocating their time in a manner that supports division goals and desired outcomes.


ANALYSIS OF CITATION DATA IDENTIFIES PATTERNS IN ENFORCEMENT

AHPS management does not analyze citation data to identify patterns in enforcement activity. Differences in the enforcement rate by violation and ACO can help management determine where to focus education, how each officer is choosing to apply policies, and where AHPS might need policy changes and/or training. Our citation analysis found significant differences in the frequency of citations by ACO. The differences might help identify areas where ACOs are overlooking violations or found more effective ways to address violations. We also found significant differences in the types of violations written by ACOs. Management could determine whether the ACO who is writing many more inadequate animal care citations could use a lower level of enforcement like education that would be just as effective. (See Exhibit 1.) 

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SHARED VISION

We concluded that AHPS, KCPP, and other stakeholders need to create a shared vision for animal care and control in Kansas City, as the current focus on enforcement strategies is not necessarily achieving desired outcomes. Stakeholders should consider incorporating the use of education and field resolution, as other cities have, as an alternative to some enforcement strategies that have not proved successful.


RESPONSE TO THE AUDIT

AHPS has conducted several public meetings to discuss proposed changes to their ordinances. The city is considering outsourcing animal care and control services. The audit generated a lot of media coverage once it was released to the public.

To see the full report, you can find it at: https://webfusion.kcmo.org/coldfusionapps/auditor/showrecord.cfm?ID=933.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Terry Bray is Senior Auditor with the City of Kansas City, Missouri, where he has worked since 2014. He brings 19 years of Public Health experience to the auditor’s office managing the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, the Food Protection program, and as the Quality Services Manager for the HIV Services division. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Central Missouri and a Master of Health Services Administration from the University of Central Michigan.


NOTES

1 Stephen Aronson, Animal Control Management, A New Look at Public Responsibility, Purdue University Press, 2010