Optimizing team effort and driving up standards.

December 2012

The most important thing I tell all my staff is "Never think that what you are doing is right! There is always a better way of doing it!" No matter how good we may think we are and no matter how perfect we may think our centres are there is always room for improvement. The day we stop searching for improvements is the day we should give up and go home.

It is this attitude that drives our centre and every member of staff from the most junior kennel staff to my most senior vets are told this. All my staff know I am delighted to listen to their ideas on how to improve things and how to make the centre more efficient and cost effective. There is a sad attitude that prevails in that management tends to think they are right and don't stop to listen to their junior staff. However, it is the junior staff that does the hard work on a daily basis and they are the best ones to come forward with ideas if they are encouraged to do so. If the only positive thing that comes out of this article is to get Senior Managers to listen to their most junior staff then this article has not been a waste of my time.

As regards the design and running of a centre there are a number of key issues that need to be seriously addressed. Obviously the health of the animals has to be paramount and hygiene is vital. However, there is one other important issue that directly affects the psychological and physical health of the animals at the centre and that is STRESS! Stress can also directly affect the physiological health of the animals in that it can lead to the collapse of the immune system which makes the animal vulnerable to disease and delays the recovery of animals after surgery.

Stress or fear is regretfully something we all have to inflict upon an animal in order to sterilize them or treat them. This fear or out right terror in many cases inflicts far more suffering on the animal than any veterinary procedure we may perform on it. There is no doubt in my mind that mental suffering is far worse than physical suffering. It is for this reason that we make the control of mental suffering a high priority on our list of key issues. Mental or psychological suffering can display itself in a number of ways including behavioral depression, stereotypic behavior (including self harm) and aggression.

Every aspect of our work is constantly reviewed to see how we can reduce stress at every stage from the catching of an animal right round to the release of the animal. Once caught every animal is immediately put in a transport cage that has been brought as close to the point of capture as possible. The quicker we can remove whatever form of physical restraint used to catch the animal the better. It then is transported to our centre in its own cage to avoid stress from fighting or the threat of injury from other more aggressive animals. On arrival at the centre dogs and cats are carried to their kennel or cattery in these cages to avoid further stress and unnecessary handling.

When dealing with animals in stressful situations there is one indispensible tool in our armory and that is something so many people find it amazingly hard to use, the human voice! Talking in a soft gentle voice can work wonders in calming an animal down but it astounds me how few people working with animals do it. The number of times I shout at my staff for not using their voice to calm an animal is beyond my comprehension. Even most vets fail badly in this elementary task! Thankfully by now all my vets and virtually every member of staff, including office staff, have learnt this important lesson but new staff still take an amazing amount of time to come to terms with this basic concept.

When any staff member enters the kennels or cattery they are expected to talk to the animals. Just a brief kind word whilst passing their pen can work wonders. With badly traumatized animals we ensure a member of staff sits with the animal to try and reassure it and calm it down.

Another important aspect aimed at reducing stress and making our lives easier is that in the time the animals are with us we try to ensure they become friendly so that on release they are not terrified when we approach them. Thankfully substantial numbers of the animals we release actually come running to our staff when they see them as they know they will be given a treat. All our vehicles carry plastic containers with biscuits in as this is good PR from the dogs point of view! We also employ staff to walk the dogs and are lucky in that we have also built up a well trained team of volunteers who help walk the dogs and sit with traumatized animals. It is amazing how all this helps.

To illustrate how effective our policy of befriending dogs is we have just been through our local village of Vagator and re-vaccinated all the street dogs. We vaccinated 41 dogs of which 39 came to our staff when called and only 2 had to be caught on the dog pole. The two that had to be caught were both easy to catch and settled down instantly without panic at being caught and wagged their tails when released having first been patted and made a fuss of.

We even have a very simple tag system on all the cages to ensure that every dog gets walked and none that can be walked are missed. On every kennel there is a tag with red on one side and yellow on the other. Outside the kennel block we have a sign saying "Walking red" or "Walking yellow." If it says red it means that every dog with a red tag needs walking and when the dog is walked the tag is turned over to the yellow side. Once there are no more red tags the sign outside the kennels is turned over to read "Walking Yellow" and so the whole process starts again.

In addition to the above we have other tags that are put on the kennel doors to indicate specific things. A red and black tag indicates that the animal is nervous or dangerous and that volunteers are not permitted to handle it or go in with it without specific permission. A blue and black tag indicates the dog cannot be walked because of a veterinary reason. Another tag indicates how many feed the animal is to be given or if it is not to be fed. All these are very simplistic but they make every ones job easy which is what it should all be about.

The biggest problem with any business is ensuring standards are maintained and this is even more vital when dealing with animals. It is a fact that us humans are basically lazy! If we can find a short cut that saves us effort then it is only human nature that we take it! Knowing this it is vital that the management has a way of establishing where things are going wrong. To maintain standards at our centre I along with my staff have written a very detailed "Quality Manual." This manual lays down clear and precise procedures for everything from catching a dog, to cleaning the kennels to even setting out what anesthetic are used for specific operations. Our accountancy policies are written down, control of visitors and volunteers are stipulated, the disciplinary procedures are there, in fact every aspect of our operating procedures are minutely detailed.

Armed with this information it is easy for myself, senior staff and section managers to check everything is carried out in accordance with the "Quality Manual." However this manual is not written in stone and it is constantly being updated and revised. The manual is very often the catalyst of change because whilst reviewing procedure we are constantly discussing with our staff if there is a better way of doing things. Which neatly brings me back to my very first point.



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