[BLOG] The compulsive “animal petter”: why it is a threat & how to prevent this in shelters


There is a story I like to tell when I visit our shelter partners, it’s about this discussion I had a while ago now with a shelter manager. She was telling me about “compulsive petters” (understand “people who love to pet animals anytime anyplace”).  This was an issue she had in her shelter: “Volunteers, visitors, staff members… Everybody wants to pet our animals. But between each dog or cat they will pet, nobody will really take any precaution. ” And I understand her concerns.

Indeed, think about it:

–          Shelters are predisposed environments for infectious diseases to spread because of new animals entering the facility on a regular basis, many of them without any medical records/history.

–          Many of the most common pathogens encountered in shelters can be found on the animals’ coats (parvovirus, calicivirus, giardia and coccidian cysts, ringworm spores).

–          Many of these pathogens (in fact all the ones I previously mentioned) can resist in the environment.

Therefore, just by petting an animal carrying a pathogen on its coat, we can pass it on to another one and make it sick if we take no specific precautions. And this even if the animals we pet appears to be healthy. Because “Flully’s germs may be harmless for Fluffy, but they might get Tigger sick”. Definitely not easy to control ourselves: if we like animals, somehow, we are all “compulsive petters” as well. That’s something we must however fight in shelters because this is an essential part to prevent diseases spreading.

For shelter staff/volunteers, time should be spent educating them on these precautions they must take (like washing hands between each animals housed separately, wearing gloves when handling sick animals,…). In these facilities, there are never enough signs to remind people they should wash their hands.

For visitors, it is a little bit more complicated. I often see signs saying “Please do not touch the animals” but we all know that only few visitors do respect them. A volunteer was recently telling that “it is totally impossible to be in a room with animals and not touching them if you’re an animal lover.” I guess he was right, and except if you have somebody in the adoption room all the time to watch for it, chances are high that “compulsive petters” will strike again. One solution I really like consists in using windows between the animals and the public. More expensive for sure (and that’s often why many shelters cannot go for this solution), but this definitely offers better protection in a shelter environment.

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