Have You Rescued Dogs in the Wake of A Disaster?

Setting box trap in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans

Have you captured or gathered dogs in a disaster response? I would like to hear from you. I made three trips to Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina at the request of the Humane Society of the US and have great respect for those who respond to disaster situations.

I remember working in the city of New Orleans as the waters receded.  You could look down the flat neighborhood streets still under water with empty houses as far as you can see.    As the sun set we were leaving the city,  a few scattered lights from generators lit a window or two throughout the tall complex of the downtown area.  And during the whole time there was a sweet stench from the water which contained everything under the kitchen sink and more.

Training Boxtrapping During Disaster Response

Most of the local people I proudly worked with had lost their homes.  It was remarkable they were even there.  And they worked so exhausted that their short nights rest could not soothe them.  We did not know when the next meal would be – dependent and grateful for the styrofoam boxed food from Red Cross.

These are extremely challenging conditions for the people rescuing dogs.  Exhausted, they often place themselves in threatening situations handling defensive dogs they typically would not handle.

One of the purposes of my blog and website is to provide practical, effective, and safe methods and equipment for the disaster responder. Hopefully as a result of this information more animals will be rescued, fewer rescuers will be bitten, and the experience will be better for everyone.

Disaster responders:  What dogs have been dangerous or difficult for you to capture and rescue?  What situations have you been in that were challenging for you to catch dogs?  We would like to hear your stories and needs.



I am excited to announce that I will be teaching a two day humane feral dog handling course in Springfield, Massachusetts specifically for the animal control officer, shelter worker, and disaster responder.  This is the most extensive course in handling fearful dogs. This is an essential course for professionals addressing hoarding cases, responding to disasters, handling fearful dogs in shelters, assisting with trap/neuter/release programs, and rescuing dogs in general.

This course is a product of my experience handling over 2,000 feral dogs throughout the world including the Caribbean, India, tribal lands, and rescue operations after Hurricane Katrina.

O Connor dog course Announcement Here are details about the course.  The course is limited to 40 people. Visit our website Seminar Schedule for more information and for registering.   Either register on-line or by mail.  Feel free to contact me if you have any questions  at mjohnson (at) wildliferesources (dot) org.

Please note:  I will also be teaching this humane feral dog capture course in Seattle in June, 2010. The specific dates and locations are yet to be determined.


Physical Restraint for Dogs. Part 1 The Scruff

Around the world, feral or street dogs are often handled strictly with equipment such as snare poles or nets.  In India, I once trained some great young men who were dog catchers for a spay/neuter program who had never touched a dog!  They had only caught and transported street dogs with nets. They were great at it!  But they only recognized one kind of dog – in their eyes every dog was the same  and they never attempted to use softer methods for capturing the friendlier dogs.

The body structure and behavior of the dog allows us to physically restrain them with our hands.  This is unlike cats which require equipment, equipment, equipment!  Physical restraint is a valuable tool for the dog handler.  When we get confident to safely and humanely handle dogs with our hands, it gives us options to first try softer capture methods such as catching with a leash when it is safe to do so.  It also gives us versatility for what we can do when the dog is in hand.  Good physical restraint requires a calm dominance.   Even when the dog is struggling in your hands, be calm and give compassion.   Dog handlers should be confident in applying several types  in order to be versatile in successfully and humanely capturing dogs.  These types of restraint include: the scruff, lateral restraint, and hobbling.   Part 1 talks about the scruff.

The Scruff


Here is how to properly scruff a dog. To safely control the dog you must control the head.  Many people do not think much about how to do a proper scruff and can compromise the safety of the dog and the handler.  Also read my previous blog entry about the Energy of Conflict.

Proper Two-Handed Scruff

The full scruff is a two-handed hold on the dog’s head.   Each ear of the dog should be in the notch of your thumb and the thumbs are parallel on the top of the dogs head pointing forward.  Stretch your fingers of each hand toward the corner of the mouth (be careful not to get bit) and curl your fingers to gather up the skin of his cheeks.  It should make him grin.

Keep the ears deep in the notch against your thumb to get the most control.  Do not let your fingers point to his neck.  If you do, you will gather his neck skin which can choke him.  People have a habit of shaking the dogs head as if to get a better grip.  Do not do this. Not even once. You are sending a message to the dog that you are it’s opponent and wishing to create a fight.  Compassionate animal handling is not only the right thing to do, it makes our work safer and easier!

Physical restraint should not be just physical.  And physical restraint should not be the same as fighting the animal. It should be combined with heart-felt compassion.  Think of using it as a strategy to kindly move the animal into a position you need to do your work.  Maybe you need to examine a surgical wound after sterilizing it or giving it antibiotics, or moving it into another pen without a crate. Continue reading