Given the relatively narrow focus of community cat programs (CCPs) and the pressures involved in such work, it can be easy for staff and volunteers to sacrifice their own safety in the process. By its very nature, fieldwork is never risk-free. However, a balance can be struck — allowing staff and volunteers to work effectively trapping and returning cats, while at the same time maintaining a high degree of safety.
This guide was created with this balance in mind, and is based on protocols used by Best Friends staff and volunteers in CCPs across the country.
The primary objective of field safety protocols is to keep CCP staff and volunteers safe at all times. Best Friends recommends using the situational awareness color code system (see below) in all aspects of field operations. Staff would also benefit from being certified in basic CPR and first aid through the American Red Cross or American Heart Association (and be recertified as necessary).
The follow guide is intended to help CCP staff and volunteers develop and maintain field safety protocols appropriate to the duties associated with trapping and returning cats in the community.
C.A.T. field safety system. For safety in the field, follow the instructions below, which use the mnemonic C.A.T. (communicate, assess and take action).
- Before volunteering, emergency contact information must be on file for all CCP volunteers.
- Volunteers and staff members must have exchanged phone numbers before volunteers go into the field. Volunteers should also have the direct line to the appropriate animal control agency saved in their contacts.
- Check-in and check-out process for CCP staff and volunteers in the field: (1) Send a text message at the beginning of each shift to a pre-determined staff member, providing the locations of areas where you are trapping or returning cats, as well as estimated time required. (2) Send a text message at the end of the shift to verify your safety.
- Before going into the field, staff and volunteers discuss the tasks to be completed so that everyone understands what they will be doing and where. Volunteers understand that they may ask questions, raise concerns and give feedback at any time. Conduct briefing and debriefing sessions for field personnel to discuss any “red flags” or areas of concern, and to help prioritize potential threats.
- Weather conditions should be checked and acknowledged before leaving.
- A checklist of needs (proper attire, cell phones with pertinent contacts, flashlight, etc.) should also be reviewed. (See “Trapping Protocols” for a checklist example.)
- Use the situational awareness color code system (see below) whenever operating in the field.
- When at the field site, before, during and after trapping: Survey the area for potential threats or risks before getting out of the vehicle and starting work. Threats include hostile people, aggressive or loose dogs inside or outside a yard, and debris such as broken glass or needles. Pay particular attention to areas prone to high conflict.
- Use the “buddy system.” If possible, use neighborhood watch groups in areas where safety is of serious concern.
- Rely on support from law enforcement officers and/or animal control officers when dealing with people known to be hostile and when working in areas where safety is of serious concern. Develop relationships with law enforcement officers and/or animal control officers in advance, and have relevant phone numbers programmed into mobile phones. For additional information, see Conflict Resolution for the Animal Welfare Field and “Solutions to Cat-Related Issues.”
- Look around the environment for possible escape routes in case of an emergency and always plan for an escape route. For example, on dead-end streets or cul-de-sacs, always park the vehicle facing the exit and ensure that there’s easy access to the driver’s seat).
- Be aware of distractions that may cause you to take your focus off the environment. For example, if you need to talk on the phone, go to a location where you have 360 degrees of visibility. Never listen to headphones while in areas where safety is of serious concern.
- Know the exact address and cross streets you would give to a 911 operator if an emergency occurred.
- Keep the vehicle’s windows up while in areas where safety is of serious concern.
- Lock the doors after exiting the vehicle, as well as when you’re in the vehicle (whether driving or not).
- Based on the assessment of the work area, either begin work for the day (if the assessment suggests that it’s safe to do so) or leave the area for a safer location. If you and your team have decided it’s safe to remain in the area, continue to be aware of the environment, animals and people nearby at all times.
- Avoid entering a residence regardless of threat assessment. For example, instead of walking through a house to get to its backyard, ask to use a side gate. If a resident has already trapped the cats, have him or her bring the cats out to the CCP vehicle rather than going inside the residence.
- If you find yourself in an unsafe situation, get inside the vehicle and lock the doors before making any emergency calls. Call 911; do not attempt to use 311 for emergencies.
Personal protective equipment (PPE). Each staff person or volunteer should have a mobile phone with one or more ICE (in case of emergency) contacts programmed into the list of contacts. (A quick online search will reveal instructions for how to add ICE contacts to particular models of mobile phones, including those with password-protected screens.) Phone numbers that should be available on “speed dial” include:
- All team members
- Check-in number (for checking in and out text message)
- 911 (or other emergency number)
- Local dispatch or animal services
- Neighborhood watch (if available)
Other PPE that team members should have:
- Two-way radios, if two or more team members are working together (and not side-by-side)
- A safety whistle that’s immediately accessible (e.g., around your neck, in a pocket) and an air horn or pepper (also called OC or oleoresin capsicum) spray (Note: Training is required for pepper/OC spray, as is a review of local ordinances.)
- High-lumen flashlight, carried at all times (This very bright but small flashlight can be used to illuminate potential threats and hazards or signal for help. This is a safety tool, to be carried in addition to one’s “everyday” utility flashlight.)
- Sunblock, as necessary
Animal-handling PPE. The following equipment should be on hand for animal handling:
- Gloves and arm guards appropriate for the situation (e.g., welding gloves, leather gloves, Kevlar, TurtleSkin). Gloves and arm guards are available in different levels of protection, depending on the activity (more dexterity with less protection vs. more protection with less dexterity).
- Nets and other capture equipment that limits hazards to staff and volunteers when capturing animals. Use this equipment only when absolutely necessary.
Always take bites seriously. Cat bites are 10 times more likely than other animal bites to become infected. If you are bitten or scratched, wash the wound immediately, and see your personal physician for further care.
While the risk of disease transmission during trapping is extremely rare, there are a few things we recommend to limit your potential exposure. (Protection from diseases is another reason to wear the recommended clothing and footwear.) You should always wear latex gloves if you will be exposed to feces, and wash your hands thoroughly after handling each cat and when cleaning traps or litter boxes. To minimize the risk of transmitting a disease or parasites to your own pets, we strongly recommend that you change your clothes and shoes as soon as you arrive home. See the appendix for detailed information about protective equipment for animal-handling.
Proper attire. When in the field, you should always be dressed in logo-wear — preferably high-visibility colors with your organization’s name and, when possible, the program name printed on the back. For use during nighttime activities, and near high-traffic and high-risk areas, you should have a reflective or high-visibility-color vest with organization and program names printed on the back. (Yellow is the best color for overall visibility, day or night.)
You should also wear a lanyard with a laminated ID card that includes the following information:
- Organization’s name and address
- Project, program or initiative name
- Photo of yourself
- Your name
- Emergency contact information
In addition, be sure to wear closed-toe shoes (suitable for walking, running, etc.) and weather-appropriate clothing (e.g., rain gear, warm coat in the winter). To accommodate all of your safety tools (flashlight, whistle, pepper spray, etc.), it’s a good idea to wear cargo pants with a lot of pockets or a backpack or fanny pack. Do not wear expensive or valuable clothing or accessories, including items like sunglasses or jewelry that you wouldn’t want damaged or lost.
Vehicles. Here’s some information about CCP vehicles:
- Before going into the field, CCP vehicles must be running well, with no outstanding mechanical issues.
- Door locks must be automatic and in good working order.
- All CCP vehicles must have a full emergency roadside kit (e.g., fire extinguisher, jumper cables, Fix-a-Flat or similar tire repair system, reflective roadside triangles, zip ties, duct tape, jack and tire iron, spare tire, chemical “light sticks,” flashlight, water, blanket).
- Each vehicle should have weather-appropriate items in the roadside kit (e.g., blankets in winter, extra water in summer).
- A spare key should be hidden in a consistent location on each CCP vehicle (and staff must be aware of the location in case of emergencies).
- All CCP vehicles must contain a basic medical kit. The medical kits should be restocked after each use and checked on a quarterly basis to replace medications that have expired. (See the appendix for a list of recommended contents.)
- CCP staff and volunteers are responsible for doing a vehicle check prior to driving. (Create a checklist if needed.) Items to be checked include proper tire inflation; proper operation of lights, turn signals and door locks (including the remote keyless entry device on the key ring); and presence of emergency roadside and medical kits.
- Each vehicle should have drinking water (for human and animal consumption) in case of emergencies.
- Each vehicle should have a CCP logo (magnetic or vinyl).
- Don’t leave any valuables (even spare change) visible in the vehicle.
The situational awareness color code system has less to do with tactical situations than with one’s state of mind. It relates to the degree of danger you are willing to respond to, and allows you to move from one mindset to another in order to properly handle a given situation. By using this color code system, you will be less susceptible to “tunnel vision,” and instead be aware of your entire environment. Color coding is as follows:
- White: Unaware and unprepared. If attacked in Condition White, the only thing that may save you is the inadequacy or ineptitude of your attacker. When confronted by something dangerous, your reaction will probably be “Oh, no! This can’t be happening to me.”
- Yellow: Relaxed alert, no specific threat situation. You are simply aware that the world is a potentially unfriendly place and you are prepared to defend yourself, if necessary. You use your eyes and ears, and realize, “I may have to defend myself today.” You should always be in Condition Yellow whenever you are in unfamiliar surroundings or among people you don’t know. You can remain in Condition Yellow for long periods, as long as you’re able to “watch your six” (i.e., be aware of what’s behind you rather than focusing only on what’s in front of you). In Condition Yellow, you are taking in surrounding information in a relaxed but alert manner, like a continuous 360-degree radar sweep.
- Orange: Specific alert. Something is not quite right and has your attention. Your radar has picked up a specific alert. Your mindset shifts to focusing on the specific threat that has caused the escalation in alert status (but without “dropping your six”). In Condition Orange, you set a mental trigger: “If that person does ‘x,’ I will need to take action (e.g., stop him, leave the premises).” Remaining in Condition Orange can be a bit of a mental strain, but you can probably maintain it for longer than you think. If the threat proves to be nothing, you shift back to Condition Yellow.
- Red: In Condition Red, you’ve identified a specific threat to you or your team. Your mental trigger (established back in Condition Orange) has been tripped, and it’s now necessary to take action (again, anticipated while still in Condition Orange).
1) Safety Equipment Details
Handling cats who may not want to be handled by people can be dangerous work resulting in injury. To help you stay safe and protected, we’ve compiled this information about safety equipment you’ll want to have on hand.
Level 1: Offers a base layer of protection, with very little bite or scratch resistance but full dexterity. Gloves made of Kevlar or other synthetic materials can include coverage for your forearms. This level of protection also offers less insulation, allowing for extended wear during summer months. Options include:
Level 2: Offers more bite and scratch resistance (especially when worn with Level 1 gloves), but less dexterity. Level 2 gloves are made of leather or synthetic materials and can include extended forearm coverage. Options include:
- Animal Care Equipment and Services’ duty gloves with Spectra lining, animal-care.com
- TurtleSkin full coverage gloves (a lightweight, high-puncture-resistant glove to be worn over a Level 1 glove), turtleskin.com
For a less expensive option, leather work gloves can be used. They provide base level protection but less dexterity.
Level 3: Offers the best bite and scratch protection, but very little or no dexterity. Level 3 gloves can be worn with Level 1 gloves for extra bite and scratch protection as well as crush protection. Here are a couple of options made with leather or synthetic materials, with extended forearm coverage:
- Animal Care Equipment and Services’ Humaniac Maxia gloves, animal-care.com
- Animal Care Equipment and Services’ Bitebuster gloves, animal-care.com
- HexArmor Hercules 400R6E gloves, hexarmor.com (for extreme protection with moderate dexterity)
Typical welding gloves also meet Level 3 criteria but have less bite and scratch protection and very little crush protection.
As with gloves, there are three levels of protection for arm guards. Choosing which level of protection is needed depends on the activities being done, the species of animal being handled, the level of resistance of the animals and environmental considerations.
Level 1: Lightweight and easy to wear, but offer limited bite and scratch protection. Made of synthetic materials, these gloves can be worn under clothing and in hot climates for an extended period of time. Options include:
Level 2: Medium-weight, easy to wear after broken in, but with substantial bite and scratch protection. They come in leather or synthetic materials and can be worn under some clothing. They are not easily worn for extended periods of time in certain environments. Options include:
Level 3: Made from heavyweight synthetic material and offer maximum bite and scratch protection and the best crush protection, but are difficult to wear. They cannot be worn under clothing due to their cumbersome design. Options include:
Animal capture and other safety equipment
Nets. Animal Care Equipment and Services’ Versa-Net is Best Friends’ primary net for emergency operations, as it can be stored easily and deployed quickly. The Freeman Cage Net is a larger alternative to the Versa-Net but is very user-friendly. It is ideal for cats, reptiles and more. The Throw Net is very useful for larger animals (e.g., loose dogs) and can be stored as part of the emergency roadside kit (see below). All of these nets can be purchased at animal-care.com.
Sacks. Evacsacs (evacpet.com) are a better alternative than pillowcases for feline, reptile and small mammals, and offer better ventilation.
Whistles and headlamps. Rescue Source Store (rescuesourcestore.com) is a good place to buy these items.
High-lumen flashlights. The more lumens, the better the light will be for safety purposes. Anything over 100 lumens is a good safety tool. There are multiple manufacturers of these tactical lights, so shop around for the best deal. Two good resources are 511tactical.com (for less expensive but good quality lights) and surefire.com (for more expensive but the highest quality lights).
Apparel. There are dozens of companies that offer good apparel for field operations. L.A. Police Gear (lapolicegear.com) is a great resource for quality equipment (from pants to lights) and often has great closeout deals.
Two-way radios. Motorola and Midland two-way radios are the best quality. Either can be purchased locally or online.
Emergency roadside kit contents. All CCP vehicles must have a full emergency roadside kit containing items such as a fire extinguisher, jumper cables, Fix-a-Flat or similar tire repair system, reflective roadside triangles, zip ties, duct tape, jack and tire iron, spare tire, chemical “light sticks,” a flashlight, water and a blanket. Each vehicle should have weather-appropriate items in its roadside kit (e.g., extra blankets for winter, extra water for summer).
Medical kits. Best Friends has relied on Zee Medical (zeemedical.com) for restocking our medical supplies at the Sanctuary as well as for purchasing full medical kits. Every CCP vehicle should have a medical kit containing the following:
- Medical kit bag or box for storage of medical supplies
- Accident report forms and workers’ comp cards
- Four pairs of exam-quality vinyl or nitrile gloves (no latex)
- Ten 2 x 2 inch gauze pads
- Ten 4 x 4 inch non-stick gauze pads
- Ten 3/8 x 1-1/2 inch junior adhesive plastic bandages
- Ten knuckle fabric bandages
- Ten fingertip fabric bandages
- Two 5 x 9 inch trauma pads
- Ten sterile eye pads
- Ten butterfly wound closures, medium
- One 1/2 inch x 5 yard first-aid tape roll
- One 6 x 3/4 inch finger splint
- 20 alcohol cleansing pads
- One box of insect sting relief pads
- 30 3/4 x 3 inch adhesive plastic bandages
- Two rolls of gauze and vet wrap
- Individual single-use packets of triple antibiotic ointment
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