Multnomah County Board of Commissioners/MCAS Response

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Published date: 
Thursday, September 14, 2023 - 12:40pm


FULL TEXT OF MULTNOMAH COUNTY COMMISSIONERS / MCAS RESPONSE  TO VOICES FOR THE ANIMALS INQUIRY ABOUT ONGOING ISSUES AT MCAS AS OBSERVED BY VOLUNTEERS
 

  • The lack of concrete improvements in the conditions for animals living at the shelter.

That is not true. Animal Services has made concrete improvements in its operations, including changing cleaning and feeding procedures, and documenting enrichment activities so we can be responsive to the pets and accountable in real time. We have hired seven new Animal Care staff, and have redone schedules to allow more support in the morning for cleaning. We now start with the outside kennel sections and then move to the interior sections. This change allows dogs to eat at their own pace, go outside later in the day when it’s warmer and not as dark and cold, and animals are not placed outside with any urine or feces in their outdoor kennel section from the previous night.

Read about other changes and improvements MCAS has reported to the public.

  • They contend that expensive consultants have been hired, there’s more people working in administration, and yet animals are still not getting urgently needed pain management, treatable medical needs addressed, or even a bath when needed.

We have only used one external consultant since February, Dogs Playing for Life, in order to jump start our playgroup/enrichment program for dogs. 

One position has been added in administration, a project manager in charge of implementing recommendations who is someone who has spent more than a decade as a shelter volunteer. MCAS acted quickly to address animal care staffing deficits, but we acknowledge that there’s much more we need to do, and a lot of that is going to take time, commitment, training and organization for everyone involved. 

That’s what this administrative position is all about, and we’ve hired the right person for the job. All other staff positions added this year directly support the line level work: 7 animal care staff, 2 client services staff and a field services dispatcher. 

Animals referred to our Animal Health team are examined, and our veterinary professionals on staff are qualified to diagnose specific medical issues affecting each animal whenever possible, and refer animals to radiology, pathology services, or other veterinary providers as needed. They proactively manage any evident pain associated with injuries or conditions.

  •  Kennels are still as dirty as they ever were and often littered with feces for long periods.

Daily closing duty charts for animal care staff require a walk through of the kennels before leaving to ensure kennels are clean. It is still likely that there will be feces in kennels, throughout the day, as animals will void as needed and staff have a variety of duties throughout the day. Volunteer roles also include kennel cleaning duties. 

  • Management seems focused on adding administrative positions and high adoption numbers rather than animal care.

Management is focused on animal care.

Chair Jessica Vega Pederson’s 2023-2024 budget for Animal Services is the most substantial investment to care for the animals of our community we’ve had in recent memory.

Having these additional staff (7 animal care, two client services and a field dispatcher) has improved cleaning and feeding practices, and allows for comprehensive daily enrichment activities, including playgroups for dogs. 

  • Adoption procedures and oversight has not improved. The only change is that adoption counselors are allowed to raise concerns about bad potential adoptions, but they feel there is still a great deal of pressure to adopt pets out to unsuitable adopters regardless of any reservations raised. 

We know that there have been issues in the past with prior management around the adoption process and adoptions that should not have taken place.

We have made changes in personnel, training and our practices to improve our efforts. 

Specific training resources, language about saying ‘no’ and online manuals published by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have been provided and reviewed with all Adoptions Counselors. The materials referenced can be found here.  

Adoption counselors utilize a conversation-based approach to adoption consultations as recommended by HSUS. Counselors are encouraged to escalate any concerns to their supervisor, or to redirect adopters to more appropriate lifestyle matches in companion animals if there are concerns. Adoption consultations center around the needs of specific animals and the adopter’s ability to meet those needs, animal care standards established by Multnomah County code and Oregon State Law, and are consistent with Multnomah County’s equity values.

We do not consider adoption returns as adoption failures, as every animal welfare agency has adoption returns. As hard as we try to help make matches successful, there will be times when adoption is not in the best interest of the person and/or the pet. An adoption return gives us more information about the pet and helps us make a better match the next time, no different than sending an animal to foster to get more information prior to adoption.

  • Pets with unaddressed medical needs who are in pain are being adopted to households. Pets who have these problems are often labeled as having behavior issues because their medical problems lead them to be less than friendly or able to be handled—and this often results in euthanasia for a pet with a treatable medical issue.

While health can impact temperament, we do not agree with this conclusion that untreated medical conditions are the root of the majority of behavioral issues we’re observing in shelter animals.

Animal care staff and volunteers are encouraged to raise concerns based on their observations of animals that may be in pain or have a medical condition that needs to be addressed. Also, the entire shelter population is regularly assessed by knowledgeable personnel, to ensure that each animal has a clear plan, and that all needs and critical points of service are met. However, current veterinary staffing levels sometimes impact how promptly some of these issues can be addressed, and Animal Health prioritizes based on the information available to them.

Animals referred to our Animal Health team are examined, and our veterinary professionals on staff are qualified to diagnose specific medical issues affecting each animal whenever possible, and refer animals to radiology, pathology services, or other veterinary providers as needed. They proactively manage any evident pain associated with injuries or conditions. Adopters are consulted about any known, ongoing health conditions of animals, and sent home with any prescribed medication, including pain medication.

  • Shelter management requires that anyone wanting to volunteer at the shelter must first attend an orientation that involves arriving early to scrub kennels. This presents a deterrent and barrier to those who might offer skills to the shelter that do not involve heavy physical labor.

    We do not agree. Animal Services has multiple volunteer tracks and opportunities in development, including new opportunities for dog volunteers that will not require cleaning. At the time this cleaning track was introduced, support with daily cleaning and feeding was a priority. Now, with the addition of more staff, we’re able to redirect new volunteers to other assignments.
     
  • Dolly’s Fund has money dedicated to addressing medical needs in shelter animals. Why is it not being used? 

Dolly’s Fund is being used to support emergency veterinary services, spay & neuter, and veterinary specialist referrals.

MCAS has addressed issues raised by the Multnomah County Auditor, and is committed to spending donation funds for medical care proactively and responsibly.

  • When I spoke with Erin Grahek back in April, she stated that the shelter had reached out to the Oregon Humane Society for assistance in getting animals spayed and neutered prior to adoption, as the current voucher program has a low rate of redemption for a variety of reasons. What is the status of that? Volunteers report most unaltered animals are still being adopted out that way. 

The Oregon Humane Society (OHS) is an official partner in the current spay/neuter and vaccination program for adopted animals. We are about to begin recruiting more volunteer drivers so that we can launch the next phase of the spay/neuter program with OHS which will indeed include sending animals to OHS for surgery prior to adoption. Animal Services has also added additional veterinary providers to fulfill these services.

While MCAS has filled one Certified Veterinary Technician position, there are still multiple veterinary staff position vacancies at MCAS, which has continued to impact the shelter’s capacity to consistently perform spay & neuter services prior to adoption

We want to emphasize that these challenges we’re facing are a matter of capacity and necessity, and not an arbitrary policy choice that we’re making. We know how vital and important spay & neuter is to manage the pet population, and we’re developing systems and relationships with other veterinary providers to address that, but it doesn’t change the fact that we don’t have the staff available to consistently perform these surgeries in-house.

These surgeries require a full team of veterinarians, CVTs, and other support staff. It’s at least a half-day commitment for a full team. Many days we don’t have a full team available, or they are prioritizing the immediate needs of animals in care to provide exams and treatment. This issue is not unique to MCAS, and is reflective of a national shortage in veterinary personnel. 

In response, Multnomah County has significantly increased compensation offered for open veterinary positions to attract qualified candidates and compete with other job opportunities, and has increased advertising with regional and national veterinary associations, and other employment platforms where eligible candidates may look. Animal Services has also relisted a Medical Director position to serve as a veterinarian and also manage the Animal Health practices of the shelter.

  • The firing of a valuable volunteer who advocated for a dog with treatable medical issues that was adopted out without those issues being addressed. When the dog was returned for behavior problems, the volunteer offered to foster the dog and assist with its needs, but the shelter opted to euthanize the dog instead

Animal Services has only released one volunteer, who was officially dismissed after posting personal contact information of Animal Service staff on Next Door. While volunteers have the right to express their views and opinions, as stated in our volunteer agreement, our volunteer agreement also dictates that volunteers maintain client confidentiality, and respectful behavior towards other volunteers and staff. Volunteers agree to protect and respect the privacy of clients, partners and employees, and to maintain confidentiality about clients served by MCAS, and animals in protective custody.