News Release: Chair Jessica Vega Pederson releases Phase One of multi-stage Multnomah County Animal Services Review

April 21, 2023

Multnomah County, OR – Chair Jessica Vega Pederson today announced that Phase One of her sweeping review of Multnomah County Animal Services has been completed, a critical first step in her effort to remake the historically troubled agency even as it faces nearly unprecedented demand.

Among the findings: 

  • Many of the recommendations made to the agency since 2016 remain all or partially incomplete.
  • Gaps persist in staffing, equipment, protocols, documentation, training and procedures.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic halted initial progress in adopting the recommendations, and in some cases, even reversed it.

In January, Chair Vega Pederson had directed her staff and the Department of Community Services to conduct a multi-stage, comprehensive review after a series of service, staffing and capacity crises severely impacted Animal Services in the Chair’s first few days in office. 

At the height of the crisis, with kennels lining the hallways of the overcrowded, short-staffed shelter in Troutdale, the Chair worked with Animal Services’ new leadership to immediately pause the intake of healthy stray pets, assign emergency management personnel to support shelter staff, and prepare Animal Services to reopen for in-person adoptions. The shelter also began intense work to integrate dozens of community volunteers back into operations. 

The Chair’s actions helped the shelter successfully resume full operations and in-person adoptions for the first time since 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. 

But even as the staff and volunteers resumed their full scope of work as the safety net provider for animals in our community on Jan. 11, the Division has continued to struggle with overcrowding, gaps in policies and procedures, and staffing challenges. The Phase One review reveals the extent to which those deep and systemic issues persist. 

“This report is frankly sobering, with more than 50 recommendations that have yet to be implemented in their entirety,” said Chair Vega Pederson. “I needed this information in one place to help the Board and the public clearly understand the work ahead, an immense undertaking that’s absolutely necessary. I have confidence in the team we have in place to do this work, but I want to be clear that I am expecting progress every single day to update and improve policies, protocols and the overall situation for animals in Multnomah County’s care.” 

Phase One includes a meta progress report on all of the recommendations that auditors, experts and consultants have made since 2016. It also includes a spending proposal from Animal Services for the Chair and the Board of Commissioners to include in the FY 2024 Multnomah County budget, as well as a real-time environmental scan on current Animal Services operations. And finally, it includes a summary of all Phase One work.

The Animal Services Review documents, including Phase One, will beposted here. 

The meta progress report shows the Division still needs more staff and volunteers. It also must develop a positive organizational culture, and address gaps in safety equipment and protocols, data integrity, behavior and euthanasia documentation, staff training and procedures, comprehensive enrichment activities and recording. And Animal Services still needs to make facilities improvements for security dogs, small animals, and outdoor dog areas. 

The review also found that after some limited progress in implementing recommendations between 2016 and 2020, energy toward continuing to implement recommendations — along with much of that initial progress  — was unsustainable due to the staffing and operational challenges experienced by Animal Services during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The halting of in-person adoptions at the beginning of the pandemic, which lasted until January of this year, was a major contributing factor. It significantly impacted the day-to-day work of the shelter, including but not limited to the ability to draw on volunteers to assist in shelter operations. 

The review also notes that despite the current staff level and demand, some progress has been made since January. Animal Services has expanded capacity for spay/neuter services and rabies vaccinations for adopted animals, thanks to a newly announced partnership with the Oregon Humane Society and Animal Services’ ongoing relationships with other community vet clinics.

Animal Services and Department of Community Services staff have stepped up recruitment and incentives for vacant veterinarian positions, and have reassigned staff members to prioritize and support a comprehensive shelter enrichment program. The shelter is also revising policies and procedures related to adoption counseling, behavior documentation, humane euthanasia, the intake of animals, and other operations.

Chair Vega Pederson, Department of Community Services leadership, and Animal Services staff are in constant communication to prioritize this multi-phase review and swiftly implement the recommendations and changes necessary to ensure Animal Services can provide the best possible service to the animals in Multnomah County’s care and to the broader community. Already, Animal Services’ leadership has begun to research, evaluate, review, update and implement new and revised policies and procedures, and will continue to do so throughout and beyond the remaining phases of this review. 

“The employees who work at Animal Services love animals and care deeply about their wellbeing,” said Lee Girard, Interim Director of the Department of Community Services. “They share the Chair and community’s concern about these troubling findings, and are invested in making the needed changes. This is a team that wants to work hard, and needs support to make a lasting difference. In recent weeks, we’ve filled 77% of our vacancies. We have the right people for this moment in time, with years of experience serving the community in human services and animal welfare.” 

Phase Two: Focused on engaging the public

Under the Chair’s plan, Phase Two of the Animal Services review is focused on community input. The review will solicit feedback from current and former volunteers and staff, animal welfare partners, and those using the services offered by the agency. 

All community members will have an opportunity to provide input and feedback about their interactions and experiences with Animal Services through surveys, interviews, or small groups facilitated by a professional, impartial third party.

A link to collect community feedback online will be provided soon.

Phase Three will weave Phases One and Two into a comprehensive work plan with metrics and timelines that also incorporates the preliminary improvement work already underway.

Leadership from the Department of Community Services and Multnomah County Animal Services will formally present findings from Phase One to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners at the regularly scheduled Board briefing at 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 25, 2023.

(Please note: there is no public comment period at Board briefings. Public comment on non-agenda items is permitted at the regular Thursday meeting of the Board of County Commissioners.)