After stabilizing an immediate crisis at Multnomah County Animal Services (MCAS) in her first six weeks in office, Chair Jessica Vega Pederson today announced the next steps in her promise to conduct a detailed review of the division and begin work to address years of longstanding structural and management challenges, in partnership with the community.
The multi-stage review will comb through unfinished work recommended by every previous audit and report on MCAS, solicit widespread community feedback, and bring the Board of Commissioners a detailed work plan for accomplishing the review’s recommendations.
On her first day in office in January, the Chair learned of a crisis at the Multnomah County’s Animal Shelter in Troutdale, which had taken in so many dogs over the holidays and experienced so many staff vacancies, that it required a surge of assistance and support.
Chair Vega Pederson visited the shelter and worked with MCAS’ new leadership to take steps that included pausing the intake of healthy stray pets, assigning emergency management personnel to support shelter staff, and a streamlining of operations to prepare Animal Services to reopen for in-person adoptions for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown in 2020. The chair’s directives helped the shelter successfully resume full operations and in-person adoptions Jan. 11. The shelter also began intense work to integrate dozens of community volunteers while waiving all adoption fees through Feb. 11 to further lower barriers to adoption.
Since that time, the County’s Animal Services staff have been extremely grateful to receive an outpouring of support from volunteers and community members, many of whom have fostered or adopted animals in the shelter’s care. From Jan. 11 through Jan. 31 alone, 108 animals were adopted and community volunteers contributed more than 600 volunteer hours to take care of animals and make sure the shelter could operate at full capacity.
“I am incredibly grateful to Chair Vega Pederson, for the rapid response and deployment of resources to support our staff and the pets in our care – both during this urgent time and as we move forward,” said Erin Grahek, who was named director of Multnomah County Animal Services in September. “We’ve taken some really good first steps and I know we have a great deal more work to do to become the shelter that we know we can be. While the task at hand is significant, I believe we are capable of and committed to doing this work.”
Leadership at Animal Services has recently increased temporary staff at the shelter, coordinated with other County departments to support volunteer management best practices and begun developing pathway plans for each animal at intake to ensure best placement and outcomes as soon as possible.
In our community, the County shelter serves as a safety net for found animals, cases of potentially dangerous dogs which would not be safe to place back into the community, and also dogs with behaviors and levels of socialization that may have been unmanageable for previous caretakers. In 2022, Animal Services maintained a live-release rate of 91.5% for dogs and 89.5% for all domestic animals, working consistently to find positive outcomes for animals.
Staff also make every effort to reunite found pets with their people, or place animals for adoption, and works closely with regional animal shelters and rescues to transfer animals.
Still, challenges remain. Filling available positions and retaining employees is a primary challenge, and the ongoing nationwide staffing crisis in animal health professions has exacerbated this issue.
The current veterinary staff shortage is an industry-wide challenge, and projected to increase in severity over the next decade. Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT) job positions have the highest attrition rate of any medical professional, at 26%. There are hundreds of vacancies for veterinarians and CVTs across the Portland region. Animal Services currently has 12 vacant staff positions, and filling these will continue to be a priority, along with addressing other infrastructure and operations issues.
Meanwhile, Animal Services managers continue to broaden outreach and recruitment for full-time, relief, and on-call vet and CVT positions, and are appealing to its partners in the animal welfare and veterinary community for support.
When she announced her review in January, Chair Vega Pederson said, “We’ll be providing more information on this process in the coming weeks, but I am committed to improving conditions for the pets at the shelter and for the people working so hard to care for them.”
Specifically today, the Chair is calling for a review in three phases to be completed in approximately five months.
Phase One will focus on a detailed review of all previous audits, reports and recommendations conducted over the past six years, followed by a careful accounting of the recommendations made, a status update on each and information about the choices made to respond and implement previous recommendations.
This phase will also include an environmental scan of the shelter to review operations and policies, identify gaps and needs, shadow staff, and develop a framework for necessary changes and updates.
The second phase will give the Animal Services Division the opportunity to connect with the community and key stakeholders to solicit input on their experiences working with the agency. Engagement will primarily focus on one-on-one and small-group interviews to solicit feedback and recommendations from partner agencies, long-term shelter volunteers and foster households, and a selection of previous adopters. In addition, an online form will be made available for members of the public to submit comments and feedback throughout this phase of the review.
The final phase will provide a summary and report-out of the review’s findings and a work plan for implementing identified recommendations. At the conclusion of this phase, the Board of County Commissioners will receive a briefing on the results of the review and next steps forward.
Community members continue to ask how they can help the pets at Animal Services, and volunteers continue to be essential to the shelter’s healthy operations. The team can always use volunteer support, especially in logistical roles like greeting shelter visitors, working the information desk, cleaning, helping with adoption meets and fostering. And as always, fostering or adopting to provide a new or temporary home for as many pets in our care as possible is the ideal outcome we seek.
“In bringing the community into this process, I am determined to uncover the root of the issues we’ve faced at Animal Services and address them productively and proactively,” said Chair Vega Pederson. “I appreciate the deep investment of the animal care community in helping us move our work forward in coming weeks and look forward to providing more information following this review about medium- to long-term changes we’ll put in motion.”