No-kill policy has Humane Society looking for room to grow

Only Central Oregon facility where pets aren’t euthanized to add 5 acres

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: May 05. 2007 8:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – The usual cacophony of barks and meows greets visitors to the Humane Society of the Ochocos.

Crook County’s animal lovers don’t have to worry that an overcrowded shelter means some animals will have to be put to sleep. For almost a year, the Humane Society has been operating under an official “no-kill” policy that has dropped its euthanasia rate for cats from 37 percent to 3 percent.

The change makes the Humane Society of the Ochocos the only no-kill shelter in Central Oregon.

But the new policy, combined with the population growth in the county, has led to a completely full facility almost every day for a year, shelter manager Lori Durant said. And other shelters in Central Oregon say they are coping with more animals due to the increase of people in the region.

At its regular meeting this week, the Crook County Court agreed that the Humane Society needs more room and decided to give it 5 acres of county land adjacent to the shelter’s current building. After the meeting, however, County Counsel Dave Gordon said the ownership of the land is unclear, which could hold up the expansion.

“The community and the population here has just grown so much, so obviously we have more animals and we’ve just outgrown the shelter,” Durant said.

As of Thursday afternoon, 42 cats filled every cage at the Humane Society, and only two of the 24-dog kennels were free. Staff have had to set up temporary wire cages for cats to accommodate the overflow.

Durant said the euthanasia rate for cats before the shelter went no-kill was higher than for dogs because it is usually more difficult to find homes for adult cats than for adult dogs. Previously, the shelter saved about 63 percent of the cats and 90 percent of the dogs that entered its doors. Now, its overall save rate is 97 percent.

Shelter staff members still must occasionally euthanize animals that have terminal illnesses and are suffering, or ones that pose a danger to other animals or people. Durant said an experienced animal behaviorist evaluates the animals in those cases, sometimes taking them home with her before making a decision.

The humane society no longer euthanizes animals for space reasons or because they have curable contagious diseases.

“One thing that we are very conscious of is that we have a responsibility to make sure that we do what’s right for the animals,” Durant said. “We have some animals come in that I think, ‘It’s a fearful dog, it’s never going to like other people,’ and after a bit of time it starts to learn to trust and be a dog and a home comes along for them.”

A confluence of events allowed the society to start working toward a no-kill policy about 18 months ago and pass an official resolution last June, officials said.

Durant started as shelter manager in January 2006 and began working with Leslie Lynch, a retired physician who in 2004 had started the Spay Neuter Investment Project in Prineville. Durant said the collaboration with SNIP House has allowed the humane society to achieve what would be the ideal situation for any shelter.

Greg Lynch, a member of the shelter’s board who is married to Leslie Lynch, said the shelter began sending animals with contagious diseases like upper respiratory virus or ringworm to SNIP House in early 2006, allowing them to keep those cats and dogs away from the general population without having to euthanize them. The humane society also requires all animals to be spayed or neutered before they can be adopted.

SNIP House has spayed and neutered about 10,000 animals since it opened, Greg Lynch said. The procedure costs $30.

“That’s a lot of animals, so I think the homeless population has been significantly reduced in the community,” he said. “When you have a lot of animals, for example, in a limited space you’re going to have more disease, and if you can reduce that population you’re going to have a corresponding reduction in disease.”

When the shelter first stopped euthanizing animals with contagious diseases, Greg Lynch said, there was so much overflow that many ended up in his and his wife’s home.

“When they started the program, we had all these sick animals coming and there was no place to put them, and you can’t put them in the population – you can’t risk contaminating other people’s animals,” he said, adding that some stayed in his barn, bathrooms, guest room and exercise room. “It was a zoo for awhile.”

Now, the number of animals have leveled off somewhat, although the shelter is still full. Durant said every animal has some time out of its cage every day, and the dogs are able to run around on the humane society’s two-acre lot.

“The biggest challenge I see in being a no-kill shelter and maybe having animals for a little bit longer time before we find them a home is keeping them happy and healthy,” Durant said. “When we first started talking about it I was really worried, to be honest with you, because I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, we’re going to have animals that are going to sit here forever and not find a home,’ and that hasn’t happened.”

A need for more space

Right now the humane society is working on a capital campaign to raise money to expand or replace the shelter, Durant said. That would be one use for the additional five-acre parcel of land. Other plans include an agility course for the dogs, an outdoor caged area for cats and facilities for larger animals like horses and llamas.

Late last year, the County Court worked out a contract with the humane society so it will be responsible for taking care of and finding homes for livestock seized by the Crook County Sheriff’s Office. The shelter does not currently have facilities for livestock, so those animals have to be placed in foster homes.

“There are people that are willing to take these large animals – we have not yet had to say no,” Greg Lynch said. “Where we really need help in the fostering is people willing to foster with the smaller animals … You can take animals that are not 100 percent adoptable because they’re scared or they’ve been out running around for awhile and you can get them more socialized so they can be adopted.”

Durant said the shelter has about 30 foster families, of which 12 have animals right now. One foster care provider is taking care of an adult dog with a terminal illness “just (to) provide her with a good quality ending to her life.”

In addition to the population growth in the county, the humane society could see more animals in the near future because the Sheriff’s Office is working on a new animal code. Sheriff Rodd Clark said under state law sheriff’s deputies only take action if an animal is a public nuisance, meaning they have engaged in behavior like digging through trash or chasing livestock, more than once or twice. The new code would include an animal enforcement officer who could also respond to calls of loose dogs.

“Once we institute the code, we’re going to be having more animals that are picked up and brought in,” Clark said. “The county is growing rapidly, and not only are people coming but they’re bringing their animals as well, and for some reason when people move to the country they think they have the right to just let their pets run loose.”

‘Every animal group’s dream’

Durant described the Humane Society of the Ochocos as a small shelter with an annual budget of about $200,000, significantly less than the budgets of the Humane Society of Redmond and Humane Society of Central Oregon.

Troy Kerstetter, animal welfare director at the Humane Society of Central Oregon, said the shelter is an “open-access facility,” which means that it does not turn away animals. The shelter has 38 dog kennels, three puppy pens, 35 cat cages, a large indoor-outdoor cattery and a smaller indoor cattery.

The Bend shelter’s euthanasia rate was about 8 percent in 2006, and Kerstetter said since the new building opened 2 1/2 years ago staff members have rarely had to put down animals for space reasons.

“It almost exclusively doesn’t happen in dogs because we do have the ability to transfer dogs to the Oregon Humane Society (in Portland),” he said. “With cats definitely it gets a little tight in the summertime during kitten season when we’re getting litter after litter.”

About five years ago, the shelter started a program where people adopting one cat or kitten could get a second cat for free, which Kerstetter said “almost overnight increased our cat and kitten adoptions by 40 percent.” The Prineville humane society has a similar program.

Jamie Kanski, the executive director of the Humane Society of Redmond, said the shelter has seen an increase in animals over the last two years, from 1,200 animal intakes a year to 3,000 a year currently. She said she thinks that growth is due to Redmond’s expanding population, but it makes it difficult to operate as a no-kill facility, even though that would be “every animal group’s dream.”

“I think as they develop more of these subdivisions, those may have been areas where there were stray cats or feral cats, so a lot more of those are being trapped by new homeowners and brought into the shelters,” she said.

The Redmond shelter’s adoption rate is 92 percent for dogs and 63 percent for cats, Kanski said. Many dogs go to rescue groups that may focus on a particular breed, making it easier to find homes for them.

The shelter operates on a budget of $525,000. It has a total of 39 dog kennels and can accommodate up to 150 cats. It is also one of two shelters in the state that has a dedicated cruelty investigation department, Kanski said.

“We’ve had a little bit more space since the beginning of this year because kitten season has gotten a little bit of a late start from what we typically see, but we are starting to fill up again,” she said.

Durant, the manager of the Prineville humane society, said she feels lucky to have been able to successfully implement a no-kill policy so far.

“I think that everyone that works with animals and animal shelters across the board would love to accomplish that – I know they would, they work with animals because they love them,” she said. “It’s not just a humane society’s or animal rescue’s problem, it’s a community thing … I just don’t think humane societies want to euthanize animals; they just don’t have any other options.”

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