Volunteers with Friends of the Animal Shelter to speak at county meeting Wednesday
By Damian Mann for Ashland.news
Members of a volunteer group critical to the operation of the Jackson County Animal Shelter have sounded the alarm about, they say, being increasingly sidelined at the no-kill facility in Phoenix.
Members of Friends of the Animal Shelter, a volunteer group that provides volunteers and financial support, plan to show up at a meeting of Jackson County Commissioners starting at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 1, to protest being shut out of shelter operations.
As part of a reorganization, the shelter has given FOTAS until June 30 to move out of its office because of space issues. In addition, door locks have been placed throughout the facility to keep areas off limits from the public, but also limiting volunteers’ access as well and raising questions about the humane treatment of animals.
“Eight years ago the shelter was able to achieve a no-kill status,” said Ashland resident Eliza Kauder, a 25-year FOTAS volunteer who helps with the organization’s financials and newsletter.
FOTAS raises $500,000 annually, of which $200,000 comes from a bequest, that helps increase the adoption rate at the shelter and other services. With about 200 active volunteers, up to 40 could be at the shelter at any time, helping with everything from dog walking to adopting dogs and cats.
Last December, Lithia Driveway & Fields donated $20,000 to FOTAS to provide a subsidy to help cover the costs of adoption because the number of dogs and cats has increased after the pandemic.
At the same time, the county is undergoing a feasibility study that might lead to a new facility to replace the aging shelter.
Jackson County Commissioner Dave Dotterrer said the county wants to continue collaborating with FOTAS and he’ll be interested to hear from volunteers at the Wednesday meeting.
“We are not kicking FOTAS out,” he said. “They are a very important part of our operation, and we appreciate their contributions and efforts.”
Dotterrer said he can understand the frustration being expressed by the volunteers in light of recent changes.
“The message is, we’re going to listen tomorrow,” he said.
Dotterrer said the county has been adding more employees at the facility, but there isn’t enough space.
“We have to put our employees somewhere,” he said.
A lot of changes are taking place at the shelter itself to improve the operations at a very inefficient building and to provide better security and limit potential liability concerns.
“When I went through it, it was clean, but it’s an old and tired building,” Dotterrer said. “It’s not of a modern design.”
Some of the preliminary discussions at the county include looking at another property and erecting “a new, more modern building.”
He said the price tag could be between $10 million to $12 million.
“It’s not cheap to build something like that,” he said.
Dotterrer affirmed the county wants to continue the relationship with FOTAS once a new facility opens.
In the meantime, FOTAS volunteers have expressed alarm at what they perceive as being left out of the discussions.
Kauder said the changes haven’t been communicated effectively with FOTAS. She said the changes have given the volunteers the impression the county is trying to push FOTAS out.
“That’s the biggest issue — the way they’ve implemented these changes in a draconian way,” Kauder said.
Another concern is the fear the shelter might lose its no-kill status, a metric that means 90% of the animals that come in go out alive, Kauder said. The remainder often have injuries or other health issues that require euthanization.
In the past, the shelter housed about 40 dogs, but that number has swelled to about 90 recently. Kauder attributes this surge to the “pandemic puppy” phenomenon. People were staying at home working and got dogs and cats for company, but are now back to work and struggling to take care of their pets, so some end up at the shelter.
Another fear is the potential to manipulate statistics to maintain the no-kill status, such as limiting the number of dogs or cats at the shelter, Kauder said.
Placing animals for adoption is more difficult because there is a veterinary shortage throughout the U.S., so it has become more difficult to get animals neutered.
As a result, more animals are having litters now, and the access to low-cost spay-neuter is limited, Kauder said. Also, it is taking longer to get animals neutered.
“We don’t want to euthanize a dog because we can’t get it fixed,” Kauder said.
FOTAS has a spay-neuter trailer, but it can only handle dogs under 40 pounds, and the closest veterinarian comes from Bend.
“It’s a struggle,” Kauder said. “It slows down the number of dogs put into adoption.”
Volunteers routinely exercise dogs and continually keep an eye on their health. “If one dog gets sick, they all get sick,” she said.
Overcrowding and sanitation issues could also lead to health and behavior problems for dogs.
“If a dog gets overly stressed, it can get overly aggressive,” Kauder said.
Without an office space on site, it will prove stressful for volunteers who work with residents looking to adopt a pet.
She said there isn’t much space around the facility to place a trailer that could be used as office space at the shelter.
The spay-neuter trailer alone takes up five parking spaces, Kauder said.
After volunteers speak to the commissioners, they hope the county will work more collaboratively with FOTAS rather than shutting the volunteers out, she said.
“The FOTAS volunteers are essential for the shelter operation,” Kauder said.
Reach writer Damian Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org.