Partly due to ‘pandemic puppies,’ rate of dogs and cats finding new homes dips below benchmark 90%
By Damian Mann for Ashland.news
Members of a volunteer organization already on edge about its role at the Jackson County Animal Shelter grew more concerned after the discovery this week that the Phoenix facility has drifted away from its “no-kill” status.
“Technically, that is true,” said Sky Loos, executive director of Friends of the Animal Shelter (FOTAS).
During the meeting, volunteers heard from the county that the shelter has an 89% adoption rate for dogs and an 88% adoption rate for cats.
Loos said that for a shelter to be considered no-kil,l it has to find homes for 90% or more of the animals it takes in, with the remainder euthanized because of sickness, injuries or if they pose a threat.
Loos, an Ashland resident, said the facility has taken in an unprecedented number of dogs recently, a situation faced by many shelters throughout the country that are receiving so-called “pandemic puppies” as more and more people return to an office. The country shelter, located at 5595 S. Pacific Highway in Phoenix, no longer accepts dogs brought in by an owner.
“Shelters nationwide are having this problem, and the amount of dogs here is unprecedented,” said Loos, a paid staff member of the organization. “Those (adoption) rates going down are concerning.”
Dozens of volunteers expressed their dismay at how the organization was being treated at the county meeting, pointing out how important their role is to the operation of the shelter.
Their concerns increased when Danny Jordan, Jackson County administrator, described the county’s position at the meeting
“I heard someone here today say, ‘We have 107 dogs in shelter,’ someone who spoke for FOTAS,” Jordan said. “The county has 107 dogs in shelter. FOTAS doesn’t have 107 dogs in shelter. That’s part of the line that has been crossed in my estimate in how we’re working together. The county has a legal responsibility for these animals. They are county property. That’s a red line for us.”
The county recently notified FOTAS, whose volunteers are often the people the general public talks to when adopting a pet, that it had to move out of its office at the shelter by June to make room for additional county staff being hired.
Jordan said he has been working to build a new animal shelter since he started in 2006, and he said plans are in the works for a new facility as part of a feasibility study.
He said he pushed for an Oregon Humane Society audit years ago when the facility had a very large euthanasia rate. Since then the euthanasia rate has been brought down significantly, though he said some volunteers might not think it is down far enough.
“I understand some people don’t think that’s great, but compared to where we were and how far we’ve come, it’s way better,” he said. “We intend to continue to try and improve those live release rates.”
Loos said volunteers develop a very personal relationship with the dogs and cats at the shelter.
One good-natured German shepherd mix named “Tank,” who weighed close to 100 pounds, was a difficult dog to place because of his size.
Eventually, a local resident with seven acres adopted him.
“We had a party to celebrate when he got a home,” Loos said.
She said she understands the county’s need to do a feasibility study for a new animal shelter but doesn’t understand why the county doesn’t want to accept FOTAS donations, such as no longer accepting food for the animals.
“We completely understand why they are taking a look at things,” she said. “They can do the math without cutting off donations.”
County officials have indicated FOTAS will get a desk and some space to replace the office space it formerly had, but with dozens of volunteers in the building at a time it might not be enough, Loos said.
FOTAS, created in 1990, has more than 200 volunteers who have donated on average 50,000 hours of time each year prior to COVID to support the shelter, equivalent to hiring 11 full-time employees.
“Despite these challenges and things the volunteers are struggling with, they’re doing an amazing job,” Loos said. “They’re rock stars.”
From 2011 to mid-2022, FOTAS donated more than $347,000 for animal medical expenses alone. FOTAS also donates supplies, food and subsidizes low-cost adoption events.
When the Almeda Fire destroyed a shade structure, FOTAS offered to pay $25,000 to rebuild it, but the county decided to do it without FOTAS help, Loos said.
Loos said volunteers are very concerned about the ongoing changes, though they do understand the need to replace the existing aging animal shelter.
“However, we feel that many of these changes have not been made in the animals’ best interest, but rather from a bureaucratic standpoint,” she said.
Reach writer Damian Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org.