Speaking for the voiceless

A thorough review of the operation and practices of the Jackson County Animal Shelter highlighted several areas that need improvement, and the staff is already moving to implement the reviewer's recommendations. The staff's willingness to accept criticism and make changes is commendable. But the report filed by inspectors from the Oregon Humane Society also shows things at the shelter were not quite as rosy as county officials insisted.

Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan arranged for the inspection after the shelter was criticized for euthanizing a pet cat in the mistaken belief the animal was feral. At the time, Jordan stressed that the inspection was not an indictment of the shelter and would focus on continuing "best shelter practices" education.

The report found considerable room for improvement and some practices that appear well below the "best" level.

For example, the report noted the shelter has a high rate of euthanizing animals, especially cats. Its rules for adopting animals are unnecessarily restrictive, meaning too many animals are euthanized who could be adopted out instead.

The report recommended implementing a policy of "open selection," which allows all animals deemed safe to be viewed and adopted immediately. The shelter's old policy required animals to be held for 72 hours, regardless of behavior, before the public could see them.

The report also recommended improvements in health care for the animals, including contracting with a veterinarian to establish procedures and better training for staff in diagnosing disease and dispensing medication. More staff members trained in euthanasia also are needed, the report said, and recommended updating equipment, providing mental health resources to staff members and designating quiet rooms for animals about to undergo euthanasia.

On the positive side, the report said the shelter does a good job of advertising animals available for adoption, provides enough space for animals and potential owners to interact and provides important pet care information.

The shelter staff's response to the report is encouraging. The review took place in May, and many of the recommended changes already have been implemented or are in the works.

Better interaction with private organizations such as Spay/Neuter Your Pets and the Southern Oregon Humane Society, another change already under way, is something that should have happened all along, but didn't because of the shelter's history of isolation from other agencies. Whether public or private, animal shelters and organizations share a commitment to caring for pets and a chronic shortage of resources to do it. Cooperation is essential.

Operating a county animal shelter is a necessary but taxing job. Those who do it for a living and those who volunteer deserve the community's thanks and support as they work to improve.

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