An animal welfare expert from Portland will visit the Jackson County Animal Care and Control Center to offer advice on how to make the operation more efficient and effective, county officials say.
Sharon Harmon, executive director of the Oregon Humane Society, will offer valuable feedback, said Barbara Talbert, board president of the Friends of the Animal Shelter. "We are looking forward to it," Talbert said.
Harmon was asked to visit the Phoenix animal shelter by County Administrator Danny Jordan.
"This is not an investigation," Talbert said. "Jackson County initiated this review. Fresh ideas are positive. We are always open to the idea of continuous improvement for the shelter, for the staff and for the volunteers."
Saying there has not yet been a date set for Harmon's visit, Jordan stressed he did not make the request in response to allegations of animal mistreatment and shelter mismanagement made by two former employees and one former FOTAS volunteer in a recent TV news story.
Jordan said his decision to seek outside advice is not an indictment of policies nor of shelter director Colleen Macuk. The information to be gleaned is intended to bolster ongoing "best shelter practices" education, he said, adding county staff already have visited shelters in Bend and Multnomah County.
"We're gathering information to make our program the best," he said.
Macuk said she and her staff are looking forward to the visit, which follows a visit by Oregon State Public Health Veterinarian Emilio DeBess last fall.
"He had only good things to say about us," Macuk said.
Jordan, Macuk and FOTAS board members decried a recent television news story in which two terminated staffers complained of mismanagement. Jordan said the news report was based on "biased" sources and full of "unsubstantiated" allegations, including that there had been botched euthanizations of kittens. (Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the TV news story didn't name who made the allegation about the kittens.)
"They flat out made up stuff," Jordan said.
"No one ever reported anything like that to anybody," Macuk said. "Not to me, not to staff members, not to Jackson County officials, not to police. I have no information to make me believe it ever happened."
The shelter has made changes following public outcry over the fate of Max, a pet cat trapped by a neighbor and mistakenly euthanized by shelter staff last Christmas, said Talbert.
Max's tragedy resulted in policy changes regarding cats, she said. New scanners were purchased to check for microchips, non-feral cats are being kept longer, and there is a new Facebook page that posts pictures of strays brought into the shelter.
The outcry over Max's fate also increased public awareness for cat owners regarding the dangers of allowing their animals to roam free, she said.
Talbert said her only concern about the pending review is that Harmon may suggest changes that aren't financially possible. The Oregon Humane Society has considerably greater resources than the county shelter.
"But we have been assured they will be looking at us through that lens," she said.
Peggy Moore, FOTAS board vice president, has been a volunteer at the shelter since 1999. FOTAS has been in existence for 21 years and has more than 200 volunteers who provide more than 8,000 hours of assistance to the eight members of the paid shelter staff, she said.
Moore and Talbert expressed sorrow for the loss of Max, and frustration that troubles, both real and imagined, have received more attention than the work of so many dedicated staffers and volunteers.
"It's very worrisome for those of us on the front lines," Talbert said. "We see all the good things going on."
Moore agreed. Spay and neuter programs are being funded by FOTAS, and areas for dogs and cats to roam and get fresh air have been created, she said.
"We have a great shelter and it's running great," she said. "But nobody wants to read about that."
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email email@example.com.