Getting out alive

The county animal shelter's euthanasia rate is down, but will never reach zero

Congratulations are in order for the staff and volunteers of the Jackson County Animal Shelter, whose hard work and dedication are making the facility more efficient, modern and, most importantly, a less lethal place for the animals who end up there.

The shelter became of the focus of community concern in December 2011, when a family cat captured along with feral animals was mistakenly identified as feral and euthanized despite carrying an implanted microchip identifying his owners.

County officials subsequently asked the Oregon Humane Society to review the shelter's operations and recommend changes. The OHS report said the shelter's rate of euthanasia was higher than it should be, and said medical care of the animals was inadequate. At the same time, the report praised the shelter's cleanliness and said its staff was well-intentioned.

Now, a smaller percentage of cats and dogs are put to death and medical care has become a higher priority. The reduced euthanasia rate is the result of several factors, including more aggressive efforts to adopt out animals, a policy of accepting fewer animals in the first place and better technology to reunite lost pets with their owners.

Shelter staff now scan animals three times for embedded microchips to account for different manufacturers, and a new program offers free rides home to licensed animals who wind up at the shelter.

These are all positive developments, but the unfortunate fact is that a certain number of animals always will need to be euthanized. The county shelter is the destination of last resort for stray and feral animals, and does not have the luxury of declaring itself a "no-kill" facility.

One of the changes that has helped reduce the euthanasia rate is the reduction in the number of animals accepted. The shelter has accomplished this by referring more people bringing in animals to the Southern Oregon Humane Society shelter or Committed Alliance to Strays, where the entire focus is on adoption.

That's a positive development, but there is not an unlimited number of people in the county willing to adopt a pet. Ultimately, euthanasia is the regrettable but inevitable end for many unwanted animals.

The 10 paid staff members and 300 volunteers of the Jackson County Animal Shelter deserve the thanks of the community for taking on this essential and unenviable job.

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