Budget concerns prompt increased shelter collaborations
A recent article in the Eugene Register-Guard (Aug. 15) caused a shudder among animal lovers, reporting that Lane County Animal Services (LCAS) stands to lose even more money in its budget. LCAS provides numerous animal services in Eugene, including enforcing the city’s animal control code, and providing services such as shelter, adoption, spay/neuter, and licensing dogs and cats. Last year’s already tight budget saw LCAS’s funding reduced by $100,000.
The article hinted that LCAS might shift shelter services to Greenhill Humane Society in Eugene, but Greenhill’s Executive Director, Cary Lieberman, says it’s too soon to tell how the budget cuts might affect either organization. “Right now we’re going to be doing the exact same thing we always do,” he says. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. The Register-Guard article was accurate in that the city is very concerned about budget cuts. And we’ve been discussing it, but there have been no decisions. Greenhill’s position is that we want to see as much money in the community as possible go toward the animals.”
While the two agencies do overlap, there are significant differences. LCAS takes in strays and enforces complaints about animals who are aggressive, or who aren’t being cared for. Greenhill takes in only owner-surrendered animals. Both agencies handle adoptions, but Greenhill needs more “adoptable” animals. The agencies have always collaborated, but efforts have ramped up in recent month.
Previously, if LCAS identified dogs who were good candidates for adoption they contacted Greenhill. “But it’s been clear that it would be beneficial to move dogs out of LCAS faster,” Lieberman explains, “and we have a higher adoption rate. Greenhill has a volunteer or a staff person who now visits LCAS weekly to see the dogs in shelter and identify good candidates for transfer. “Our goal is to take at least three dogs a week,” says Lieberman, “more if we have space, less if it’s not needed. But by having these weekly visits we can stay on top of anything that happens.”
Dogs who may have languished at LCAS in the past may have a better chance at going home faster thanks to Greenhill’s better name recognition. The organization is known as “the place” from which to adopt. “The other component is that we try to focus on having a variety of animals in our shelter,” says Lieberman. “So in addition to the animals that come from our shelter we transfer animals from other communities to generate more of a mix. If you have 10 black Labs in the shelter it’s harder to pick one, but if you have one black Lab the person can pick the black Lab.”
Cindy Ehlers is a full-time animal behaviorist and training coordinator at LCAS. Her assessments of animals determine whether or not they should be transferred to Greenhill and whether any behavior modifications are needed. Also, prospective adopters through LCAS get a behavior screening on their chosen dog if they have kids.
“People need to have a certain level of awareness and education of dogs around children,” says Ehlers, pointing out that dogs at LCAS may be there because they have killed chickens, for instance, or are strays, or may have owners who have died or gone to jail.
Ehler’s behavioral checklist includes such basics as how the dog responds to being petted, or whether it guards food or toys. “When you look into its eyes does it bark at you, growl, or lick your face,” Ehlers explains. “A dog with any guarding behavior shouldn’t be adopted to families with kids.” Ehlers is implementing dog playgroups at LCAS to reduce stress and add enrichment to their day. (Ehlers is also a therapy dog trainer; read the story of her 9/11 rescue dog Tikva.)
Ehlers’s assistant, Eric Smith, says that LCAS sends five to 10 dogs to Greenhill each month, and collaborates with five other shelters; they’ve even sent dogs to shelters in Canada to get them adopted. “In a week we may get 10 to 30 dogs,” says Smith, “although many get picked up by their owners in three to five days.”
With the uncertain economy and budget cuts looming, the responsibilities and needs of animal shelters are sure to increase. Greenhill’s Lieberman says that while the public may feel helpless, it’s good to remain aware of what’s going on in government and make your opinions known. “Contact the people making decisions, which is the city council and county commissioner,” he says. “What we’re looking at is budget cuts at the public level, and that the decisions made are in the best interest of the public, so if people don’t make their opinions known the decisions may not be made in those best interests. “
Lieberman went on to say, “It looks like there may be less money coming in through tax dollars, so if you care about animals, make that known and donate to the organizations that do the work you want them to do, and make sure your publicly funded dollars are going where you want them to go.”
Greenhill Humane Society, SPCA
88530 Green Hill Rd., Eugene
Lane County Animal Services
3970 W 1st Ave., Eugene
Vanessa Salvia lives with her two kids, one very sweet, fluffy cat (named Fluffy), and a husband (also very sweet), in Eugene, Oregon. When not clickety-clacking on a computer, you can find her browsing the farmers markets or feeding ducks from her patio. A freelance writer for more than 10 years, Vanessa has written extensively about music and entertainment in the Northwest. As mom, wife and companion to countless animals over the years, she has vacuumed more than her share of pet fur.