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Expert: Cowlitz animal shelter 'not the worst but not the best'

Expert: Cowlitz animal shelter 'not the worst but not the best'

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An independent review of the Humane Society of Cowlitz County found that the Longview animal shelter is operating at its maximum capacity and should let its volunteers do more to care for and exercise the animals.

Autumn White, executive director of the Benton-Franklin Humane Society, conducted a review of the shelter in February. 

The City of Longview hired White to evaluate the shelter following public outcry in January spurred by allegations of animal neglect from a contract veterinarian. The City of Kelso and Cowlitz County agreed to share the cost of the $1,500 review. All three jurisdictions contract with the humane society for animal control services.

White has reviewed about 25 other shelters and said the Cowlitz County shelter was “not the worst but not the best” that she has evaluated.

However, she wrote in her report that, “at the time of the shelter audit the shelter was at, what I would consider, maximum capacity based on the (Association of Shelter Veterinarians) guidelines capacity for care. … Housing this many animals (112, including 50 dogs) over any period of time would be unacceptable.”

Shelters should strive to move animals through their system as quickly as possible to reduce exposure to illness, White said.

“It’s not uncommon for (outdated) shelters to think they have to observe animals for illness when really you’re keeping the dogs to get an illness,” she said. “If you’re holding a dog for five days, I’m now exposing him to five days of illness.”

Any animals that have been at the shelter for more than two weeks should be considered for a transfer to another shelter. Despite concerns that transferring animals means a loss of investment, keeping the animal even longer adds more costs and is stressful for the animal, White said.

In addition, the evaluation recommended consistent daily interaction with each animal, even if that only means a volunteer stroking an animal in a kennel. Each animal should have at least three toys to find their favorites.

The most uncommon thing White said she encountered at the humane society was the limited use of volunteers. Prohibiting volunteers from interacting with animals located in the back stray ward is an overreaction, and lack of communication with volunteers can result in rumors and speculation, she said.

“It’s important to identify those animals that could be a danger, but there are cats and dogs that are fine to have properly trained volunteers interact with them,” White said Tuesday. “If you keep things hidden from volunteers, they’re going to make up their own stories. … I encourage (the shelter) to be a little more transparent about what is in the back and why they’re back there.”

While there were no volunteers present when she conducted her review, White said it is highly likely that a lack of communication with volunteers led to the rumors and public outcry against the shelter.

White said she heard multiple sides of the story about an injured cat that died overnight in a pet carrier, which prompted veterinarian Aaron Gilbertsen to quit and send an email detailing concerns about the shelter to city council members and county commissioners.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle, she said, but “as far as the practices that they’re doing, I didn’t see anything glaring that another animal could perish in care based on what their doing.”

White added that shelter management should have training on updated standards. Studies have shown that excessively restrictive adoption applications, for example, don’t reduce the number of people returning adopted pets.

Instead, the adoption application time should be used to educate pet owners, she said.

“And then the community really needs to come together and create some type of networking or plan to relieve the overpopulation of pit bulls in this community. It’s astonishing. It’s like a California shelter,” White said.

One solution would be to have a free event to spay and neuter pit bulls, she said.

White said all recommendations should be relatively easy to put into practice. She said she told the City of Longview she would be willing to come back for a progress report in 90 days, but she doesn’t know the shelter’s plans to implement the recommendations.

No shelter aces its initial review, White said, but she respects the interest in self-improvement.

“When people take that step, it’s already impressed me that you care that much that you are providing optimal care to animals,” she said in an interview. “(But) I wish (the Humane Society) would have called me first instead of having to be guided to do this.”

Humane Society Board President Cindy Nordstrom was not available for comment Tuesday.

Longview Mayor Don Jensen said he had not read the review yet, but he said he was confident the humane society will adopt the necessary changes.

He added that he doesn’t anticipate the independent review becoming a regular occurrence, but he said citizens will be watching to see if there are problems.

“(The shelter is) like any other contractor that works for the city. I don't think we should be doing that much oversight. I think they got the message that we are going to have our eye on them. I really think they want to do a good job,” he said.

Councilman Ken Botero, who made an independent, impromptu visit to the shelter earlier this year, said he read the evaluation and thought the recommendations were helpful.

He added that it’s up to the board of directors to decide how to implement recommendations. The city only has control over its contract with the shelter, he said.

“If I was sitting on their board, I think we would take a very strong look at making some of those things happen,” Botero said. “(But) you have to give them credit where credit’s due. ... I think they’re doing a good job and providing a good service to the community.”

“... The community really needs to come together and create some type of networking or plan to relieve the overpopulation of pit bulls in this community. It’s astonishing. It’s like a California shelter."

Autumn White, executive director of the Benton-Franklin Humane Society

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