Board responds to follow-up Animal Services audit

July 13, 2018

From left: Auditors Jennifer McGuirk, Nicole Dewees, and Multnomah County Auditor Steve March

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners heard the results of a Multnomah County Animal Services (MCAS) audit on Thursday.

The report follows a February 2016 audit which showed that improvements were needed at the Troutdale shelter in record keeping, health and welfare and animal enrichment activities among other concerns.

The audit highlighted significant strides the shelter has made to its physical layout and access to criminal background information by animal control officers, but also found improvements were still needed to reunite pets with owners.

Board members commended the auditors’ work and noted the need for improvements but asked for more clarity on some of the report’s findings, as well as issues that have been remediated.  

“There’s always room for improvement and it’s great that you did this report,” said Commissioner Sharon Meieran. “I don’t know if there’s opportunity to clarify but I appreciate you clarifying for me today.”

The report produced by auditors Jennifer McGuirk and Nicole Dewees noted physical improvements to the shelter. “There have been many physical improvements said Dewees. “Jackie Rose [shelter manager] has done a fantastic job transforming the space.”

Physical improvements include:

  • Separate entrances for adoption, intake and administrative services

  • Increased double-sided kennels for cats

  • A new meet and greet room

  • A pocket-pet room (for small pets previously housed with other animals) 

  • Swamp coolers for pets during hot days

The audit identified barriers to owners finding pets. When reviewing 178 pet files on the Animal Services website, of 47,  or 25 percent, did not have photos of the animals.

Dewees cited one example of a man who lost his dog and repeatedly checked the MCAS website for his pet. He found a post describing a grey dog, but no picture, Dewees said. And after several days of checking, he finally found his grey dog on the website and up for adoption.

“So something as simple as getting a picture on the website could have eliminated this situation,” Dewees said.  

Commissioner Sharon Meieran pressed auditors on why they did not include in their report the shelter’s high reunification rate or that much of the missing information cited was later uploaded that same day.

Of the 47 reported pet files without photos, 23 of them had photos uploaded within six hours of entry. And eight, or 16-percent of the cases the auditor mentioned as missing information, were reunited the same day, Meieran said.

“The reunification rate is 51-percent compared to 26-percent of the national average for dogs. That’s almost double the national average,” Meieran said. “As a physician, we do a lot of clinical research and we look at outcomes and so it’s important to have that to say — in the context that we can always do better.”

Auditors Dewees and McGuirk said despite the high reunification numbers, the shelter could still do more to improve practices.

Other audit concerns include:

  • Eleven out of 185 cases that failed to provide documentation in both the drug log and the shelter data system record for the animal euthanasia — representing a 5-percent error rate.

  • A lack of enrichment activities for animals when compared to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) standards.  

  • General understaffing for cleaning and feeding, including criticisms of two new positions approved by the Board in 2017.

The 2017 positions granted were used to create Feline and Canine Care Specialist positions, Meieran said.

“That included, doing the work of providing food and cleaning, in addition to developing a behavioral infrastructure,” Meieran said. “And another full-time employee was able to be redistributed in the budget [this year} to provide two additional aides.”

McGuirk said the Feline and Canine Care managers do not provide regular cleaning and feeding - which contributes to the shelter’s failure to meet 66 percent of national standards for cleaning and care.  

Jackie Rose, director of Multnomah County Animal Services, said the decision to create the managerial positions was to manage the flow of animals and the enrichment component, which is a significant issue.

Animal Services Director Jackie Rose (foreground) and Department of Community Services Director Kim Peoples (right)

“Every single day when supervisors come in, they are managing the care that is needed.  When we are short staffed, the care specialist are deployed to help and managers pitch in to take care of the animals.”

“At no time does a single animal in our care not receive the daily care that it needs,” Rose rebutted. “It does not happen.”

Rose said the report failed to note two full-time animal care aids that will join the shelter this month (July 2018) to help in the care and enrichment of animals at the shelter.

“These positions are being funded through cost-saving measures undertaken by the department which was discussed with the auditors,” Rose said.

“I would agree, we do not have enough staff,” Rose said.  “But that doesn’t mean the animals don’t receive the care that they need. We can always do better.  We are striving every day to do better but processes don’t happen overnight. Lots of change management has occurred and it has all been with the desire to do the absolute best that we can for the animals and the people we serve.”  

Rose conceded more enrichment activity is needed.

“That is an area that continues to build and grow, “she said. “But we have significantly changed processes in the facility and increased training for volunteers to assist in this activity. “

Department of Community Services Director Kim Peoples told board members Thursday that roughly 79 percent of recommendations from the 2016 audit have been completed or partially completed.

“I’m very proud of that progress and I applaud the team for acknowledging the staff and their dedication and commitment,” said Peoples.

Commissioner Lori Stegmann asked about the number of animals that come through the shelter door everyday.

The shelter, which boasts of high live/release rates (percentage of animals admitted to the shelter that had live outcomes, and therefore were not euthanized) is the only open door shelter in the community. Animals in need are not turned away.

Shelter capacity increases seasonally and depends on the weather, explained Rose.

“On average, we have 130 animals on a low-day to nearly 300 animals,” Rose said.

“The saying that comes to my mind is: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” said Stegmann, whose district includes the shelter.

“I appreciate the auditor's office, outlining areas for improvement and they’re valid,” said Commissioner Stegmann said. “But I’ve already seen huge improvements.”

“There’s always room for improvement, but I have the greatest confidence in you Jackie (Jackie Rose, Animal Services Director) and Kim (Kim Peoples, Department of Community Services Director) and your staff and the amazing volunteers,” Stegmann said.

Read more on the Multnomah County Animal Service follow-up audit and Multnomah County Animal Services response to issues that are resolved or are being remediated.