By historic definition, a humane society endeavors to end human and animal suffering. Since their inception in the late 1800's the mission of these organizations has drifted or evolved to focus on finding homes for every dog and cat without a home or in need of human care. We call them companion animals, but so many dogs and cats live without the comfort and safety provided by a human caregiver.
The tragic pet overpopulation crisis used to require that we euthanize many animals which have been lost, abandoned or relinquished as unwanted. It is not necessarily the case anymore, especially here in Oregon. Collectively, lost, abandoned and unwanted dogs and cats account for as many as 8 million companion pets nationwide. Fortunately, shelters, many of which are run by local, independently funded humane societies, provide transitional, temporary homes for these pets in need.
By accident or intention, progressive modern day humane societies also devote attention to human welfare needs because they consider the human condition and cater to the needs of specific and sometimes special demographics of people.
Humane societies provide opportunities for thousands, if not millions of people to volunteer their time to help animals in need every year. Undoubtedly, social science has shown that such opportunities are as therapeutic and as beneficial for people as much as they provide a service to the animals themselves.
In recent years, academics have studied and learned more about the human-companion animal bond and human-companion animal interactions than we have in the history of companion animal "domestication"--thousands of years. Veterinary and animal science research in collaboration with social science and human medicine have taught us about the benefits of human-animal interactions as they influence the health and welfare of humans and animals alike. The conventional local humane society is what fosters much of this work and it often goes unrecognized.
Through their shelter medicine and behavior management programs, progressive humane societies promote the highest standards of care in terms of husbandry and health care for their animal populations. Indeed, local humane societies are the gold standard for companion animal care. In fact, government administrated animal service programs often consider local humane societies to be model organizations for shelter care, if that is any indication.
In addition, some humane societies tailor their programs to help people with special needs. The benefits are mutual and they have been shown to make an extraordinary impact on animals and people. Few places on Earth foster opportunities for positive and healthy human-animal interactions as a local humane society.
Since the late 19th Century, the emergence of humane organizations in just about every municipality in the United States has had an enormous impact on the pet overpopulation crisis. The passionate and dedicated personnel and volunteer corps. of our nation's humane societies would likely admit that their work is not done until every animal finds a home, but in the meantime they cultivate a welcoming and nurturing atmosphere for both people and animals.
While international and national humane societies continue to support the needs of companion animals, they are, by and large, still non-sheltering organizations. They are hugely effective as educational entities, raising awareness of the plight of animals in need and they contribute funding to local organizations and respond with human resources to disaster of most concern.
But local humane societies continue to do much of the leg work as the vast majority of them run their own shelter and adoption programs. One of the most progressive in the United States is the Oregon Humane Society (OHS), which as of 2014, recorded the highest percentage of adoptions in the US (98% overall adoption rate) and a 98 % save rate. This translates to the OHS adopting out over 11,000 animals in a given year.
I had an opportunity to see first hand some of the impressive work of the Oregon Humane Society based in Portland. I not only toured their facilities, but I interviewed their staff in the correspondence below:
Jordan: Oregon Humane Society is cited as one of the most progressive organizations of its kind. What OHS programs or facilities would you make special mention of in an effort to highlight this perception?
OHS: In 2007 we opened our Animal Medical and Learning Center to help our shelter pets get the medical or behavior expertise they need before being adopted. The hospital is also a one-of-a-kind teaching facility. In partnership with the Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine, veterinary students complete a three-week primary care rotation at the hospital under the guidance of a full-time OSU faculty member. We were the first shelter to partner with a Veterinary College and now the program is being duplicated across the country.
Jordan: A lot of your resources go into shelter programs for dogs, but I saw first hand how much attention your feline husbandry and adoption program receives. Certainly, you are a model organization for canine companions, but can share what you do for feline companions that makes your work to help cats in need so outstanding?
OHS: It starts with our dedicated staff and volunteers for the cats. They are always looking for ways to keep the cats enriched until they can find their new home, whether it is giving them one-on-one time for visiting and grooming or finding a special toy. Also, we like to learn from other shelters. A couple of years ago we found out that switching out the cat blankets everyday (as we did for sanitary reasons) can stress a cat because they like the familiar scent they leave on it. When cats are stressed they are more prone to getting sick. So if possible we leave the blanket with them and it can actually go home with them to help with the transition.
Jordan: You have a very impressive contingent of volunteers in addition to a very dedicated and skilled staff. Can you tell us why you think your volunteer program garners such respect nationally. What are some of the things you do that make it such a success?
OHS: The volunteer department was completely retooled in 2002. We went from 498 active volunteers in 2002 to now a steady volunteer force of 2,000 wonderful people a year. One of the elements that makes the program successful is that we gave job descriptions to the different roles that volunteers can sign up for, so that there is no confusion about the job. We also structured some lead volunteers within the force to help guide the newer volunteers so that they feel supported. Also we have a forum on Facebook for active volunteers (and foster volunteers) so that they can ask questions and feel as if they are part of a group that relies on each other to help the pets at OHS.
Jordan: What are some future goals or directions you plan to take to achieve your mission of providing every cat and dog in the Portland area with a loving home?
OHS: This is a very interesting time for sheltering in Portland. In truth, there really isn't a dog overpopulation problem in Portland metro anymore and we are making very good progress for the cats. One of the main reasons for this is the formation of ASAP (the Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland http://asapmetro.org/) In 2006 the private and public animal shelters in four counties that makes up the Portland metro area joined together to end euthanasia of pets in our area. In the past 8 years, ASAP has reduced euthanasia in Portland's shelters by 87% and now saves 93% of cats and dogs – making our community one of the safest for pets in the nation. Along with sheltering pets, future goals will be to strengthen the bond between humans and their pets so that they have the resources to keep pets happy and healthy in their homes. And to ensure that no animal is neglected or abused in the state of Oregon.