CHS, county reflect on changes impacting public since contract termination earlier this year

COLUMBIA COUNTY DOG CONTROL PHOTO - A stray dog picked up from Scappoose is kept at the Holsheimer Lamar Animal Shelter by Columbia County Dog Control. The county now uses a Facebook page to notify the public about dogs kept in impound.Two and a half months after Columbia County terminated its contract with the Columbia Humane Society, staff from the county and CHS have mixed feelings about the outcome.

For years, the county paid CHS to provide care for dogs picked up by the county's Dog Control officer, as well as stray dogs dropped off at the shelter.

CHS, the nonprofit animal rescue and welfare organization, operates out of the Holsheimer Lamar Animal Shelter in St. Helens. The building is owned by the county, and CHS has a 99-year lease to use a portion of the building.

In late 2017, however, Columbia County commissioners severed the county's contract with CHS, citing "inefficiencies in managing the contract" and "complaints from customers regarding the manner in which CHS staff treated dog owners and others interested in county-held dogs."

Since the contract termination, CHS has reduced its operating hours and says it has fewer kennels available to take in adoptable dogs. The county now relies on jail inmates to clean kennels and county staff to feed the animals.

"As far as our business, not much has changed," said Lisa Beggio, shelter manager and executive director at CHS. "We have closed a few extra days a week because we don't have enough staff to keep our doors open."

The nonprofit organization now employs three people, including Beggio, and is open to the public noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday, and by appointment.

"Space-wise, it has changed what we can pull in from transports," Beggio noted, referring to a program that allows CHS to accept dogs from other shelters and put them up for adoption in Columbia County, where they are more likely to find homes.

With the rearrangement of shelter space, CHS now operates with 14 fewer kennel spaces.

"Having the loss of those 14 kennels has really cut down on what we can run through the shelter, so that cuts down on our added income," Beggio says. "If we had the space available to use those kennels, we would have probably been able to run 40 dogs through those kennels last month."

County staff says using fewer kennels reduces stress on animals already in the shelter.

There is still some relationship between Columbia County Dog Control and CHS. When no one comes to claim an impounded dog after five days, Dog Control staff can turn the dog over to CHS for adoption.

That's happened with about three dogs so far this year, but Beggio says they can't take pets that aren't spayed or neutered, so not all dogs can be turned over for adoption to CHS. In those cases, the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, which oversees Dog Control, works with the Oregon Humane Society.

Beggio says now that she and her staff aren't managing the entire shelter, she suspects dogs kept by Dog Control see less time with people and a less frequent feeding schedule.

One of the biggest changes at the shelter is the utilization of jail inmates to clean kennels.

"Corrections deputies supervise inmates at the shelter on a daily basis," Lt. Brian Pixley with the Sheriff's Office, stated. "The inmates follow set guidelines in cleaning the kennels."

In February, the county commissioned an independent inspection of the shelter by animal services officers with the Washington County Sheriff's Office.

The inspection deemed the shelter provided adequate care for animals, as well as sufficient space, lighting and kennel-cleaning techniques.

Pixley said Dog Control Officer Roger Kadell's office has also been moved to the shelter, giving him more interaction time with the dogs.

"He is at the shelter five days each week and checks on the animals several times each day," Pixley noted. "At the end of his shift, or if [inclement] weather is an issue, he returns the dogs to the inside kennels and spends time socializing with the dogs."

Pixley said stray dog impound notices are now posted on a Columbia County Animal Control Facebook page, and residents can retrieve their dogs seven days a week.

As for Beggio, she says the differences she's seen with the rearrangement comes down to different missions.

"We have 14 kennels pretty much sitting empty all the time and I get a kill list from other shelters every day," she notes. "But there's a difference between animal welfare and animal enforcement."

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