Meet the Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland

10 groups are working together to save every pet in their community

Veterinarian checking on catIn 2006, 10 of Portland’s largest animal welfare groups formed a coalition: The Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland, or ASAP.

ASAP’s goal is to save all of the adoptable and treatable pets in its region — all while providing humane alternatives for free-roaming cats.

Read more about the amazing results they’ve seen so far

Meet ASAP: The Public Organizations

Publicly-funded animal shelters are typically municipal facilities — city, county or tribal agencies. They’re often open admission, which means that no animal is turned away.

These organizations are government agencies, funded by taxes. Unfortunately, that often means these groups have limited space and resources. They also take in a larger percentage of pets who might be considered high-risk, such as injured strays. As a result, these facilities sometimes need to resort to euthanasia.

ASAP involves 4 open admission or municipal facilities: Multnomah County Animal Services, Washington County Animal Services, the Humane Society for Southwest Washington and Clackamas County Dog Services. These facilities often provide a steady source of adoptable pets for the private organizations in the alliance through pet transfer programs. They also provide a lot of data about the types of homeless pets in each county, which helps informs ASAP’s strategic planning and outreach efforts.

Volunteer hugging catMultnomah County Animal Services

The scene: Multnomah County is the most populated county in Oregon. It includes Portland and the surrounding cities and unincorporated areas — amounting to about 750,000 people.

The situation: Multnomah County Animal Services is the only open admission shelter in the county, so it is the only place for Portland’s stray pets to go for help. Their doors open for more than 5,000 pets each year. And they do their best for every single one.

The spokesperson: Mike Oswald, director and 24/7 advocate for Portland’s homeless pets.

The setup: Open admission shelters have to take in every pet that comes through their doors. So, they’re often at or over capacity. Multnomah County transfers out a large amount of pets — particularly cats — to its ASAP partners. Transferring pets helps shelter staff ensure they have space available in their small shelter for the stray pets who will always continue to come in, no matter what.

The significance: “Instead of running at full capacity all the time, we’re actually able to go out into the community and be proactive,” said Mike. Partnering with ASAP has helped Multnomah County transfer out more pets than they ever have before. Plus, the work that the Spay & Save program has done to reduce pet overpopulation has helped their intake rates come down dramatically. As a result, Multnomah County is now able to focus on proactive outreach and education programs that can prevent pets from coming into the shelter in the first place.

Washington County Animal Services, Bonnie L. Hays Small Animal Shelter

The scene: Washington County, the second-largest county in Oregon in terms of population (population 540,000). It’s just west of Portland, and is a mix of urban and rural areas.

animal shelter staff

The situation: Like the other public shelters in ASAP, they’re open admission. That means every stray pet in Washington County comes to the Bonnie L. Hays Shelter. Each kitten season, boxes and boxes of kittens come through the door. That translates to 4,000 pets each year on average, but there’s no off switch. Every pet who needs help gets it, the very same day they arrive.

The spokesperson: Deborah Wood, manager. Former pet columnist for The Oregonian and latte lover.

The setup: Open admission shelters like the Bonnie L. Hays Shelter “supply the pets for everyone else in the ASAP coalition.” They transfer many adoptable pets out to other agencies. Today, they’re transferring out just as many pets as they adopt out at their facility.

The significance: Since the start of ASAP, the Bonnie L. Hays Shelter has reduced its euthanasia rate by 80% — saving more than 10,000 pets. Saving more lives has helped improve their community’s perception of their shelter. Now, they have more supporters and advocates than ever.

Clackamas County Dog Services

The scene: Northeast of Portland, in the county closest to beautiful Mt. Hood. With a population of 380,000, Clackamas County is the least populous of the 4 counties ASAP covers, but it has the largest land area. 

Dog being checked by vet

The situation: As the name indicates, Clackamas County Dog Services provides all dog-related services for the cities and unincorporated areas in Clackamas County. They assisted more than 1,200 dogs in 2012.

The spokesperson: Diana Hallmark, manager and seasoned commuter (Clackamas County is a bit of a drive from metro Portland).

The setup: Like the other public shelters, this group has been able to tap into ASAP to transfer dogs to other agencies where they may have a better chance of finding forever homes.

What’s more, their partnership with ASAP partners has helped them find unique ways to help cats in their community. They’re only authorized to provide services to dogs, but they often operate as a transport hub for cats in Clackamas County. This way, pet parents can take advantage of the spay/neuter services offered in other counties. Clackamas County works with its coalition partners to get the cats to Spay & Save surgery centers to be fixed. Once they’ve had surgery, Clackamas County helps reunite them with their owners or caretakers. By collaborating with its ASAP partners, Clackamas County Dog Services is helping its community’s cats, too.

The significance:  Though Clackamas County’s population is growing, its pet intake levels have remained the same. Plus, its adoption rate is growing. All in all, the group has been able to steady the pet population and shift to more proactive programs, like working to help the community access Spay & Save services. 

Humane Society for Southwest Washington

The scene: Over the river and into Washington state’s Clark County, population 430,000. It’s part of the Portland metropolitan area, but with Washington residents, rules and regulations.

The situation: The shelter is a 501(c)3 non-profit that is also open admission. They're a public/private organization — a charity with a government contract. So, every stray pet in Clark County comes to the Humane Society. They see nearly 6,000 pets each year and juggle resources every day — they never know if they’ll need to find space for 10 more pets or 100. They rely heavily on their 600 volunteers, who collectively did 47,000 dog walks in the last year alone.

Cat at animal shelter front deskThe spokespeople:

  • Stacey Graham, president. Works to keep all the pets and people in her shelter healthy, happy and working together.
  • Lisa Feder, director of operations. Manages the care of up to 500 pets every single day. Statistics lover and advocate for data-driven strategic planning.

The setup: Like the other public facilities, this shelter is a source of pets for ASAP. They adopt out 60% of their pets, and transfer many of the remaining pets to ASAP partners. Those partner groups also help them with supplemental spay/neuter and medical care for their pets.

The Humane Society for Southwest Washington also provides a key resource to ASAP: Lisa. She helps collect, analyze and use data and statistical information to understand ASAP’s effect on pet homelessness in Portland.

The significance: “No municipal organization can accomplish everything they’re trying to do by themselves,” said Lisa. With ASAP’s support, the Humane Society for Southwest Washington is seeing fewer stray cats. That means they’re able to focus on (and ask for assistance with) more pets with medical or behavioral conditions.

And, with Lisa’s help, ASAP is using data analysis to ensure the coalition’s progress toward ending pet overpopulation in Portland continues on the right path.

Meet ASAP: The Private Organizations

Unlike public animal welfare organizations, private organizations do not receive government funding. They’re funded by voluntary contributions — donations from individuals, businesses or endowments. 

Private organizations often face similar resource constraints as public organizations. Few are open admission facilities that take in all pets, though — many private organizations are limited admission facilities, which means that they take in only as many pets as they have the space and resources to support. They don’t often need to resort to euthanasia because they don’t accept as many pets (or as many high-risk pets) as public organizations must.

In ASAP, private shelters play a very important role: they help the public shelters handle “overflow.” The public groups transfer a lot of pets to the private organizations, both inside and outside ASAP. There, pets have a second chance at finding forever homes. Not only do the private groups have space, but they often are able to get pets in front of fresh faces. The types of pets that are common in one community might be rare (and highly sought after) in another. The private organizations also assist the public groups with spay/neuter efforts, and provide more options for medical and preventative care for pets.

2 private animal shelters are part of ASAP: Oregon Humane Society and Cat Adoption Team.

Volunteer walking dogOregon Humane Society

The scene: A large facility tucked in an industrial area in the northeast corner of Portland. The campus offers several adoption viewing areas, a dog-walking trail, spay/neuter facilities, educational classrooms, gymnasiums and even dormitory space for veterinary students.

The situation: Oregon Humane Society (OHS) is the largest animal shelter in Oregon, serving more than 11,500 animals each year. The 140-year-old organization takes pride in its adoption rate, which averages around 98% and is consistently 3 to 4 times the national average.

The spokespeople:

  • Sharon Harmon, executive director and expert German shepherd hugger.
  • Dr. Kris Otteman, director of shelter medicine and ASAP team cheerleader.
  • Wendy Reimer, humane investigator and tireless advocate for both pets and the parents who love them.
  • Kayte Wolf, program assistant for Spay & Save, logistics champ and spay/neuter advocate.

The setup: As the largest group, OHS is the powerhouse of ASAP. They take in more than 4,000 pets each year through transfer services, including many from agencies involved in ASAP.

Because of its size and capabilities, the group serves as the main administrator for ASAP. OHS receives and distributes all funding for ASAP and its Spay & Save program. OHS is the central location for Spay & Save. They provide a working space and benefits for the program’s one employee, who handles outreach and logistics for community programs, along with space and volunteers for the program’s call center and on-site surgeries.

In addition to managing these programs, the staff at OHS spends a lot of time helping its ASAP partners build and enhance their programs. “It’s a natural outgrowth for OHS to reach out to our coalition partners and say, ‘How can we help you do what we do at our facility?’”

The significance: Cat overpopulation was a big challenge before ASAP started Spay & Save, and the team at OHS has been impressed with the decline in intake as a result of the program. But they know they can’t take their eyes off the pet overpopulation problem — especially when it comes to cats. So, they continue to push their organization and their ASAP partners to pursue innovative ways to address the cat overpopulation problem in Portland and its surrounding communities.

Cat Adoption Team

The scene: A light and airy 2-floor adoption center in Sherwood, southwest of Portland.

Woman playing with catThe situation: Cat Adoption Team’s mission is to be a safe space for cats in the Portland area. They take cats in and will keep them in their facility until they find homes or they can find another place for them. They also provide spay/neuter and health services for cats. In 2013, they took in and found homes for more than 2,000 cats and provided more than 3,000 spay/neuter surgeries.

The spokesperson:

  • Karen Green, executive director and feral cat serenader.
  • Heather Svoboda, communications and development manager and constant cat playground.

The setup: Cat Adoption Team takes in many “overflow” cats from ASAP’s municipal shelters, including cats that the shelters might not have room for, and some special-needs cats too. For example, both Cat Adoption Team and OHS have space where they can house ringworm-positive cats. Cat Adoption Team also looks to the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon (FCCO) for help when they encounter outdoor and free-roaming cats, since FCCO specializes in that area.

The significance: Because ASAP’s spay/neuter work has helped reduced cat intake in the community, Cat Adoption Team is seeing fewer cats. But the cats they are seeing are different than those they’re used to. Now, cats who arrive need a little bit of extra attention — they have behavior issues, special medical needs or issues such as ringworm. Since the volume of cats has declined, Cat Adoption Team is proud to say that they can spend the extra time and effort with special-needs cats to treat them and find them happy, healthy homes.

Other Key Players

The public and private shelters on the ground in Portland work together to save lives every day. But without the behind-the-scenes members of ASAP, they might not have ever come together in the first place.

ASAP’s behind-the-scenes supporters include a feral cat sterilization program, 2 local veterinary medical associations, plus ASAP’s founders and ASAP’s funders. Everyone works with the coalition to ensure this lifesaving work continues and paves progress toward ending Portland’s pet overpopulation problem.

Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon

The scene: A small, high-capacity spay/neuter clinic in an industrial area on Portland's east side. Out in the parking lot rests a 24-foot mobile clinic, capable of hosting 3 vets at any location. 

The situation: The Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon (FCCO) provides spay/neuter, vaccination and health services for free-roaming cats. They assist local caretakers with Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) efforts in the Portland community and beyond. TNR is the only proven method to humanely and effectively control the free-roaming cat population.

Woman turns in feral cat

FCCO’s key priority is that Portland’s free-roaming cats aren’t reproducing. By vaccinating and addressing health conditions in the cats before they’re returned to their home location, FCCO also ensures that the existing free-roaming cat population is healthy and stable. The group assisted more than 7,000 cats in 2013.

The spokesperson: Karen Kraus, executive director and community cat advocate.

The setup: FCCO is unique in ASAP because it isn’t a shelter. But the group does address a serious problem in the community — free-roaming cats — by working with individual caretakers and spreading awareness about the existence of TNR services. Their association with ASAP helps extend their reach, and also provides an avenue for ASAP partners to recommend their services.

The significance: FCCO addresses a large population of cats, the majority of whom will never enter the shelter system because they are too feral. But now that shelters are seeing a reduction in intake, many are better able and more willing to take on more challenging cases, including some of the feral kittens that FCCO takes in. In addition, because of their association with ASAP, more people know about TNR — though FCCO is determined to continue raising that awareness.

Veterinary Medical Associations

The Portland Veterinary Medical Association and the Southwest Washington Veterinary Medical Association represent veterinarians in 2 geographic areas in Portland. They work with ASAP because they all have a shared goal of decreasing the euthanasia of healthy, adoptable and treatable cats and dogs in Portland. They function as liaisons between their members and the animal welfare community, ensuring each side is well represented. And they’re tireless advocates for ASAP’s work.

Woman pets dog in shelter

The Founders

Britta Bavaresco was the executive director at Cat Adoption Team when ASAP was founded. Her perseverance and expertise were critical to getting the coalition off the ground. As a member-at-large, she continues to push the coalition — and the Portland community — to become the best city for pets in the U.S.

Joyce Briggs has been around the block in animal welfare, much like Britta. She’s worked with the American Humane Association and was the executive director of PetSmart Charities® for 5 years. Throughout her work, she saw first-hand the power that animal welfare organizations have when they work together. Currently she’s the president of Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs, a Portland-based, international nonprofit dedicated to exploring new methods of non-surgical birth control for cats and dogs. When she first moved to Portland to begin her work, ASAP was just beginning. She promptly got involved, and soon Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs became a founding member and supporter.

The Funders

PetSmart Charities funds adoption and spay/neuter programs across the United States and Canada, with a goal of finding a lifelong, loving home for every pet. We focus our spay/neuter funding on 2 types of programs:

  • Building capacity for spay/neuter surgeries in a targeted community
  • Increasing the public’s access to low-cost spay/neuter surgeries through subsidies to local animal welfare organizations

PetSmart Charities goal is to have as much impact as possible with our funding, and we liked what we saw in ASAP. When ASAP approached PetSmart Charities for funding in 2009, they had already reduced euthanasia/intake to 29% from 38%. PetSmart Charities stepped up with funding to enable ASAP to start Spay & Save, its flagship spay/neuter program.

Since then, the coalition has continued to grow, to increase the scope of its work, and — most importantly — reduce intake and euthanasia rates. PetSmart Charities has continued to fund Spay and Save, investing $400,000 since 2010. What’s more, PetSmart Charities has funded several of the coalition’s individual members’ programs, further increasing the impact on reducing pet homelessness. Since 2007, PetSmart Charities has funded an additional $700,000 to 7 organizations in the coalition, from funding adoption events to spay/neuter clinics to emergency relief.  

ASAP has also received significant funding from Maddie’s Fund and the ASPCA.

PetSmart Charities is proud of the coalition’s ability to work together in a collaborative way to reduce intake and euthanasia in the Portland community so dramatically. Keep up the good work, ASAP!


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