Congratulations to Jen H., celebrating twenty (20) years as a staff member at Multnomah County Animal Services (MCAS). In her different roles, Jen has watched the rise of Petlandia, and has been involved in many external and internal changes to improve the standing of pets in our shelter and in our community.
At almost thirty years old when hired, Jen recalls being the youngest staff member at the shelter. There were mostly experienced staff members who stayed on staff for many years.
Jen’s Community Outreach Role
In her first role at MCAS, Jen was a Community Outreach Program staff member on a team of five people. Together, they would host adoption outreach events at local pet supply stores and other community events, such as the 4th of July Celebration at Glenn Otto park, and the Portland Rose Festival. The group would also sell pet licenses, including outreach work distributing licenses free of cost to community members experiencing homelessness. “For the program, we just wanted to have ID on their pets in case they were ever lost, to be able to get them back safely. Our outreach activities were fun and meaningful,” Jen says, “but after two years, we suffered budget cuts in the county, and the program was dismantled.”
Jen and other staff members were absorbed into other programs at the shelter where possible. Jen joined the Client Services Team, providing support for pet licensing programs. She later became a License Compliance Officer. Those were Jen’s official roles, but informally, Jen was a Jill of all trades. Jen had experience using Quickbooks and Dreamweaver, and would assist with updating the shelter website, and electronic accounting.
Licensing Compliance was a program that went away at first due to the budget cuts that also affected Jen’s outreach role. Officers used to canvas the community and issue citations for unlicensed animals. After the program was cut, and later restored, Jen and the License Compliance program focused mainly on lapsed licenses in the MCAS records, so we were reaching out to those we already knew. As soon as the program was restored, Jen noticed the difference it made on the MCAS budget, and our ability as an agency to sustain services through licensing fees. “I believe in my job, because licensing gets pets back to their people, and collecting license revenue to keep the shelter open to care for stray animals is a big deal,” Jen says. “That’s probably how I ended up in the role I have now- I don’t have a problem telling people how important pet licensing is- for their pets, and for our ability to care for the lost pets of the community. I want to listen to people who are upset or having a hard time licensing their pets, and help them through it, but I have never had anyone hang up on me or refuse to listen to me. I want to help them understand that the more animals there are with license tags in our community, the fewer will be lost and unclaimed at our shelter.”
Jen and her husband had a German Shepherd when she started at MCAS, and Jen has been the go-to Shepherd aficionado on site ever since. “Once you have a shepherd, you may not want any other kind of dog, even accounting for some of their complicated medical challenges. They’re just extraordinary, sensible, and smart,” Jen says. “I connect with them really well when they come in, and staff know they can come to me for assistance.” In her time at the shelter, Jen has adopted two shepherds, and a Belgian Malinois.
For some Shepherds at the shelter for longer than usual, Jen is happy to provide enrichment during breaks from her normal duties, whether visiting in the kennel, or playing ball in a fenced area, going the extra mile to help alleviate the stress of a prolonged stay.
Bully Breed Advocacy
Even with her profound love for German Shepherds, Jen has a big soft spot for bully breeds, and a strong interest in breaking down barriers that they face. “I really don’t like breed bias. When I started, the shelter was overflowing with Rottweilers, and they were difficult to place due to fears and stigma in the community. Later, that was the case with pit bulls,” Jen says. “Back in the day, when a pit bull was loose on the street, community members would panic. We engaged in a lot of work to portray them in a more positive light, including the Pitties in Pink float in local parades, and just trying to educate community members about their characteristics and potential. As Portland has become more conscientious of pets with the rise of Petlandia, these attitudes have thankfully started to change.”
Change Over Time
Jen has witnessed the evolution of the animal care industry. “I remember when many more animals were euthanized, and it was heartbreaking. There weren’t the placement options that we have now- there weren’t a lot of rescues aside from a few focused on particular breeds, and not as many people were adopting or spaying and neutering their animals. We didn’t really have a foster and transfer program aside from staff taking animals home with them. Changing these systems, and building the infrastructure to better care for animals in our shelter and in the community has saved countless lives.”
“What’s important to me is the care we give to the animals, and how that’s improved over time. I love that we now have a full service veterinary hospital on site that’s AAHA accredited, with multiple vets and support staff. I love that we have a foster program with hundreds of foster volunteers, and shelters and rescues in the community we work with who can take unclaimed stray animals to put up for adoption.”
“What I want the community to know is that we really do care about the animals here. There’s not a single person here who doesn’t care deeply about the animals and their outcomes. I know that no matter what our roles are, we’re all here for the same purpose- to care for the animals that are here, and to support members of the community with their animals.”
Thank you, Jen, for your twenty years of caring service to the pets and people of Multnomah County.