Animal Advocates Call For New Shelter

In 2003, a Lane County Animal Regulation Advisory Task Force Report said that the animal shelter shared by Lane County, Eugene and Springfield was in need of a “thorough overhaul or a complete replacement” and 60 more kennels. Instead, First Avenue Shelter, which is home to the area’s strays and now run by Greenhill Humane Society, has the same 30 kennels it has had since the 1970s and is stretched beyond its capacity, according to longtime shelter volunteer Misha English.

English is part of a grassroots campaign to push for a new animal shelter to meet Lane County’s current needs, and on Feb. 11 she and other animal advocates brought their concerns before the city’s Budget Committee and Eugene City Council to discuss as the city plans its 2016-21 Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

In a Feb. 4 email to members of the Lane County Animal Services Advisory Committee, former Budget Committee member Scott Bartlett called others into action, writing that the current shelter “is a disgrace and inhumane and should have been demolished decades ago.” He suggested that the city either build a new shelter on its property or team up with the county. City Councilor Betty Taylor says conditions at the shelter “are pitiful for dogs.”

English says a new shelter is “long overdue” and points out that at the time the current shelter was built, the area “had half the population we have now.” She says research from the Humane Society of the United States shows that the number of American homes with pets has tripled. According to English, foster homes, spay and neuter programs and pet-of-the-week spotlights don’t relieve the pressure of too many animals in too small a space.

Greenhill Executive Director Cary Lieberman says of the volunteers’ grassroots campaign that “we really appreciate everyone’s enthusiasm and their advocacy for animals.” He says, “It’s no secret that the building at First Avenue Shelter needs significant changes to enable us to provide the level of care that we want to provide for lost, stray, abandoned, neglected and abused animals in our community.”

The last time Lane County looked into a new shelter in 2010, county commissioners toured a site off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near the county’s Juvenile and Mental Health buildings. Five years before that, in 2005, a study by the design firm Animal Arts showed a new facility would cost about $6 million. English points to projects in the current draft CIP, such as a $2 million car wash for rental agencies at the Eugene airport, whose funds some advocates argue might better serve Lane County’s homeless pets.

A group of 11 First Avenue volunteers signed a letter to the Budget Committee calling for a new shelter, writing that if cold weather does not allow the shelter to safely house animals in the outdoor overflow kennels then the shelter doubles up animals, a “practice that is generally discouraged for safety and health reasons.”

The shelter also houses animals in break and volunteer rooms overnight and sometimes staffers take dogs home for the night, they write, adding that “the shelter’s dedication to saving more adoptable and treatable animals over the years at the behest of community members means more dogs stay at the shelter longer.”

The volunteers point out the building’s outdated design means the animals are not protected from extremes of heat or cold, and it causes stress for dogs, making them harder to adopt. “There is no interior quiet space for potential adopters to have a conversation with staff about a dog or to meet their new best friend,” the letter continues.

“This isn’t about the administration,” English tells EW. “This is about the facility. It’s insufficient in capacity, inadequate in design and inhumane.”

The Budget Committee meets again to discuss the CIP in March and English urges those concerned to write the County Commission ( and the Eugene ( and Springfield city councils ( Lieberman says people can make a donation to Greenhill at earmarked “building improvements.”