Local animal shelter operating at capacity and beyond

Elizabeth Thompson, Executive Director of OCHS, poses with a lost poodle as she and her staff wait to locate the family. Courtesy photo

April 13, 2023 — “I’ve got a dog in my office so let’s have a meeting upstairs so we don’t scare him,” says Elizabeth Thompson of the Oregon Coast Humane Society (OCHS).

Thompson recently celebrated 2 years as Executive Director of OCHS despite the previous directors staying in the position for less than a year. When asked if she could speak to overcoming any of the challenges they faced, she simply says her entire experience has been positive. She attributes it to her directness.

“I think I’m just more stubborn,” states Thompson about setting clear intentions.

As a champion for shelter animals, she handles the delicate balance between the board, employees, volunteers, and pet owners with equal care.

“You have to like people as much as the animals because we’re serving both ends of the leash,” notes Thompson.

In the post-pandemic world, things look different for OCHS. Pet owners returning back to work have less time for their animals. That, in combination with the nationwide shortage of vets, has made getting animals spayed and neutered more difficult.

As a result, animals are getting surrendered at an alarming rate. This year alone, the shelter has received numerous litters of puppies including purebreds like Yorkshire terriers, Olde English bulldogs, huskies and chocolate labradors.

Thompson has sent out letters to every vet licensed to practice in Oregon in search of help. OCHS hosts veterinarians whenever they’re available.

One vet travels from Portland three days a month and another vet who works in Eugene helps out once a week. OCHS also partners with Greenhill Humane Society and Lucky Paws Rescue in Springfield to help animals get fixed.

Every animal is spayed or neutered before getting adopted out from the coast’s humane society. For pets in the community, OCHS will provide a voucher to help with spay and neuter costs. There is also an option to get on a list to have the procedure done locally without having to travel, although wait times vary.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to make the community comfortable in asking for help…We’re trying to eliminate the shame [and] guilt piece of it,” Thompson says.

Three Rivers Casino has awarded a grant of $15,000 as part of a $40,000 initiative to get community animals fixed. Currently, it is kitten season so the program is focused on spaying female cats first to most effectively reduce overpopulation.

Once animals are fixed, they also need loving homes. OCHS is working hard to increase visibility of shelter cats by hosting them at different businesses around town.

Florence Shipping Solutions reached out to the humane society to be one of those businesses and the effort has worked. Raining Cats and Dogs, the OCHS Thrift Store and the Siuslaw News have also host cats, which has led to more people going to the shelter to adopt.

101 Mini Storage reached out to host larger dogs to increase their odds for adoption. Generally, people opt to take smaller dogs so this is a much needed service.

Overall, OCHS has an annual operating budget of just under eight hundred thousand dollars. Over half of that budget goes directly toward veterinary costs and food for animals.

Thompson is proud to say less than one fifth of the budget goes toward admin costs, unlike other non-profits that boast much higher rates. Another thing she’s proud to talk about is the increase of youth volunteers.

“If there’s nothing else we can do - if we can teach the next generation how to be kind to animals and what good stewardship looks like - we’re doing a lot right,” says Thompson.

Her heart is big and passion for animals palpable. At one point during the interview, she even tears up recalling the passing of one of the more difficult shelter cats that she grew close to and helped rehome.

“It’s wonderful to see the investment people will put into an animal. You think you see a [difficult case] and it’s an anomaly, but it’s more common than not,” she says.

Thompson’s willingness to serve animals knows no bounds. Right now, the room at OCHS with the bathtub has a dog, the pet kitchen has a dog, and her office has a dog. Her concern is that when another stray comes in, where will it go?

Currently, OCHS has only 15 kennels. Often, animals get matched by temperament and at any given time, one kennel might host six to ten (small) dogs at once.

The goal for the next three to five years is to secure funding to help the shelter expand. The current building was built in the 1990s and is two-story. Lane County has recently renewed their lease and expanded the size of their lot up to nine acres.

“We can help more animals when we have more room so that’s the big goal,” Thompson states.

More specifically, the goal includes expanding the veterinary and medical suites as well as adding needed office space and kennels for the animals.

If you are interested in helping OCHS, you can donate through their website, by check or in person. You can also sign up for monthly or one-time donations for as little as one dollar. Other ways to support the humane society include buying needed items from their wishlist, donating items to the thrift shop, or volunteering your time.

Go to oregoncoasthumanesociety.org/.