Oregon Humane Society New Shelter Project 2000
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2005:
Oregon Humane Society New Shelter Project 2000
Skanska USA Building
Free downloadable PDF file: <www.oregonhumane.org/shelter.htm>
To review in May 2005 a book published to commemorate the
opening of the new Oregon Humane Society shelter in June 2000 might
appear to be revisiting old news, but ANIMAL PEOPLE learned long ago
that shelters need time to age.
The Oregon Humane Society shelter in April 2005 scored 100 on
the ANIMAL PEOPLE 100-point scoring scale, explained in detail in
the June 2004 edition. Based upon how well a shelter fulfills the
“Five Freedoms” articulated by the British Farm Animal Welfare
Advisory Committee in 1967, with nine further considerations
specific to dog and cat sheltering, the ANIMAL PEOPLE scale is
designed to evaluate all types of shelter on an equal footing,
regardless of size, function, or budget.
New shelters tend to score better because they incorporate
better ideas, but the $8.3 million investment put into the Oregon
Humane Society shelter has much less to do with the perfect score
than the successful functioning of the facilities, including a
particularly effective floor plan. Many more expensive shelters fall
short, sometimes scoring only in the 70-point range, while
thoughtfully designed shelters built on a fraction of the Oregon
Humane budget have scored above 90 points. Oregon Humane handles
more than twice as many animals as any shelter previously scoring 100.
ANIMAL PEOPLE does not score newly opened shelters. Most
shelters look good in architectural drawings, and are immaculate at
debut. Many do not stand up well to hard use by stressed animals and
people. Five years after opening, some of the most touted shelters
are already weary with stale air, clogged drains, chipped floors,
dim lighting, demoralized staff, and a rising din of barking
attesting to the failure of sound baffles and wallboard to compensate
for obsolete architecture. Shelter killing rates plateau or even
rise, while adoptions drop, reflecting the increasingly uninviting
The Oregon Humane Society went the other way. Planning and
fundraising to replace the old shelter built in 1939 by the Works
Progress Administration began in 1993.
Remembered by current Oregon Humane Society executive
director Sharon Harmon as “A horrible place,” the 1939 shelter was
still nationally regarded as a good example of shelter design as
recently as 1963, when it was favorably mentoned in The Quality of
Mercy, the then-considered definitive history of the humane movement
by William Alan Swallow. The initial design specifications called
for it to employ 12 workers, handling 4,000 animals per year,
By 1973 the animal traffic approached 55,000 per year.
Giving up the Portland and Multnomah County animal control contracts,
held since 1916, gradually brought the volume down to about 15,000
animals per year, handled by 48 employees and 600 volunteers.
Ancrom Moisan Associated Architects completed the initial
plans for an expanded shelter in 1995, but the building committee
was reconstituted in 1998, partly in response to the 1994 opening of
the Oakland SPCA Adoption Atrium and the February 1998 debut of
Maddie’s Adoption Center at the San Francisco SPCA.
Both were largely funded by the Duffield Family Foundation,
before it created Maddie’s Fund to promote community-wide five-year
plans for converting to no-kill animal control. Both built upon
ideas pioneered by the North Shore Animal League adoption center in
Port Washington, New York, and the PETsMART Charities Luv-A-Pet
adoption boutiques, but took their innovations a few steps farther.
Designed in the mid-1980s, the North Shore adoption center
represented the first big break from traditional kennel design toward
customer friendliness. Today it has been so widely emulated that
relative newcomers to animal sheltering may have difficulty imagining
how different the use of space, light, and handling of air exchange
and drainage all seemed to be circa 1990.
The Luv-A-Pet adoption boutiques fused some of the same ideas
with high-volume retail marketing. As the PETsMART chain expanded to
hundreds of sites, it showed that high-volume adoption could be done
anywhere, and that animals could be housed in facilities that are
neither noisy nor stinky.
If there was any doubt that an attractive high-volume
adoption center could attract markedly more adopters to a traditional
full-service shelter, the Oakland SPCA Adoption Atrium proved
Maddie’s Adoption Center completed the transition away from
traditional shelter design by showcasing animals for adoption in
habitats more resembling living rooms than kennels–albeit living
rooms engineered to resist animal damage.
The Oregon Humane Society had a bigger job underway than any
of the other innovators, since it was completely rebuilding one of
the busiest full-service shelters in the U.S., on the site it had
occupied since 1918, without a shutdown.
That necessitated a modular approach to construction. Work
began in February 1999. The new dog housing was completed in
November 1999. The 1939 shelter was then partially demolished while
the rest of the new shelter was built. The last of the old shelter
came down after the new offices, cat facilities, and euthanasia
and receiving areas were completed.
While borrowing ideas from many other sources, Harmon told
ANIMAL PEOPLE that she probably relied most upon Wisconsin Humane
Society executive director Victoria Wellens. Wellens began building
the new Wisconsin Humane Society premises in 1998, concurrent with
the Oregon Humane Society replannning. The Wisconsin Humane Society
shelter opened in 2001. Harmon said she and Wellens were constantly
in contact, exchanging the information each gathered from wherever.
ANIMAL PEOPLE has not yet visited the Wisconsin Humane
shelter, nor the new Richmond SPCA shelter, which also drew
inspiration from Wisconsin Humane. Both are, however, well
regarded by other critical visitors.
As all of the key ideas, floor plans, photos, and history
are included in the free downloadable PDF file Oregon Humane Society
New Shelter Project 2000, just a point-and-click away for anyone
with a web browser, there is little need to review the details of
the Oregon Humane design, except to note that the importance of the
floor plan is understated.
The traffic flow moves entirely from left to right, from
separate receiving stations for dogs and cats, through separate
holding areas for quarantined animals, animals needing veterinary
care, and holds for rehoming. Never is there need to take
unfamiliar dogs and cats past each other.
Animals pass the entrance to the lightly used euthanasia room
as they leave the receiving area, on their way to be housed in other
wings of the building. If they sense the presence of the euthanasia
room at all, they sense that they are being taken away from it.
Animals arriving for euthanasia do not pass those in care. Rarely is
there need to take animals to be euthanized back past others still in
Animals offered for adoption rotate toward the lobby,
enjoying ever more attractive and comfortable surroundings as they
clear health and behavioral checks. Those at the shelter longest are
displayed most prominently, giving them the best chance to be the
next animals to find homes. Possibly the most active rabbit adoption
center in the U.S. is just off the lobby–and access to it is
arranged so that the rabbits have little if any awareness of
proximity to cats and dogs.
Harmon admits that she did not think of adding bird
facilities during the design process. The two noteworthy design
flaws surfacing during the first five years of shelter operation are
the lack of aviary space and an on-site sterilization clinic.
Sterilization surgery is contracted out to off-site clinics, but
will be done in-house when a soon-to-begin expansion is completed.
The expansion will also more than double the already spacious humane
The influence of the Oregon Humane Society shelter on the
Portland and Multnomah County dog and cat population is not easily
teased apart from other changes and innovations in animal care and
control, but is consistent with a 137-year history at the forefront
of humane progress.
Founded by Dr. Thomas Lamb Elliot on November 17, 1868,
though not formally incorporated until 1880, the Oregon Humane
Society is only eight months younger than the San Francisco SPCA,
which was the first in the western U.S. Only the American SPCA
(1866) and Massachusetts SPCA (1868) are older. The initial mission
of all four organizations was protecting draft horses. Oregon Humane
added child protection services to the original mandate, and was the
official state child protection agency from 1881 to 1933. Humane
education was put into the Oregon Humane mission statement in 1882.
As of 1972, when Oregon Humane opted out of animal control,
Portland and Multnomah County were killing between 130 and 140 dogs
and cats per 1,000 human residents, almost all of them by
decompression. The national average was then circa 115 per 1,000,
but many cities with lower killing rates did not even try to pick up
Portland soon followed Berkeley (1972) and San Francisco
(1976) in abolishing decompression killing. Pet sterilization was
promoted successfully enough that by 1993 the Portland/Multnomah rate
of shelter killing was down to 22.7. The advent of early-age
sterilization and neuter/return of feral cats cut the killing rate
further, to 11.3, by the time the new shelter opened in 2000.
Since then, the toll has fallen further, to just 6.75 in 2004.
While the value of the Oregon Humane Society shelter is not
easily quantified in isolation, it can be said that it gives the
fast-growing Portland metropolitan area the capacity to achieve
no-kill animal control, in combination with the feral cat
sterilization efforts of Pet Over-Population Prevention Advo-cates
and other local coalitions.
Although San Francisco and Ithaca, New York, have lowered
shelter killing per 1,000 humans to circa 2.5, and New York City is
close, the effective threshold for no-kill animal control in most
cities is about 5.0. After that, further reductions require
ever-increasing investments in saving seriously sick, injured, or
The steepest drops in the Portland toll have coincided with
the two tenures of current Multnomah County animal control director
Mike Oswald, who during his first term of service in the 1980s was
among the first shelter directors in the U.S. to issue a public
warning about increasing intakes of pit bull terriers and other
potentially dangerous dogs. This is now the largest threat to
progress in Portland, as to the U.S. shelter killing rate nationally.
In 1987, according to Oswald’s records, 24.8% of the dogs
entering the Multnomah County shelter were Labrador retrievers,
German shepherds, and their close mixes, reflecting their
popularity. Just 6.3 were pit bull terriers, and 0.4% were
In 2004, exactly 24% of the incoming dogs were Labrador
retrievers, German shepherds, and their close mixes: almost no
change. But 21% were pit bull terriers and 6.6% were Rottweilers.
Bites by Labrador retrievers and German shepherds were
exactly 30% of the bite investigation caseload in both 1987 and
2004– but the total bite caseload increased 42%. Bites by pit bulls
increased 65%, from 13% of the total to 20%, and bites by
Rottweilers increased more than five-fold, from 2% of the total to
Despite the rising numbers of potentially dangerous dogs
received, Oswald has achieved a community-wide reduction of
approximately 30% in the numbers of dogs killed in shelters, about
80% of them killed by animal control.