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Former employees at Multnomah County Animal Services allege animal neglect

Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega-Pederson is calling for a review of current practices within Animal Services after multiple allegations and audits.

PORTLAND, Oregon — Former employees of Multnomah County Animal Services are shedding light on what they call systemic animal neglect at the shelter.

"I don't think I went a single day without crying," said Kayla Popper, a former animal care technician with Multnomah County Animal Services. She quit her job in November after one year.

"The longer dogs stayed [at the shelter], the more you could see them deteriorate, the more you could feel them getting frustrated, getting depressed, kind of going crazy," she said.

Popper said on several occasions, she and other employees went to management with their concerns about staff shortages, animal overcrowding and lack of support from supervisors, with little or no change.

Ami Prevec is also a former care technician with Multnomah County Animal Services. She quit in January of 2022 after four and a half years.

"I just did not feel comfortable with what I saw as the inhumane treatment of animals," Prevec said. "The more I questioned it, the more I seemed to be out of favor with management."

Popper and a third former animal services employee also expressed concerns with what they felt was a culture of retaliation toward employees.

"I felt targeted and emotionally attacked by management," said Cora Burst, who worked as a care technician with Animal Services from spring of 2020 until April 2022. She said she felt forced to quit "because I made a fuss about how animals were being cared for."

The shelter has a history of falling below national standards for basic care, like keeping kennels clean, the animals fed and access to exercise and mental stimulation. Those findings were noted in two county audits from 2016 and 2018.

"My concerns were totally credible as you've read [in the audits]," Burst said.

Some employees said the problems worsened when the shelter stopped in-person adoptions during the pandemic. Only on Wednesday, nearly three years later, did they re-open to the public after closing down for a full week to prepare. 

Erin Grahek became the new director of Multnomah County Animal Services in September. When asked about the complaints, she acknowledged the public's frustration with how things at the shelter have been run in the past and promised change.

"I would like to ask the readers and the viewers to take a leap of faith with me and in some ways, they have no reason to do that," Grahek said, "given the things that were shared and the audit report."

Also on Wednesday, new Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega-Pederson called for a review of current practices within Animal Services.

"That process will bring forward recommendations that will ensure we get to the root of the problems that have troubled our shelter operations,” said Vega-Pederson, “and also ensure we don't find ourselves in this situation again."

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