Karen McGill Saves Lives as Feline Specialist

Karen McGill

Multnomah County Animal Services gives staff the needed resources for cats to thrive.

Karen McGill has been saving lives as part of the animal care team at Multnomah County Animal Services (MCAS) for ten years. She first served as an animal care aide, then later became the adoption counselor at MCAS’ permanent outreach at Petsmart Gresham. There, Karen and volunteers would use positive reinforcement techniques to change feline behaviors.  It was rewarding for Karen to see positive changes that led to adoption in the young, high-strung cats MCAS sent to Petsmart for Karen and her team to work with. Cat behavior rehabilitation became Karen’s passion.  When the permanent outreach closed in 2013, Karen applied her skills to help cats in the shelter.

“We’ve been very blessed to be a part of the Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland (ASAP).  Our community has made great progress to spay and neuter cats” says Karen.  “Our cat population has decreased over the years.  MCAS can now devote much more space and resources to help cats with special needs.”

MCAS’ live-release rate for cats reached 92% in 2016.

Support for Shelter Cats

At MCAS, Karen provides tools and training to animal care staff to work with cat behaviors.  Each day she’s prescribing action plans, and acting as a troubleshooter for special cases.

All animals at MCAS receive an incoming health exam, usually when they first arrive.  If the cats are fractious at that time, staff give them a few days to settle down before their exam. Animal care technicians typically give each incoming cat a place to hide, toys to play with, and enough space for their needs.  If cats are fearful, they’re reassessed and given a larger enclosure. Most cats arrive at the shelter and are later adopted without needing Karen's help, which is a testament to the work of animal care staff and progressive shelter practices at MCAS.  It also allows Karen to focus on the 20% of cats who may need extra help before adoption.

Cats who don’t settle or aren’t making progress after several days come to Karen’s attention.  Karen has the patience and skill to work with each cat, case by case.  Many cats need basic positive reinforcement, or more space, so Karen often brings cats into her office in a rolling-cage to work with them and see where they’re at. As an indicator of stress and progress, Karen also does daily walkthroughs to make sure cats are eating and using their litterbox.

If worse comes to worse, cats go into special enclosures for extra quiet, privacy, and space. Foster volunteers also care for cats that still don't make progress at the shelter.  Many cats also go to local partner rescue organizations for further rehabilitation and adoption opportunities.

Kitties for Hire Program

Through Karen’s support, MCAS introduced a Kitties for Hire program in 2015. There are many cats brought to the shelter as strays who don’t have an interest in being with people or living in a home. Barring illness or injury, it's best to spay or neuter outdoor unsocial cats and allow them to remain.  The cats are already familiar with food sources, dangers, and other resources in their territory.  However, there are times when it isn’t possible for the cats to stay, then they're trapped and removed.  When they come to the shelter as strays, they become Kitties for Hire adoption candidates, which is the next best outcome to staying in familiar territory.

Shannon Adopts Kitties for Hire Lip and Cam

Shannon with Lip and Cam

A Kitty for Hire is what Shannon needs to control the mice and rats growing fat on her farm.  She adopted Kitties for Hire program candidates, Lip and Cam on Monday, January 30. Shannon doesn’t want to use pesticides which could harm her animals and the environment, and she also likes the idea of adopting cats in need of a special home.  “All the animals on my farm have a job,” Shannon says.

Prior to adoption, Karen gave Shannon detailed tips for how to help the Kitties for Hire with the transition to farm-life.  Lip and Cam will stay inside large kennels inside Shannon's barn with privacy dens to adjust to their new environment. As part of the plan to make the cats familiar with their surroundings, Shannon will visit with Lip and Cam each day to help them get used to her.  She'll also leave articles of clothing for them to learn her scent.   Lip and Camp will be able to roam-free once they've adjusted to their new space.

“These two cats are going to a great place," Karen said.  “ They get a conscientious owner, all the acreage they could want, and even an Alpaca for a companion. It’s like they’re going to college!”

Thank you for spreading the word about the Kitties for Hire Program, and the life-saving work performed by Karen and other Animal Care staff at Multnomah County Animal Services!