“Whenever I needed to know what was going on across the country, I could always contact you.”
I am writing to let you know that I have announced my intention to retire from Multnomah County. My last day of work will be April 30, 2015.
It has been a pleasure to have worked with you over the years. I have always appreciated your hard-hitting journalism on the important issues in our field. I have relied on your attention to data, thorough research, and your global perspective. Whenever I needed to know what was going on across the country, I could always contact you.
In the past couple of years, Multnomah County Animal Services has achieved many important goals that I believe places us in a good position for a change in leadership. I am proud of the division’s staff, volunteers, management team and supporters for their dedication and hard work to help us achieve the highest level of life-saving in our history. Our community involvement, engagement and support continues to expand each year, as evidenced by our growing web and social media traffic, our increasing levels of private donations, our soaring volunteerism, an active community advisory committee, and a high-performing, nationally recognized regional coalition.
It’s been a rewarding 37 years with Multnomah County. Over the years, I have had the good fortune and pleasure of working with many outstanding people in Multnomah County, Oregon, and throughout the country, who have dedicated their work-lives to caring for animals and the community we live in.
I wish you all the best in your future.
––Mike Oswald, Director
Multnomah County Animal Services
Multnomah County Animal Services founding director and National Animal Control Association cofounder Mike Burgwin hired Mike Oswald in 1978, five years after the agency was formed to take over animal control duties in Portland and Multnomah County from the Oregon Humane Society. The Oregon Humane Society had held the animal control contract since 1916.
Helped to abolish decompression
“Mike Oswald and I were colleagues at Multnomah County Animal Services,” recalled shelter consultant and euthanasia instructor Doug Fakkema, a 45-year veteran of animal care and control work. “He was field supervisor and I was shelter supervisor. I started work there on November 1, 1979,” assigned to oversee the transition from killing animals by decompression to use of pentobarbital injection.
Only a handful of other major animal control service providers, notably the Berkeley SPCA (1972) and the San Francisco SPCA (1976) had already accomplished similar transitions, which required extensively retraining personnel and introducing the procedures and safeguards required to handle federally regulated drugs.
“That happened within the year. I still remember the shriek of metal as we dragged the chamber out of the building and trashed it,” Fakkema said.
Within another six years every shelter in the U.S. had quit using decompression.
Steeply reduced shelter killing
By 1987 Oswald had succeeded Burgwin as director of Multnomah County Animal Services. But, recognizing Oswald’s administrative abilities, Multnomah County in 1991 promoted him into other responsibilities. Succeeding Oswald as Multnomah County Animal Services director were Dave Flagler, 1991-1996; Hank Miggins, 1997-2000; and Gary Hendel, 2000-2003.
All enjoyed success both in Multnomah County and at other agencies, but shelter killing in the municipal shelter fell most rapidly during Oswald’s two tenures. The drop during his present tenure has been from 12.9 animals killed per 1,000 human residents of the animal control jurisdiction, already substantially fewer than the U.S. national average, to 1.8, among the lowest rates in the U.S., and has been accomplished despite working in one of the oldest shelters in the U.S. that handles a comparable volume of animals.
Along the way Oswald in 1986 produced the first published survey of shelter dog intake by breed in more than a generation; won American Animal Hospital Association accreditation of the Multnomah County Animal Services veterinary facilities in 2006, as one of the first animal control shelters to meet the AAHA standards; repeatedly renovated and expanded the 42-year-old Multnomah County Animal Services shelter, built originally to serve a community of two-thirds the current size; and enjoyed a rare standing ovation from professional colleagues at the 2013 Humane Society of the U.S. Animal Control Expo in Nashville, as co-presenter with Karel Minor, executive director of the Humane Society of Berks County, Pennsylvania, of a brainstorming session seeking “The Next Big Thing” to influence future directors in animal care and control.