MY VOICE: Reclaim our animal shelter

By By Jane Sabin-Davis January 09, 2014 03:00 am

In 2012, many supporters of the original Blue Mountain Humane Association came together over concerns about the longevity and continuation of the animal shelter services that had been provided by BMHA since 1996. In December 2011, John Brinlee had convinced the BMHA board of directors that he was the best candidate for president of the nonprofit and that they could trust his guidance to continue the great work that had been accomplished by previous boards and staff. 

Brinlee was elected as board chair and moved himself into the shelter manager position. Within four months, all of the previous board members and the majority of the staff were gone. He refused to meet with our small group of concerned past staff, board members and community citizens when we met with the county and city. 

We were clear with both the city and the county that we were not happy with how John Brinlee and his supporters had essentially successfully conducted a hostile takeover of BMHA and The Animal Shelter. We were very concerned about what would happen with the endowment fund of over $350,000, money that we diligently set aside to assure the longevity of the animal shelter. Brinlee refused to provide any financial information, which is a requirement of a nonprofit, and we are afraid the endowment is now spent.

We could see that Brinlee and his board were laying the ground work for a rescue organization, rather than following the footsteps that supported a well-functioning, community-based animal shelter.

When we operated BMHA it was as an animal shelter, not an animal rescue. That meant that we took in all animals — healthy, cute, feral or sick — it didn’t matter. We took in those unwanted animals. Typically, a rescue takes in only the animals for which they have space because they are a no-kill or high save organization. 

According to their webpage, “Blue Mountain Humane Association/Animal Rescue Center of La Grande, Oregon, Serving Eastern Oregon is a High Save Animal Rescue.” 

An animal rescue, not an animal shelter — we lost our shelter. 

When BMHA came into being in 1996 there were groups of dogs roaming the streets and a high population of feral cats. Our mission was clear: “The Blue Mountain Humane Association (BMHA) is a nonprofit group with the goals of educating our community about the ethical treatment of animals and the successful operation of The Animal Shelter in La Grande, Oregon.”

Until 2012 when John Brinlee took over the animal shelter, we followed that mission, operating a community shelter, taking care of all animals, and making sure that all animals were ethically treated, healthy and safe. Yes, there were times we had to euthanize animals: those that were too sick, dogs with parvo, or dogs that would be aggressive if adopted by an unknowing family. 

For clarity, BMHA does not own the shelter building; they lease it from the county for no rent. The shelter is supposed to take in stray animals and issue dog licenses in exchange for their use of the county facility. For a period of time over the last few months, BMHA both refused to sell dog licenses and changed the locks so that animal control officers could no longer take in stray dogs. We always felt that the exchange of rent for services was a win/win agreement with the county. We didn’t pay rent and we provided citizens with a service.

As a community member for 30 years, on the BMHA board for six years, and three years as the director, I want our animal shelter back again. Rescues are great. But it is common knowledge that every community needs an animal shelter. We need an animal shelter that puts the needs of citizens right alongside of the needs of the animals. 

Call your commissioners and let them know how you feel at 541-963-1001.

My Voice

Jane Sabin-Davis of Bend is the former director of The Animal Shelter in La Grande. 

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