LA GRANDE — The Blue Mountain Humane Association’s former director John Brinlee left the animal shelter in January 2020. Almost a year later, the president of the association’s board of directors, Beverly Beach, said the rescue center is making progress cleaning up the mess he left behind.

According to Beach, Brinlee left the shelter in shambles, with trash throughout the building, incomplete financial records and unpaid bills.

Financially the shelter is struggling but moving in the right direction, Beach said, and record keeping and bookkeeping now are consistent, with every animal and every cent accounted for.

However, because the association cannot take volunteers or fundraise due to COVID-19, Beach said money for repairs and refurbishment is tight. She said it is even more tight after having to pay the Internal Revenue Service for payroll taxes that were not paid in 2016. The shelter hired an accounting firm in 2017.

“We got a bill for $4,800 because Brinlee was doing his own payroll in 2016,” Beach said. “We paid a portion and are asking for an abatement for the rest. But this is money we could have put toward any number of projects for the shelter.”

Cleaning up the sections for keeping animals has been the biggest and most successful project, Beach said. The room that housed adult cats had urine-soaked hay, and many of the cats were not socialized properly, she said. Now the cats seem happier and roam more freely and interact with the shelter staff more frequently.

Because of old appliances, scrap metal and trash in the back area of the shelter, Beach said, dogs had not been able to get fresh air and run around outside, despite the multiple acres of land the shelter sits on. The back area of the shelter now is clean and every dog goes outside at least once a day, Beach said.

Another project has been dealing with the property’s feral cat population, many of which used the barn on the property as their shelter. Beach said the barn was filled with old hay and trash and they found several dead cats, all of which has been cleaned out and the barn refurbished for the feral cats to enjoy safely.

“The board itself and their family members have been great about donating and putting in time to clean the barn out,” Beach said.

When Brinlee was director, Beach said, the feral cats the shelter received were not spayed and neutered. This caused a boom in the cat population, which the shelter is hoping will be reduced with its newly implemented “trap neuter return” program.

“We can’t get the feral cat population under control without TNR,” Beach said. “So we will use this barn as a gauge to see if the program is working for the next kitten season.”

The shelter has improvements still to make, including continuing to clean the site, tear down walls Brinlee put up to create storage closets and update appliances and fix maintenance problems. With COVID-19 shutting down the shelter to volunteers, Beach said getting this work done has been a struggle.

“We are working with a skeleton staff,” Beach said, “and with a large number of animals coming in, cleaning out things doesn’t always take precedent.”

Beach said the main focus is on taking care of the animals at the shelter, making sure they are in a safe and clean environment and properly documented. The shelter’s record keeping has been reinstated, including keeping track of shots and other care, and every animal is in the system now, Beach said.

The board also closed Barkin’ Basement, a thrift store that benefited the shelter, after COVID-19 hit. The store cost more to run than it was making, Beach said, and customers couldn’t come in while they were shut down, so the board decided it was best to close the store and sell off what items were left.

Beach also said the FBI is investigating Brinlee but she has not received any updates on the case. The Observer tried to contact Brinlee but has not been able to reach him. Shelter board members and his ex-wife reported they do not know how to contact him. A social media search for Brinlee also came up empty.

Editors Note: This article previously incorrectly stated John Brinlee's departure date. Brinlee left the shelter January 2020. The article has been changed to reflect this inaccuracy. 


Newest reporter to The Observer. Beats include crime and courts, city and county news and arts/entertainment. Graduated June 2019 with a bachelors in Journalism from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

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