ashland.news
February 21, 2024

County animal shelter manager fired

The Jackson County Animal Shelter along South Pacific Highway between Phoenix and Talent. Rogue Valley Times photo by Jamie Lusch
January 8, 2024

Now former director Kim Casey hopes county and volunteers can find common ground after year of strife

By Buffy Pollock, Rogue Valley Times

Kim Casey, the program manager for Jackson County Animal Services, was dismissed from her post Thursday.

Her firing comes after a tumultuous year for the county animal shelter, with ongoing strife between shelter volunteers and county officials over policy changes at the regional facility along South Pacific Highway between Phoenix and Talent.

Casey said she leaves her post feeling hopeful for both sides to find common ground for the benefit of the animals and the community.

In an online statement Thursday, Casey said, “As of this morning, I am no longer an employee of Jackson County Animal Services. I will be forever thankful for the opportunity that I was given to be of service to this amazing community. My heartfelt thanks to all of the wonderful people that I have worked and collaborated with in these last five years.

“There have been many challenges,” she continued, “but together, we have met them with dignity, dedication, compassion and a true love for both animals and people. I can ask for no better life than one of meaning and purpose. … Thank you for giving me both.”

Contacted Friday by the Rogue Valley Times, Casey said the divide between Friends of the Animals volunteers and county officials had been the shelter’s biggest obstacle, second only to an aging, antiquated facility and a crippling shortage of spay-neuter resources.

“I don’t care about the situation about me, about my job being gone. That’s not what’s important,” she said. “The only thing that’s important to me is that program and the people that work there who are trying so hard.”

She said, “This is the hardest period in animal welfare in 30 years, and there is no easy solution to what we are facing. To have so many things making it all that much worse, and having a staff working that much harder to make it still work … is just heartbreaking to me.”

First hired as an animal control officer in October 2018 and named program manager at the shelter in May 2020, Casey has been largely quiet over the past year.

Issues at the county shelter began in late 2022 when shelter officials announced, in addition to other changes, a new policy prohibiting volunteers from being at the shelter on Mondays. Policy changes included a ban on volunteer transport of animals and conducting certain duties at the shelter.

County officials cited liability issues and a need to allow staff training and veterinary procedures to take place one day per week. In addition, a feasibility study was reportedly underway to determine the cost of both running the shelter, built in 1961, and its eventual replacement.

Volunteers protested ongoing changes — in particular, dogs being left in kennels for long stretches — and began attending weekly Jackson County Board of Commissioners meetings to voice concerns. In June, they presented a 1,200-signature petition urging the reversal of policy changes.

In December, nearly a year after the changes began, FOTAS Executive Director Sky Loos announced that the nonprofit had “dropped the S, ” becoming Friends of the Animals, rather than Friends of the Animal Shelter.

Loos said her organization would continue to support the shelter but would expand its outreach, finding better ways to utilize funding and volunteers while preventing animals “from having to go to the shelter to begin with.”

Loos declined to comment on Casey’s termination as shelter manager.

Karen Evans, executive director for SoHumane, said she was saddened to learn of Casey’s departure. Evans said her own shelter, which does not typically accept strays, took in more than 260 strays in 2023 from community members who “felt uncomfortable” taking them to the county-run facility.

“I think that Kim, had her hands not been tied, there was a lot more she could have accomplished there,” Evans said.

She added: “I think it’s sad that county officials don’t seem to be willing to compromise at all with the volunteers.”

Casey said there were “a lot of good people” working for the benefit of the shelter — staff and volunteers included.

“There is no smoking gun here. There’s no ‘the county doing horrible things,’ there’s no ‘more animals suddenly being euthanized,’ she said. “There are things that could be much better if there was a new building, if the county and volunteer group could be able to reconcile, if there were more resources for spay and neuter being figured out.”

Casey said the depth of the disagreements between FOTAS and the county represents “a huge chasm.”

“I always saw myself as being the gray. There’s black, and there’s white, and there’s the gray in the middle, where you help figure out how to make things work for everyone,” she said. “I always pictured myself being the gray.”

She was, she said, “not the gray.”

Casey said she hopes to find “new ways to have an impact.” She plans to return to school and become a vet tech.

Stacy Brubaker, the county’s health and human services director, said county officials could not discuss the terms of Casey being relieved of her duties.

“There’s not a lot I can say other than she is gone, and that we don’t comment on personnel matters,” Brubaker said.

County officials will move forward in assessing the feasibility of a new shelter and improved operations, she said.

“We’ll certainly be looking for a new shelter manager, and hope to fill that position soon,” Brubaker said. “I think, for the most part, things have really settled down.”

Reach reporter Buffy Pollock at 458-488-2029 or bpollock@rv-times.com. Follow her on Twitter @orwritergal. This story first appeared in the Rogue Valley Times.

Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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