Although just a pup on the job, the new executive director of the Southern Oregon Humane Society already has been "broken in" by scores of pooches, kittens, volunteers and community members he says are "1,000 percent behind" the 83-year-old shelter.
Kenn Altine, formerly of Houston, became the new executive director of SOHS on Friday.
Shelter Operations Director Hillary Hulen said the shelter is out of the woods, so to speak, but still is focused on replacing antiquated kennels and saving as many animals as possible.
In an effort to raise $50,000 toward new dog kennels, the shelter is participating in a Pepsi "Refresh Everything" online grant request. Grants are awarded on the basis of community votes.
To vote for the shelter, go online at www.refresheverything.com/southernoregonhumanesocietysaveslives. Website visitors can vote once per day. People also can vote once per day by texting the project number 110879 to PEPSI (73774).
Altine brings decades of journalism and management background, and some unique animal-rescue experience to his new job.
Former Executive Director Bill Templeman stepped down last year after 14 years at the helm.
One of more than 100 applicants for the director's position, Altine has more than 25 years in newspaper leadership.
The 50-year-old was a senior editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, worked as a private consultant with newspapers around the world, and has held editing and managerial positions at newspapers in Kentucky, Nebraska, Texas and Nevada.
Altine's career path shifted drastically in 2005, immediately after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf region, when the lifelong animal lover was recruited to assist in rescuing the four-legged victims of the storm.
"A large chunk of New Orleans people came to Houston, but left behind were all the animals. A friend contacted me and said that the Humane Society in Gulfport had been inundated," Altine said.
"Once we got there, we realized there were a significant number of people who had to surrender their dogs. "… It was a horrible, horrible situation, so we did volunteer work there, cleaned kennels, walked dogs. It was grueling and at times horrific, but also exceedingly moving."
From that experience, Altine left the region profoundly impressed with the "incredible network of animal welfare people across the country."
"It didn't matter whether it was county, private, nonprofit. Everyone stepped up to get these animals into homes," he said.
"In journalism, you deal with a lot of people who are having the worst day of their life. Working with animals, no matter what the situation, you're dealing with people who are coming to you with hope of finding an animal, and it's a whole different perspective."
Not long after his New Orleans experience, two events nudged Altine toward helping animals. He helped jump-start a pet foster-parent program in the Houston area and fell victim to newspaper downsizing.
Owning several dozen acres in Siskiyou County, and with ties to the region, he relocated to the "state of Jefferson" and began building a home, literally, he notes, with just a hammer.
After job-seeking for much of the past year, Altine jumped at the chance to apply for the shelter's director position.
Mary Hanenburg, president of the board of directors, said Altine's background in communication, management and animal rescue made him a good match for the shelter.
"We knew that his background in journalism was kind of a nontraditional fit for us, but to have so much firepower and so much passion for the mission," she said.
"Knowing that with this economy there are people who might not have looked at us before, we felt it was our chance to capitalize on finding an absolutely unique and very skilled executive. Kenn's an interesting man and very excited about working here," she added. "He's also very personable, and with nonprofits that is so important to have someone who can really connect to your supporters and to the community as a whole."
During Altine's first week, the shelter logged a $10,000 donation, 1,600 pounds of dog food, free plumbing repair and a $100 check from a longtime volunteer.
"Journalism is an industry where people are passionate about what they do, and the same is true of people who work in animal welfare," he said.
"I've been very fortunate to develop skills to help passionate people develop skills to do what they do to make change.
Even after a rocky few years for the shelter, including a failed expansion attempt and several recent fundraising drives to "save the shelter," the outlook is positive for SOHS, Altine said.
"Mary and the board have done a phenomenal job of taking this organization through some stormy weather — but the future is bright," he said.
"We will continue to accomplish great things, and we've got nowhere to go but up in a community where people are 1,000 percent behind what we're doing here."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org