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New animal shelter director wants to keep things rolling

The new top dog at the Jackson County Animal Shelter is a familiar face to both two-legged and four-legged regulars at the Highway 99 facility. Former animal control enforcement officer Kim Casey traded in her badge and long days of field work for the office vacated by the retirement of former manager Barbara Talbert.

Talbert retired after eight busy years. A volunteer hired “for just a few months,” Talbert stayed on during a trio of hiring processes that would end amidst a pandemic and after nearly a decade of running the shelter.

Casey, who moved to the Rogue Valley 18 months ago to become an animal control officer, plans to keep what already works for the shelter and focus on helping the aging facility navigate changes under COVID-19 while planning for future growth.

Hailing from Southern California, Casey, 46, brings to her new role some 25 years of experience in animal welfare, primarily for a small desert community in the Palm Springs area.

Her resume runs the gamut from vet clinics, wildlife rehabilitation and state fish and game to working with raptors and birds of prey. An avid equestrian, Casey said her life has always been closely connected to animals of all kinds.

“I’ve worked in animal welfare for my entire career. I started when I was 19 years old, working in a shelter and essentially being employed as a public servant,” Casey said.

“I love animals. I’m really excited for this new role, and I think it’s a great fit for the experience that I have. Already being at the shelter in another capacity previously, it already feels very comfortable,” she said. “This is a great program, and it’s well established.”

Transitioning into her new role during a pandemic has come with an extra set of challenges, including closure to walk-in visitors and suspension of some services.

The recent return of low-cost vaccination clinics, administered in the shelter parking lot, have been heartily received by pet owners.

“We have definitely got some challenges that have come with COVID, but overall I think it’s going really well. We just did our second low-cost drive-thru vaccination and licensing clinic. That was an idea (Talbert) and I had come up with in response to trying to restore that particular part of our programing to the community,” Casey said.

“We started out small last month and ramped it up on Saturday and were able to accommodate the same number of people we normally accommodate inside our actual clinics and still were able to keep everybody safe, in their vehicles and feeling secure.”

Casey said about 150 participants showed up for vaccines and dog licenses.

“We gave out over 150-something rabies vaccines and over 80 parvo-distemper vaccinations, so that was a really good example of how this weird time has resulted in a new innovation,” she said.

“It’s been a good time, these past months, to look at and evaluate our existing programs to see where we can make improvements, because there really are some things we have found that may ultimately make things even better than before.”

Talbert said she was pleased with the selection of Casey to fill her shoes at the shelter and said she planned to return to her role as a shelter volunteer.

“When I first started here, I had retired from another job and I was volunteering. I agreed to come on for four months during their process of searching for a new manager. ... I stayed for eight years,” Talbert said.

“They had searched twice and were ready to try for a third time when COVID started. Everyone was so busy with COVID; I wasn’t sure where they were in the process. Kim was a great fit for the job and she knows the staff and is familiar with how things are done but will also bring a fresh perspective.”

During her tenure, Talbert said she was most proud of the shelter’s live release rate for dogs, which increased from below 50% to 95%, and of the large base of community support that keeps the shelter going. Talbert and Casey said they hope to see improved solutions for feral cat management in the community, expanded low-cost spay and neuter options, and a long-range plan for the 60-plus-year-old shelter building created from a converted farmhouse.

Talbert said she felt confident about leaving the shelter in Casey’s capable hands.

“I think the public feels better about what goes on here, and people, in recent years, are more willing to surrender their animals if their situation changes and they can’t take care of that animal anymore,” Talbert said.

“When I started, support in the community was at a low and things have come a very long way. I feel like I’ve accomplished what I set out to do and it’s time for some new energy. I’m very much looking forward to becoming a volunteer again.”

Casey said she welcomed whatever challenges would arise.

“I like innovation, and change doesn’t scare me. I think there’s a strong base of support by the community and by the volunteer program that just really lends itself to new ideas and new opportunities,” she said.

“Barbara referred to this as a time of fresh perspective, but the shelter and the programs here have already been extremely successful, and I don’t see a reason to change what already works very well. My goal is to continue to find new resources and ways to expand what we already have going. I just want to help keep things rolling.”

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneKim Casey, director of the Jackson County Animal Shelter, pet dogs Wednesday at the shelter.