Jo-Anne Dixon, longtime leader of Mountain Humane, has stepped down from her role as executive director and medical director of the Blaine County animal shelter amid cost-cutting efforts by its board of trustees.

Dixon formally resigned on Jan. 3, she told the Idaho Mountain Express late last week.

“It’s been a labor of love, and years of work,” she said. “The organization has grown—and grown to be a great organization.”

A veterinarian by trade, Dixon joined what was then the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley in 2006, serving as the organization’s first medical director. A year later, the board added executive director to her title.

Under Dixon, the shelter launched a $16 million capital campaign, moving from a patchwork building nearly four decades old to a state-of the art, 30,000-square-foot facility on a 20-acre campus west of Hailey. It changed its name to Mountain Humane in the process, and widened its mission to serve animal welfare statewide. For her work, Dixon was voted the valley’s 2018 Woman of the Year by readers of the Idaho Mountain Express.

After 10 months in the new complex, Mountain Humane hands the keys over to new Executive Director Annie McCauley, who joined the nonprofit as director of development in 2019.

McCauley took over the day after Dixon left.

“We wouldn’t be where we are without Jo-Anne,” McCauley said Monday. “For the past 13 years, she’s worked tirelessly to get us to this point for the animals. As you get into a building of this size, though, you need a different set of skills—and my skills are completely different.”

McCauley has run nonprofits for the past 25 years.

“Jo-Anne told us that this building was so much more than she envisioned 13 years ago,” said Sally Onetto, president of Mountain Humane’s board. “She decided to move on, and it became obvious that [Annie] had the experience to help us streamline our operations.”

So, the board handed McCauley the promotion, and a clear mandate: Trim the budget.

That need was the main takeaway from a board retreat in October, according to Onetto. The facility doubled in size—and, in the 10 months since operations moved in, expenses grew with it.

“Our budget was extremely high, to the point where it wasn’t sustainable,” Onetto said. “We realized that we needed to do something. Everyone is on top of this. We’re going to make it. We just needed a complete overhaul.”

Today, Mountain Humane has 13 fewer employees than it did when the board met three months ago. Seven people were laid off and another six jobs were phased out by attrition. In all, it still employs between 30 and 40 full- and part-time staff. But those end-of-the-year cuts helped cull some $400,000 off the expense line. In 2019, the shelter spent $3.2 million on salaries and operations. It budgeted $2.8 million for salaries and operations in 2020, and is looking for more to take off.

Most of the savings comes from shedding its three highest salaries. Dixon earned about $221,000 in salary, bonuses and benefits during 2018, according to Mountain Humane’s most recent tax filings. Former Associate Director Brooke Bonner, who left over the summer, made just over $131,000. Former Director of Business Operations Kyle Bassinger was the third, leaving earlier in 2019. His compensation was not required to be reported on the 2018 filing.

Those three positions have been consolidated into one job, McCauley said—hers.

“Prior to moving into this beautiful new building, we staffed up,” McCauley said. “We had projections of what it would take to run it. Seeing the actual expenses, we realized there were places we could streamline. We were running pretty lofty expenses for the first year. It took some time to see what we realistically needed.”

It will also take some time to replenish the donor pool. The nonprofit makes some money through grants and operational revenue—services, facility rentals, The Barkin’ thrift store, etc.—but it’s almost entirely dependent on donations, McCauley said. The exhaustive capital campaign that paid for the new building left supporters fatigued.

Meanwhile, Mountain Humane had 71 four-legged wards on Monday afternoon.

With Dixon—the shelter’s in-house vet—out, Gooding veterinarian Jack Amen will head the medical clinic, working in concert with Director of Animal Care Operations Katie Millonzi. Last year, the facility performed 1,359 surgeries on in-house and outside pets.

In all, Mountain Humane took in 1,040 animals during 2019, adopting out 754. It hopes to do more in 2020, with a stated goal of 855 adoptions.

“It’s gotten to be a lot,” Dixon said of her former job. “With the capital campaign completed, it’s a good time for the next leader to take over.”

Email the writer: mdee@mtexpress.com

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