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Mountain Humane’s 20-acre Croy Canyon campus—pictured here under construction in 2018—opened to the public last February.

Nearly a year after opening its new facility, Mountain Humane is trying to get back to some of its old ways.

That means tightening the belt—or, in this case perhaps, the collar—for 2020, according to budget information shared with the Idaho Mountain Express. The Croy Canyon shelter is fresh off three months of major overhauls—shrinking the staff and cutting costs—to better operate within its means, according to board President Sally Onetto.

This year, it will typically run with fewer than 30 staff members—19 fewer than in November—on a $2.5 million budget—down nearly $1 million from 2019.

Those numbers mark a return to the size and scope used at the old home, a patchwork, 36-year-old animal center across the street from the new 30,000-square-foot facility and 20-acre campus.

Staffing, which made up 80 percent of its expenditures in 2019, is down to 66 percent for 2020.

“It’s a drastic cutback, compared to where we were heading,” Onetto said. “In 2018, we were told that [the higher budget] would be doable. It wasn’t really until October that we said, ‘No, it isn’t.’”

The urgency grew from a board retreat last fall, and changes happened quickly. There, leadership turned its focus away from delays in construction, which dominated the prior year, and onto the financials. By the time it opened, the facility had grown massively in scale. The final $16 million construction cost doubled the initial $8 million estimate from 2014. Staffing levels rose in kind.

“Rather than wait and see what it would take to run it, we staffed up,” said new Executive Director Annie McCauley, now a month and a half into her tenure. “Now, we have clear instructions. The board told us to run lean and mean.”

In response, Mountain Humane shed high-paying and luxury positions, either through layoffs or attrition. And, it changed leadership. After 13 years at the helm, veterinarian Jo-Ann Dixon resigned from her dual roles of executive director and medical director on Jan. 3. McCauley, hired a year earlier as director of development, took the title the following day. This year, she’ll make “just over half” of Dixon’s roughly $220,000 annual salary, McCauley said.

“It was hard, letting some people go,” Onetto said. “Really hard, but I think they understood.”

At that level, Onetto said Mountain Humane is “living within its fundraising capacity.”

To make do, the campus began closing on Mondays, starting this week. (Visitors are still welcome by appointment.) That saved the equivalent of one staffer, McCauley said.

Then volunteers pick up the slack. On that front, the new shelter has been a boon, according to Senior Director Kelly Mitchell, who handles marketing and community relations. It’s much more comfortable—and welcoming—for volunteers, she said, allowing brass to further pare back. Volunteer contributions are up 10,000 hours since the move, according to Mitchell—a jump equivalent to almost five full-time employees. (Good thing, too: Each dog is taken on four 20-minute walks every day; when the kennel is full, that’s more than 46 hours daily.)

With Dixon—the shelter’s in-house vet—out, Gooding veterinarian Jack Amen will head the medical clinic, contracted to work three full days a week, according to Nadia Novik, a licensed veterinary technician and Mountain Humane’s senior director of shelter operations and outreach. Last year, the facility performed 1,359 surgeries on in-house and outside pets.

These days, the shelter can hold roughly 35 dogs and a few more cats, Novik said. Despite staff cuts, she expects Mountain Humane to continue its expanded outreach in Blaine County and beyond—a big reason why it changed its name from the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley prior to the move in 2018.

“I’m 100 percent committed to keeping these programs, and I know all of Mountain Humane is as well,” Novik said. “If we have the support of this county, they’ll continue for a long time.”

Mitchell said she hopes Mountain Humane’s brand will eventually align with its panoramic goals. Some of the recent backlash she’s seen, she said, comes from the idea that the nonprofit “overreached” in creating its new facility. She hopes to change minds in the coming year.

“We didn’t just open an adoption center, which I think is how a lot of people perceive us,” she said. “There’s so much work to do outside the shelter’s walls—and it takes all of us inside the shelter to do it. We need to educate the public on what we are.”

For now, the remaining staff is adjusting to new titles, and new tasks.

“There were some grand and wonderful ideas for this building,” Onetto said. “Some of them may have been premature. But we’ve been honest with ourselves. It’s a huge, huge relief. After three months, we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Email the writer: mdee@mtexpress.com

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