Sept. 8, 2018 — The Oregon Coast Humane Society (OCHS) has taken a major step forward in the state-mandated recrafting of the organization’s management team.
This week, OCHS Board President Shauna Robbers announced the hiring of Shelter Manager Marina Lewis and the organization’s first executive director, Bob Murray.
Robbers said the hirings directly address the main recommendations made by the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) at the end of last year after an extensive inquiry was made into the operating practices of the OCHS.
“These people are an answer to the board’s prayers in getting competent people, as the DOJ had directed us, to help us staff and run the shelter, make changes and improvements and really get everything back on an even keel,” Robbers said.
Murray has a lifetime of experience working with animals. His childhood was populated by the abandoned and neglected animals brought home by his father, a law enforcement officer for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Massachusetts.
“We had every manner of animal dropped off from the time I was four years old,” Murray said. “Dogs, cats, birds, rats, aardvarks — everything. We even had fish living in our tub sometimes. We just held animals and took care of them until we could get them to the shelter in Boston, which was about 25 miles away.”
Murray followed the lead provided by his father as he grew older, naturally gravitating towards a career focused on animal care. His affinity for lab-related animal work led him to the next step on his path to Florence.
“My dad also did all the inspections for the research centers in the area, and I started my career at the New England Primate Center. Three years later, I joined the army and was working with owl monkeys and all kinds of exotic species,” he said. “The army has a strong veterinary program, it comes from the cavalry days, and I was a veterinary specialist. I supervised animal care teams taking care of primates, dogs, cats and that sort of thing.”
His most recent job was a high-profile position working in a laboratory, spending much of his day with monkeys.
“From 1972 until 2017, I worked in the field and ultimately was called an animal facility manager. The last job I had was as one of two managers at the Oregon National Primate Research Center. Two of us cared for about 5,300 monkeys with the help of a lot of vet techs,” Murray said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Marina (Lewis) working in the shelter, or me working in the lab; what we are is animal care welfare people. That means we care for animals.”
Murray began working at OCHS on Aug. 24.
Lewis, who began work at the shelter on Aug. 17, has most recently been employed as an assistant shelter manager in Plano, Texas, but has been involved in many different aspects of the effort to help unwanted or neglected animals.
“I’ve spent the last few years of my professional career working in the animal welfare industry, both in no-kill shelters and in the veterinary field. I worked in an emergency veterinary hospital, where I learned so much about veterinary policies and techniques. I have spent the last half year as an assistant shelter manager in Plano,” she said.
Lewis and Murray were both initially hesitant to consider working at OCHS, in part because of the tumult surrounding the shelter in the last year.
Lewis had done considerable research online to determine if she felt able to help the organization turn itself around. Once she read the news and posts concerning the OCHS, she started to seriously consider accepting the position.
“Overall, what I saw was that they just needed help, not that they were doing anything wrong,” she said. “It seemed like it had changed hands many times, always very messily, and no one was sticking around to lead them to the changes that needed to happen. As a result, the animals and the people that care for them were suffering, and that was something I couldn’t ignore.
“I met all of these wonderful, dedicated, hardworking and extremely passionate — but also exhausted — people, and I could not abandon them.”
Murray was similarly hesitant about taking up the numerous challenges facing the OCHS when he considered becoming its executive director.
“At first I wasn’t going to take the position. I live in Albany, so it’s 95 miles from here. But I got a chance to walk through the facility and as soon as I met the staff and I saw the condition of the facility, I thought I might be able to help,” he said.
Both new members of the OCHS leadership team realize there are a number of hurdles that stand in the way of implementing a vision for OCHS, but both are eager to begin what will undoubtedly be a long-term process.
“I think part of the shelter’s problem has been our complete lack of transparency, which I am trying to fix,” Lewis said. “Right now, there are literally mountains of things that I need to accomplish. But I have identified a few things that need immediate attention, including the way our animals are housed, that needs to be changed immediately.”
She said the cat facilities may remain as they are, but the dog quarters are in “desperate need of a complete overhaul,” due mostly to when they were built decades ago.
Murray also has a list of projects that he will be working on, agreeing with Lewis that the most pressing is a much-needed upgrade to the kennels that house the shelter’s canines.
“I’ve identified a highly practiced and well-regarded architect and construction firm from Washington that specializes in animal facilities. They give options for repair, deconstruction and even construction in a new area, and these options will be presented to the board for their consideration,” Murray said.
He added that the assessment and analysis of the main OCHS Shelter would be done free of charge, with various options highlighted for ease of transition and for cost considerations.
Looking to the future, Murray has a great deal of confidence in the staff and the board at OCHS. He said he is pleased to be working with Lewis at this critical juncture for the organization.
“A focus for the both of us is getting out on the floor with the staff, working with them and finding out where training is needed, learning from them and, most importantly, bonding as a team,” Murray said.
In addition to the new employees, Robbers had more good news to share with supporters of the shelter.
“The DOJ just emailed me today, and they feel they are now able to close our case and we no longer have to report to them,” she said.
For information on volunteering at the OCHS or becoming a supporting member, call 541-997-4277 or stop by the shelter facility, 2840 Rhododendron Drive.