Vikki Church and Mike Garchar examine a few items in reference to Leo Brookshier, who was known around town as the caring and generous man in the red hat, Church said. She was a caregiver and friend to Brookshier and his wife. Church and Garchar are board members for the Leo Brookshier trust.
By Terri Harber
firstname.lastname@example.org A large wooden sign adorned with dog and cat paw prints - as well as human footprints - now allows people to see that a building across from the Powder River Correctional Center is the home of New Hope for Eastern Oregon Animals.
Putting up the large sign to let others know about what goes on inside is significant, said Dick Haines, president of New Hope.
"We kept a low profile for a long time," Haines explained. "But now we're gearing up to begin fundraising for the shelter."
The nonprofit got into the Leo Brookshier Building, located at 3325 K St., a little more than a year ago. It's where the organization has its offices and offers instruction to dog owners on how to train and care for their pets.
Inmates of the correctional facility did much of the work on the building. They washed, scrubbed, painted and completed a variety of other projects to make the location usable and attractive.
On the other side of K Street is a 2-acre lot. It's where New Hope plans to construct a shelter to hold strays found around the Baker area.
Those who knew Leo Brookshier describe him as a colorful character with a big heart. He went out of his way to help animals as well as people, said Vikki Church, who knew Brookshier for years, starting when she worked with him at Ellingson Lumber Co. in Baker City.
His trust provided a significant portion of the seed money for the building New Hope now uses as its headquarters.
"Leo was an animal lover," Church said. "He cried over Michael Vick."
Vick is a professional football player convicted for keeping dogs for fighting.
Brookshier died in 2008 at the age of 74.
Church brought some of Brookshier's most prized possessions as well as a photograph of him. They will be on permanent display inside the building named for him.
His red felt hat was sweat-stained and adorned with two small buttons. One reads "I Love Beer" and the other "I Love Quickies."
Brookshier wore it all of the time and it's how many people around town recognized him, Church said.
Though he was generous with money and most other things, the hat was so loved that it was something he'd never give up.
And, strangely enough, there were offers - some highly exceeding the $14 he spent on it at DandB.
"He even wanted to wear it when he was in the hospital," Church said.
She also brought a plaque given to Brookshier by Best Friends of Baker Inc., for a $30,000 donation he gave that organization in 2007.
"This sign would have pleased him to no end," Church said.
Partnering for the cause
New Hope and Best Friends have deepened their partnership to help area animals.
"They do the heavy lifting," Haines said about Best Friends, "when it comes to making sure animals are taken out of impound."
Best Friends is increasing its level of activity after going on hiatus several months ago. It never really completely faded away, however. Some core members continued finding places for animals to stay temporarily or permanently even during the organizational respite.
New Hope is providing some space in the Brookshier building for Best Friends to store its case files. This will help curb costs to the older, but smaller, Best Friends because it won't have to pay for the office space, Haines said.
A section of the Brookshier property also will provide the community with an interim cattery. Haines said they'd like to house up to a dozen cats until the permanent shelter is constructed.
New Hope also has been focusing on providing other community services, such as dog adoptions, and Baker City's trap-neuter-release program for feral cats (which used to be conducted by Mollie Atwater and Friends Spay-Neuter Fund of Baker County until 2011).
Atwater provides this service in county areas outside Baker City limits and has partnered with county government to seek operational grants.
What else is next?
New Hope has a 15-year agreement with the Oregon Department of Corrections to lease 3.5 fenced acres next to the Brookshier building, also across from the Powder River Correctional Facility for $1 a year for 15 years.
The site will be used for expansion of the Powder Pals Program, which pairs inmates at the local correction facility with dogs that are difficult to train.
Right now it's an area for dogs - especially the ones in Powder Pals - to run.
Inmates provide instruction to the dogs from morning to bedtime so the animals have a better chance for successful home placement. New pet owners have jobs, family, errands and other diversions that make it hard for them to work with dogs that require intense training.
"Our focus is on homeless dogs that appear to not have a future," Haines said of New Hope.
Educating the public about the virtues of pet adoption, helping people properly train and care for their pets, and shedding light on other animal issues, such as animal abuse and cruelty, are other continuing goals for New Hope.
The training sessions at Brookshier are another way to keep pets and their owners together.
Haines said owner training - and instructing young people on how to approach and interact with dogs - also should be kept in mind as Baker City puts together its ordinance to control dangerous dogs.
Making it an integral part of this effort would be effective. And it also would help encourage the community work to make it a successful endeavor, Haines said.
But getting the animal shelter built is the major focus of New Hope these days. The group wants to see construction begin on it in 2016.
Visit http://www.newhopeforanimals.org/ or call 541-403-2710 for details about the organization and its activities.
Donations always are welcome. They are looking for volunteers as well. People interested can go to the organization's website and obtain a copy of the application.