Known and loved throughout the NW animal welfare community¸ Cathy Nechak was one of five people who founded OFOSA (Oregon Friends of Shelter Animals) in 2001. Today Cathy is Board President of the rescue which, following some highs and lows in recent years, is going strong today.
Cathy grew up in Michigan, earned a nursing degree and moved to Oklahoma. She has two adult daughters and seven grandsons — yep, all boys. “A basketball team!” she laughs. Cathy and her husband Bill, an air traffic controller, visited Portland 13 years ago, and they never left. “In Oklahoma I had a Cocker rescue — that’s my breed — and in Portland I went to Bonnie Hays (small animal shelter) and met a Cocker in horrible shape. We took her to DoveLewis, and she had to be euthanized . . . and that’s what got OFOSA started. Then Bill and I were really here to stay.”
The original OFOSA group of five has today become a new board of seven, a staff of seven, and volunteers numbering 100-200. When asked about where life and work have taken her, she says “I never saw this coming. I never thought we’d have a facility . . . or be looking at securing an even better facility . . . . I never dreamed we’d be homing 2000 animals a year. We have great partnerships with Petco and PetSmart, a recent $10,000 grant enabling us to offer low-cost spay/neuter in the next 12-24 months . . ." Here Cathy abruptly inserted, “That’s where I think I’ll put myself out of a job” referring to spay/neuter efforts. “That’s my dream. That’s every rescuer’s dream.”
While that dream is once again in sight, it’s a long way from where things were in 2010. What Cathy calls a “not so unique” series of events for nonprofits, OFOSA’s lease was up and, looking to buy a facility, the board decided to hire an executive director and “go to the big leagues.” In OFOSA’s case, going to the big leagues made the organization “less a rescue and more an adoption agency,” says Cathy.
She explains that where OFOSA has always specialized in medical cases (currently they have 3 to 4 animals with broken legs, a litter of babies that were so young they were to be euthanized, a Pit with rickets, and a dog whose broken leg was so bad it required amputation.) They even recently took in a litter of "parvo puppies.” “Shelters often don’t have the resources to care for a litter with parvo, but we got these guys in separate care, got them well, and got them home.”
This type of focus didn’t mesh well with the “big leagues” direction OFOSA was headed in three years ago. “Medical costs money, and an executive director costs money. We started having to forgo caring for those with issues in favor of those more healthy, with good temperaments . . . animals that were more easily homed.”
Things went from bad to worse, and mounting debt took OFOSA to the brink of failure. Cathy stepped away, but within three months, “the board came around talking again, finding solutions.” The executive director role was eliminated, and, “We went backward a little bit; back to more slow growth.”
Today there is a greater focus on grant writing and fundraising. “I’ve learned a lot about marketing,” says Cathy. In addition to working at OFOSA 40 hours a week, Cathy works about 30 hours each week as a nurse at a surgery center.
Does she get any Me Time? “I try. I’m in the process of learning how to blow glass . . . I already do stained glass. My husband and I love the coast, but with grandkids in Syracuse NY and Stillwater OK, our vacation time all goes to seeing the kids.”
So what about this no-nonsense, hardworking, big-hearted woman would surprise most people to learn?
“I’m very shy,” says Cathy.
How does that work for a woman doing the hard work of fundraising, marketing, educating the public about OFOSA, and even presenting adoptables during outreach events?
“Nursing helps,” she says, “and as I’ve gotten older maybe I’ve gotten wiser. My husband laughs at me, saying I’m the only woman who won’t ask for directions. But if there’s an animal involved I will step out of my comfort zone.”
Indeed. Cathy is currently busy readying for OFOSA’s annual auction, happening Apr. 12 at Estate Sales Unlimited. She’s excited about the auction items, saying “We’re getting unique things you can’t get anywhere else. We’ve got a tour at Walk on the Wild Side . . . and we do need wine donations for a wall of wine.”
Not bad for a shy girl.
About our Sponsor
Dignified Pet Services has served the Portland-area community for 13 years. In addition to their core business of cremation and memorial services, Dignified co-sponsors the beloved annual Service of Remembrance, this year Dec. 9th at The Old Church in downtown Portland, as well as serving as wonderful supporters and friends of pets and those working in animal welfare. Proprietors Michael, Randy and Avani live in Sherwood.
Kristan Dael is a freelance writer and the alter ego of Jennifer Mccammon. She lives in Portland with her 3-pack, and strives to produce articles that inform, edify, engage and entertain.