Haven Director Ray John – Stronger Than Ever

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Ray John never imagined when he accepted the position as Haven Humane Society’s director this summer that within the first few months he’d nearly die from a staph infection after a supposedly routine shoulder surgery in June.

The infection resulted in a near-death experience, an emergency second surgery and months of pain that he rated as more horrific and traumatic than even what he endured as a combat Marine in Vietnam.

John now says that in some ways, his dire health situation turned the tables on his Haven job, a position for which he was hired to restore Haven to its former beloved status. But what began as his challenge to breathe new life into the troubled animal shelter became a daily job that gave him a crucial focal point when he needed one most.

“I sucked it up for four months,” John said from inside his animal shelter office, a military-tidy space decorated with Marine Corps, Harley Davidson and 49ers objects.

“I almost died. I lost 35 pounds. I was losing hope. But I made Haven a promise that I’d give them four years. I had a place that needed me. I had a commitment to them.”

John, 62, said he sometimes came to work so weak he literally had to brace himself to keep from falling. He sat behind his desk with tubes that drained infection from his shoulder and yet other tubes that infused medication into his body.

In all, he missed three days’ work.

The rest of the days, John, who admits he knows very little about animals, set out to right a series of organizational wrong turns that nearly wrecked more than 50 years of Haven’s public goodwill, affection and trust in less than two years.

(See below for the recaps.)

John – known affectionately as “Rayjohn” to many at Haven, said he’s had to convince some that he’s the right person for the job, despite his lack of animal-shelter experience. He readily admits he’s still learning dog breeds.

People have said, ‘What’s an educator doing here?’ And a board member said, ‘I don’t feel your passion for animals.’ Here’s what I say to them: ‘My passion’s organization.’ Our staff already has people who are educated about animals. I don’t think you need to be an animal lover to lead an animal shelter.”

Changes

Accomplishments John said he’s directed in the last four months include:

– He extended the olive branch to animal rescue organizations that had previously left Haven in disgust.

I called them and said, ‘Come visit.’  There are almost 60 animal rescue groups that could take many of our animals. It’s really important we get along.”

– He speaks regularly to service clubs to get the message out that Haven Humane is trustworthy and growing stronger every day.

“I tell them, ‘I don’t expect you to trust me, because I haven’t earned your trust yet.””

– He implemented a practice where he visits each of his 34 employee between three and four times a day.

“If employees feel valued and accountable, they’ll perform at a higher rate,” he said. “It’s not about Ray John. It’s about the 34 people who work here.”

– He mended fences with Shasta County Animal Regulation.

“My feeling is let’s get together and help each other,” John said. “We’re more educational, and they’re more regulation, but I say let’s stop talking about jurisdiction and start talking about joint pastures.”

– He’s working with Monty Hight, the shelter’s newest board member, to implement background checks on employees and regular volunteers, in part, he said, so he can reinstate the Junior Haven program for youth.

“It’s not just about finances,” John said. “I want kids to be safe here. If someone doesn’t want to be fingerprinted, then I don’t want them to work here.” (Asked whether board members would also undergo background investigation, John didn’t say, but he did say he’d never had to undergo a background check.)

– He communicated to board members that he works best sans micromanaging.

“When they asked me to consider this job, they knew my style. I would hope people know I’m a big boy and I know what I’m doing. If I’m getting 10 calls a day from board members, then I can’t do my job. I think they know that.”

– He’s enacted a policy of being as transparent as is legal for the organization regarding its workings, finances and decisions.

I want everything to be aboveboard so people will trust us again,” he said. “Are there things that should be confidential? Yes, usually personnel. But the other things . . . let’s make those other documents more transparent.”

– He developed an aggressive budget designed so Haven can finish in the black in 2009, something that will not happen in 2008.

“I ask for staff to justify every expense,” John said.

Wish list

Even so, John said he dreams of a complete remodel of the shelter that would more than double the kennel space.

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Part of the remodel would include a new quarantine area to replace the one seen here, and a new air conditioning system to properly vent the work spaces. Plus, he’d like a full-time animal cruelty investigator.

Immediate Goals

In the meantime, John said, there are things Haven can do now that don’t require great sums of money.

•  “We can get this place immaculate,” he said. “We can paint inside. We can get a new sign out front. We can have customer service that’s five times better — because we’re still learning. We’re into service, and if we can’t give good service, then we’re not doing our job.”

•  “We need more public support, and so I’m out telling our story. I tell people that once we start meeting our goals, we’ll be a totally different place in one year.”

•  “We can rein in the finances,” he said. “Every expenditure needs an accounting. There are simple things we can do, like buying in bulk.”

Looking Forward

A few days before Thanksgiving, John and I met at his office and he gave me a tour of the animal shelter and the nearby clinic. We later went to lunch at his “private club – without initiation fees” – The Snack Shack on Eastside Road.

What do I know about animal shelters? Not much. But the spaces I toured appeared clean. The cat room — a place I’d heard had suffered recent overcrowding and feline respiratory infections — even had some cages without any cats or kittens, and to my eye, no overt signs of sick animals.

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The veterinary clinic was spotless and odorless. (On the other hand, inside the older animal shelter, odors reached even John’s office.)

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As John walked through the buildings, he engaged in friendly, jovial conversations with employees, and many returned the banter.

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Even so, one source reports that because of heavy turnover at the animal shelter, some volunteers who once felt comfortable no longer feel welcome, and have left permanently.

Also, some former donors are still reluctant to contribute money to Haven until they know for certain their financial gifts will be spent in good faith, as intended: in ways that help the animals.

Full Speed Ahead

John said the good news is he’s made an almost complete recovery from his nearly fatal medical trauma. He said the bad news is his staff might like him better the way he was when he was sick, once they see him when he’s well.

“I feel sorry for the employees,” John said with a laugh. “They haven’t seen me at my triple-Type-A personality, going 100 miles an hour.”

Clearly, John’s health and vitality is restored. Now, what John said he wants most is health and vitality for Haven. He knows it won’t be easy.

“I don’t want to talk about what happened before I got here,” he said. “What’s success? It’s what I’ve done my whole career. The day I’ve woken up and everything’s that I’ve said I’d do, then I know I’ve kept my commitment.”

 

Click on the links to read previous stories about Haven Humane Society

• Something Stinks at Haven Humane
• Haven Humane Society: Hell in a Hand Basket
• Norm Ryan and Wife Insist He’s Innocent
• Police Case Summary Re: Norm Ryan
• Norm Ryan Goes to Court
• Preston Wormed into Haven’s Heart with $1,000

Related: Check back this week for reports on Norm Ryan’s court sessions. Update: 12.11.08 – Former CEO Norm Ryan’s preliminary hearing in Shasta Superior Court has been rescheduled to Jan. 29-30, 2009.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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9 Responses

  1. Russell K. Hunt says:

    Good to see Rayjohn working his magic. Now we need to get all the cities and the county together to run a unfied countywide animal shelter next door. No need for four separate shelters.

  2. Budd Hodges says:

    Doni, It sounds like Haven is in good hands. Ray John…Full speed ahead to you sir.

    There's much good work to be done for these animals.

  3. pmarshall says:

    So glad that Mr. John is going "full speed ahead" at Haven. Sounds like he is on the right track, and things will improve there. Also, glad he is well once again. Haven needs someone of his caliber. He cando it!

  4. Charzma says:

    I have to say that I am thrilled with the new regime over at Haven. I do quite a bit of business over at the clinic and I do see Ray visiting the employees every morning that I am there. I've been involved with Haven for the past 9 years and this is the first time that I've felt good about the way things are being run. I believe that Haven is on the mend ……… finally.

    Thank you Doni for getting this story out. Its time that Haven got some good press. And, this is truly deserved

  5. messenger says:

    Hate to burst the bubble but things are not that rosey at Haven yet. There are still many personnel issues to fix. Until that is done I will not be a supporter.

  6. Baker Rancher says:

    I've known Ray John since the early Bishop Quinn days. Haven could not be in better hands. He's a Marine, after all, and a darned smart one. He understands what the mission is and will keep his crew focused on it until it is accomplished. No one will put more energy into what needs to be done than Dr. John. If he could battle a major league staph infection for months and only miss 3 days of work that tells you what he is made of. Bishop Quinn survived and prospered due largely to Ray's efforts. Without him it fell apart. Haven will not only survive but will put all of its past problems behind it. In a year you won't recognize the place. Knowing Ray as I do I would respectfully suggest to the Haven Board of Directors that their best decision will be to trust him and stay out of his way. As we say here in cowboy country (I'm writing this from out of state) he'll "get er done".

  7. Tim Hearden says:

    I interviewed Ray John when he was at the mission. He's a class act.

  8. Victoria Bernet says:

    I am very grateful that "Food for Thought" has been following the fate of the "Haven Humane Society" in recent times. I have a 28 year history of adopting dogs and a cat from them, all adorable companions. I have always felt that they did a tremendous service to our community, that's why it was unfortunate that their reputation suffered. I have faith that Ray John can turn this back into the force that is was, the community has great respect for him. To him I say thank you for caring about the animals. I will look forward to adopting again.

  1. September 19, 2017

    […] a marine and a respected educator. He also ran the Good News Rescue Mission here in Redding, and the Haven Humane animal shelter. He is well-known as a man who turns struggling businesses around. He also went […]

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