Curry County this week lost a champion for both animals and people.
Catherine Powers, 54, executive director of the Curry County Animal Shelter and founder of Pennies for Pooches, who was known for her tireless efforts to save and adopt animals, died of a heart attack early Wednesday morning.
"My heart was saddened this morning when I heard the news that our community lost a very loving, caring, kind woman who would go out of her way to help out, said Nicole Legg, one of dozens of people who posted comments on the Shelter's Facebook page. "The dedication she showed our town was enormous as was her heart."
"We used to joke with Catherine that she was Saint Catherine - and maybe she was," wrote Joel Summer. "We think God has reserved a special place for her on his right side to care for all the animals that have crossed the Golden Bridge. You were a special person, Catherine, and you will be so missed,"
According to friends and family, Powers died of complications related to a heart attack she suffered during an exercise class at 6 p.m. Tuesday night. Class members performed CPR on her until she could be transported to Curry General Hospital, where she was stabilized and flown to Rogue Valley Medical Center via Cal-Ore Life Flight. There, lifesaving measures were taken, but she succumbed to the heart attack, according to a press release issued Thursday by Curry County Commissioner David Brock Smith.
"It is with great sadness and difficulty that I inform all of you of one of our most amazing citizens. ... Catherine Powers passed away just before 4:30 a.m. this morning," Smith wrote.
Powers worked for the county for many years as the animal control officer and then spearheaded the transition of the animal shelter from county-owned to non-profit status. She became the director for the new entity, Pennies for Pooches (PFP), a successful non-profit organization in Gold Beach that has saved and found homes for hundreds of dogs and cats, both locally and across several western states.
"Her leadership made Pennies for Pooches a success as a no-kill animal shelter and she would frequently save animals from other shelters to be brought here from around Oregon and the western states," Smith wrote. "Catherine's vision and compassion for these animals and people in our community is unsurpassed by anyone. Her leaving us is a great loss to our community and the county. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family and friends during this time."
Powers' efforts to improve help animals first came to the attention of then Curry County Deputy (now sheriff) John Bishop.
"I saw an incredible person who really cared about animals in Catherine. I asked her if she would like to take charge of the animal shelter and there was no turning back," Bishop said.
He soon realized that he had not only found the "perfect" person for the job, but had accidentally tapped into someone whom he describes as "so wonderful, so caring, so committed and so passionate about her job that it is, and was, a joy to be around her."
Bishop explained that it was Powers "who took over the reigns of what once was a failing county department (animal control) and made it work so smoothly. She had that special ability to inspire a legion of volunteers and supporters."
He added, "Catherine and her co-workers made (Pennies for Pooches) self supporting and a very successful non-profit organization that now stands on its own two feet."
Bishop said that while Powers was good natured as a rule, she never thought twice about getting in someone's face when it came to animal abuse or neglect.
He recalled an investigation during which Powers entered a residence where dogs, being bred for profit, were starved, unclean and caged.
Bishop said "little" Catherine shouted at "this big, leathered-up biker dude who dared to demand, 'Where do you think you're going with my dogs?'
"She exploded all over that guy. I'm betting that fella wished he'd never spoken up."
On Thursday, only seven hours after Powers' death, Pennies for Pooches board member Eric Bryant called an emergency meeting of the shelter's board of directors in Gold Beach.
While the board discussed future plans for the nonprofit, Powers' white car was still parked out front and one of her four dogs, a one-eyed bulldog named Lucky, lounged on the shelter's couch. The office phone rang non-stop as people called to express their condolences. Other people stopped by the office to confirm their fears and offer support to the shell-shocked staff.
"It's been like this all day." Bryant said later.
The board briefly considered - but dismissed - a proposal to close the shelter for a few days.
"We decided the best way to honor Catherine's memory would to be right here, doing our jobs, saving animals," Bryan said. "That's what she would want us to do and what our dogs need us to do."
The board also decided that the shelter will continue operating as normal, but it will not immediately seek a new director.
In a memo issued to shelter staff and the community, the board wrote, "Our board is unanimous in that our only real option is to try our best to continue Catherine's vision. We will persevere. We will remain open. We will find homes for homeless dogs and cats, and we will not lose sight of our mission. We will honor Catherine's good name."
Bryant said that he and Catherine had a good day working together on Tuesday. They had worked a full day, adopted out two cats and had held a strategy meeting to map out a five-year plan for Pennies for Pooches.
"Catherine was in good spirits; there was no indication of anything wrong at all," he said.
The organization, he said, is in good shape, thanks to a small army of volunteers, the generous donations of county citizens and fees from licensing of animals.
Here is just a small sample of comments sent to the Pilot or posted to Powers' personal Facebook page and that of the Curry County Animal Shelter.
Crissa Foulke: It's hard to believe such a wonderful person can be taken so soon. She will definitely be one of the brightest stars looking back down on all of us from this day forward and will probably be the first to greet us when we meet again!
Melissa Bradley: A truly great person has left this world. Catherine Powers, you were an amazing person. Words cannot express the sadness so many people feel. Sure, the dogs loved you! But us humans did, too! May you rest in peace.
Michele Martin: My heart is heavily saddened by the passing of one of our communities' best person whom we were so honored to have known. Catherine Powers, we love you and will keep your legacy.
Catherine Powers is why we have Bisque Kitt, the little guy who brings us joy every moment of the day. And she so selflessly gave this to so many others, and saved so many furry lives. This is such a loss. My heart goes out to her family. We are very sad this morning.
Catherine Powers, I am so blessed to have known you. This community was even more blessed to have you. I am fortunate to have gotten some time with you last week. I will forever cherish our visit. Some people are taken from us way to soon... God must have needed you more. Rest is peace my dear friend!
Tamara Hamlet McCuistion: Hold your pets, family and friends close tonight in her honor. Catherine Powers, you have left behind huge shoes to fill, but taught so many of us so much about the heart behind rescue and exactly what it means to save a life. I have no doubt those of us left behind will make you proud. Soar free, shine bright on us and play lots with those furkids blessed to be standing before you.
Karen Rossman Clark: She went too soon. She was a dream come true for every dog that ever met her. I talked her up to anyone and everyone as the ultimate for having a shelter that really did an excellent job for the animals. I know walking in to volunteer there was no ownership shown. You just got busy helping and walked away feeling very special for being able to do it. I saw her last Saturday. She told me a funny story about how she handled a situation that confirmed that indeed she was an amazing woman. You will be missed Catherine. Many tears will flow, but we will carry on, doing what you expect from us and no less. Put me on a list to call when shelter is in a pickle. I am willing to help.