Making A Difference
Former newsman takes his passion for pets to SSPCA
By Cathryn Rakich
Looking as sharp as a Wall Street banker, Kenn Altine hurries into the Sacramento SPCA administration building, three staff members trailing behind him as they listen intently to their boss. A crisp white shirt with French cuffs, traditional cufflinks and an expertly knotted tie are the daily norm for Altine, who joined the SSPCA as chief executive director in 2016.
“I always wear a shirt and tie. Every day,” says Altine, who previously worked as an editor and executive in journalism for 30 years, including stints in San Antonio, Reno, San Francisco and Houston, before moving into the animal-welfare world. “When you live and work in Houston, there is a dress code. In the middle of summer, you wear a long-sleeve shirt and you never go outside without a jacket. It’s becomes natural,” Altine explains.
“What’s going to happen? I’m going to get dog slobber. I’m going to get cat hair. That’s what dry cleaners are for.”
Altine joined the SSPCA after serving as executive director for four years at the Southern Oregon Humane Society, having convinced SoHumane that a former newspaper man could lead an animal shelter. “Do you have to love animals to work in animal welfare? Yes, I think you do,” Altine says. “Do you have to have animal skills? No, we can teach you that.”
As a former business editor for a major U.S. newspaper, Altine understands business. As an administrative editor handling multi-million-dollar budgets, he knows how to manage money. After five rounds of in-person interviews, Altine finally convinced SoHumane to hire him. “In my mind I thought how hard can this be. Ha! It’s a whole other world.
“Animal welfare is the antithesis of business. But nonprofit does not mean nonbusiness,” adds Altine, who rebranded the shelter, changed its business model, and eventually grew SoHumane’s cash reserves to more than $2 million.
But what brought Altine to animal welfare to begin with? In 2005, while still living in Houston, Altine took three weeks off of work to join a friend and fellow editor in Gulfport, Miss., following Hurricane Katrina. The Humane Society of South Mississippi was desperately over capacity with strays and owner-surrenders from families that survived the storm but had no place to take their pets. “It was hard, heartbreaking work,” Altine says. “And the rewards of seeing love come from disaster were equally overwhelming.”
Back in Houston, Altine continued to help animals by fostering for a local volunteer-run rescue/adoption organization.
Then, in 2010, as newspapers began downsizing and Altine’s executive job included laying off coworkers, he decided it was time to quit—and live in a tent in the woods in Siskiyou County, where he owns 80 acres with his husband.
“We knew we wanted to live on the land for a while,” Altine says, while the couple decided where to build a cabin, which is now a vacation home and where they will live in retirement.
After 18 months into a two-year period, reality set in. “The bank account said you have to go back to work. Time to climb off the mountain and get back into it.
“I had to decide what next—and quickly ruled out a return to journalism.” That’s when Altine joined SoHumane in Medford, Ore., before accepting his role at the SSPCA after former executive director Rick Johnson retired.
“We drove up here and looked around. I was not aware of how massive the operation is. They have all of the things I always dreamed of having in Medford—but on a much larger scale. I said, ‘does this help me make a larger impact on animal lives?’ The answer was ‘absolutely.’”
The couple now live in Tahoe Park with “the girls”— Lavern and Sihki—two Carolina dogs (also known as Reservation dogs or American dingoes), which are found free roaming in the deserts of the southwest. With a specific fondness for the breed, the couple adopted the girls after they were trapped together on a reservation in New Mexico.
In his role as executive director, Altine has big plans for the SSPCA, including a new larger spay-neuter clinic, hopefully within the next two years. “You live and breathe your organization. Everywhere you go and everything you do, it’s about the Sacramento SPCA,” says Altine.
“It’s all about the animals and the people who love them. Without the people who love them, we just have buildings full of animals.”
Cathryn Rakich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.