WALLA WALLA -- In a back yard on the east end of Walla Walla on Wednesday evening, flames leaped in an outdoor fire pit, shooting sparks into a frost-peppered night.
At first, the hungry fire tentatively licked the outside of the large, white envelope in the center of the grate. In seconds, though, the blaze seemed to decide to gobble its treat, amid the rousing cheer of bystanders.
Up in flames went a parcel representing eight years of financial angst for Blue Mountain Humane Society as its mortgage note and other debt documents turned to ash.
Sara Archer, executive director of the animal shelter, wiped away happy tears. Not only had a $480,000 building debt been paid off, but she had kept the paperwork representing $55,000 in outstanding bills that greeted her when she accepted the position in 2004.
Being free of the building and other debt means finally balancing the organization's budget without having to beg for money each year, said Doug Henry before the big burn. "There are so many more programs we're able to do now."
It all began when a "courageous" decision was made to incur debt in order to give homeless pets and the staff that cared for them a decent place to live and work, noted BMHS board member Jayne McCarthy after she had clapped for the victory burn.
There were some rocky times, McCarthy said. "But we came out beautifully, due to the leadership. We had to take the risk to get out of that place."
Some challenges added to the original building debt, including contractor promises broken, noted Kathy Kaping, who sat on the shelter's board for 22 years and now is as an emeritus member.