RAIFORD – A lot of people know that animal shelters can get very overcrowded, and have a hard time finding homes for all the abandoned, malnourished, and abused cats and dogs that they take in.
What some people don’t know, Carol Brooks said, is just how deplorable a few of the cases they deal with have been.
“We had a guy that drove in from another state and said, ‘Here, this dog is yours, we don’t want it anymore,’ “ said Brooks, the recording secretary for the Humane Society of Northeast Florida, Inc., a non-profit shelter. “Or they will just tie it to the fence and leave it.”
The worst, though, was when someone left a pregnant dog in a carrier outside of the shelter in Hollister. By the time staff got to the shelter the next morning, the dog had given birth to several puppies in that tight carrier – which shocked the workers.
“Someone left the dog in a carrier, pregnant,” Brooks said. “She had six puppies in there. They just left the dog in the crate with the puppies. They didn’t care what happened to them. The shelter was closed.”
As Florida continues to cope with the effects of the national recession and the collapse of the housing market, the state has been forced to make billions in cuts to government agencies, from schools to every conceivable state program out there. It’s been tough in recent years operating as a government agency.
But as Brooks is quick to point out, the Humane Society doesn’t have to worry about state or local cutbacks – they don’t get any money from Tallahassee or from Putnam County to begin with. Their task is even more difficult: relying solely on the public to fund their mission of finding loving homes for these animals.
“This is a non-profit organization,” she said. “We rely solely on contributions. We’ve had to limit the number of animals we take in.”
The Humane Society is a no-kill shelter, noted Debbie Ross, who works there, which means they do not euthanize the animals but make every effort possible to find homes for them.
“The people out in the public don’t see the dogs as we do,” she said. “We’re the only family they have.”
But as the economy gets worse, families’ disposable incomes start to shrink, and they have less to give a charitable group like the Humane Society.
“We’ve had to cut staff, we’ve had to cut hours,” Ross said.
The bad economy also means more families are simply abandoning their pets when they can no longer afford to provide for them – and not just cats and dogs, she added.
“They had an iguana they tried to drop off, which an employee took home, and some birds,” she said.
“It’s very difficult, it’s tough,” Brooks said, adding that the shelter not only relies on donations, but volunteers.
“Sometimes people will stop in and make a donation,” she said. “We get people that do bring in blankets and sheets and towels. But there’s not enough staff. The staff that we have will have to take care of the feeding and caring of the animals and the cleaning of the cages. It’s extremely tough.”
The Humane Society of Northeast Florida has been around for three decades, and operates on a 14 acre property with outdoor and indoor pens, storage units and a food shed. There’s also a fenced in area where the dogs can be outside together.
“That’s so the dogs can socialize together,” Brooks said. “That’s a big problem when they’re in a shelter. We are very attentive to the animals.”
Bobby Snow, the president of the Humane Society, said he hopes to get out the word that if people don’t want abandoned animals to be euthanized, they should support a charitable organization like this one.
“We are community-backed,” he said. “Any time the economy goes down, your community backing goes down, too. We have no government funds whatsoever.”
In addition to staff, food for the animals, cleaning products and medicine, they also have to pay their electric and telephone bills like everyone else, Snow said.
“Everything you have every day, we have there,” he said. “We’re sales tax-exempt, but we pay land taxes. How do I cope with it? All of my personal donations, and the time I donate.”
To learn more about the Humane Society of Northeast Florida, call 386-325-1587, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or log on to www.hsnefl.com. Brooks said she hopes to spread the word that even small donations can go a long way.
“We don’t have a budget for public relations,” she said, while Snow added, “We need to really get the word out so it spreads, and fast. It’s all on donations, and as long as they hold up, we’ll be here.”
Snow, Brooks and Ross were at the ADAPT graduation ceremony this morning, held at the New River O Unit Work Camp, a state prison near Starke. ADAPT stands for Adoptable Dogs After Prisoner Training. A collaboration between the prison and the Humane Society, ADAPT dogs are brought from the shelter to the prison, where they get trained by the inmates to be more obedient, and to become more people-friendly. That helps make the dogs more adoptable by the time they graduate, and three of the five dogs that graduated had in fact been adopted in advance of the ceremony. One of the families drove into Northeast Florida from Georgia to take their newly adopted dog home with them.
“For those of you who are adopting these wonderful dogs, you’ve made a great choice,” said Corrections Officer Katrina Roberts, one of the program’s coordinators. “I’m sure that you will find that it was well worth it.”
Ross said it’s a wonderful program that truly works.
“I have seen the dogs come back from the training, and they’re totally changed for the better,” she said.
Brooks added that ADAPT not only helps dogs find homes, but gives inmates a job skill they can use after they get released.
“This kind of program,” she said, “will pay for itself.”
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