Pulling heartstrings and purse strings

By Laura Williams-Tracy

The foot soldiers that care for North Carolina’s unwanted pet population are looking for new strategies in the wake of dwindling donations.

Passed over in many cases by donors making contributions to Hurricane Katrina survivors or Tsunami victims, animal welfare groups say they have to work harder to make the point that helping animals helps people too.

Closer to home, some directors say the high price of gasoline has caused a drop in donations and adoptions.

“We are really hurting for the first time,” says Brenda Overman, president and founder of the SPCA of the Triad, which serves Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point and communities beyond. “We have two months of operating funds and that’s the lowest we have ever been,” she says. “We’ll have to take in fewer animals this month and offer less financial aid to people needing help paying their vet bills.”

Organizations like Overman’s work to rescue and adopt out animals, and offer low cost rabies shots, and spay and neuter clinics.

But they don’t receive any local funding and find themselves at the mercy of donors even more than organizations that are hired to perform local animal control and care work.

Asheville’s Humane Society has contracts from Buncombe County and four four local towns to operate the county animal shelter and, until recently, also performed animal-control duties.

Executive Director Shelly Moore says those contracts help sustain the organization’s efforts, and that fundraising actually is on the rise.

“Surprisingly, what I’ve seen in annual giving has increased every year of the five years I’ve been here,” she says. “We’ve been able to go from $18,000 a year in individual donations to $150,000.”

Moore says the organization has been successful because of Asheville’s positive attitude toward animal welfare, as well as a sophisticated public-relations campaign aimed at keeping the organization visible.

One event, Yappy Hours, consists of social events for pet owners and their dogs at local restaurants that raise some money and also aim to raise the organization’s profile.

That’s important as the organization works on a capital campaign to raise $2.5 million for a new adoption and education center to be built next to a new county-funded animal shelter.

“This community is unique when it comes to animals,” says Moore. “It’s not typical of the state.”

To raise its profile, SPCA of the Triad aired a local television commercial, but it failed to draw significant new interest, Overman says.

The group is trying other methods, such as increasing the number of mailings its does to donors to communicate its needs, she says.

The organization’s major fundraising effort is a weekly Bingo night it has held for 17 years.

Hope Hancock, executive director of the Wake County SPCA in Raleigh, says fundraising is running neck and neck with program revenue.

But she says high gas prices cut into donations and also temper people’s desire to adopt stray animals.

So revenue from adoptions is also declining, she says.

To continue to meet the demands of an ever-growing pet population, Hancock says, she is working on a strategic plan to stem the tide of unwanted pets with a high-volume spay and neuter program.

“These animals, by virtue of their birth, have a death sentence,” she says. “They are the most voiceless creatures in the world. It shouldn’t be an either or decision to support animals or help people. We should be able to coexist beautifully.”

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