Limited funds threaten to close shelter
by Zac Kennedy
Jul 21, 2010 | 2001 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In the late 1970s, Walker County had a problem. The problem was that there were tons of stray animals that could be found on city sidewalks as well as dusty backroads.

Some lived by finding food; most died fighting for it. It took the boldness of a few concerned citizens to band together to create a safe haven for these abandoned animals — a place where they could rest, recover, and in some cases, survive, so they could be put up for adoption and have another chance at a happy life.

This place was Walker County Humane Society, which now faces the possibility of having to close its doors as soon as November because it can no longer operate under its limited funding.

Due to insufficient funding from both the city and county plus scarce donations from the public, the organization is falling apart as is the decaying structure it calls home.

“The city, state and even the public don’t realize how bad it is,” said Carol Downs, a founder of the county chapter of the Humane Society. “We are doing all that we can with the limited funding we have and it’s simply not enough to keep the Humane Society operating.”

Humane Society board director Jud Allen said, “We have pleaded with the city to give us more money so we can continue to operate, but they have not come through.”

As she shook her head in frustration, Downs said, “Things simply cannot go back to the way they used to be.”

And so Murder

was called Mercy

Downs told the story of an extreme form of abandoned animal maintenance that took place before the Society was founded.

“The animal control officer would round up stray dogs, take them to the county landfill and release them,” Downs said. “Then, he would have target practice and try to kill as many as he could. Some he did kill, but others he only wounded and many suffered a long, painful death. Some who survived even lived to repopulate the area. We cannot go back to the way it was.”

‘Simply not

enough Funding’

Each year, the Society receives $40,000 from the city and $40,000 from the county. The Society also depends on the donations of the public and a few foundations.

“The Mike Beasley Foundation has helped us a lot,” Allen said. “Also, Walker County Community Foundation has donated to us. However, donations, as a whole, have really gone down.”

Humane Society workers also feel that the symmetrical financial allocations from both the city and county prove an irregularity, as the city has a population of about 15,000, while the county’s population stands at about 60,000.

Lane Reno, executive director of the WCHS, said that the current funding is simply not enough to support the increasing numbers of animals the Society has been forced to house, which explains why many have to be euthanized.

“We have about 5,000 to 7,000 animals dropped off to us every year, with maybe 200 of those being adopted,” Reno said. “The ones who we can’t take in are often times dropped over the fence after we close or just left on the doorstep. Many of the ones that are dropped off after our hours haven’t been fed and carry disease. Unfortunately, we have to put some animals down, because we simply don’t have room.”

Allen added that both the WCHS and the Birmingham Humane Society receive the same amount of animals each year.

However, the Birmingham Humane Society operates on a $1.4 million annual budget, meaning it is allocated more than five times that of the WCHS.

Downs added, “We are often criticized for not being a “no-kill” society, but in our case, we have no other choice but to put down animals due to overcrowding. We can’t just turn animals away.”

Allen put the need for money in perspective by saying that $300 to 400 can go about as far as buying enough dog food to last three days.

‘An insufficient building’

The WCHS is currently operating out of a building at 2302 Birmingham Ave. in downtown Jasper that has been subject to countless hours of maintenance and repair. Workers and volunteers say that the structure is detrimental to the Society’s function.

“Our building is falling apart,” Allen said. “We’ve asked for a new building or location for years. With a new building, we could adopt more animals and provide better care to them. This building is not made for what it’s used for.”

Actually, the building served as a veterinary practice before the Society took over. Downs estimated that building is “at least 60 years old.”

“We are in desperate need of a new facility,” Downs said. “We have made every repair possible, but it is still falling down around us. Our dream would be to have a facility that is built to our needs. We’d like a puppy room, a cat room, runs with outside exposure and a large outside fenced area for larger animals.”

Pleading for

public support

The WCHS believes that it does enough in the county to have gained the public’s support in donating so that it can remain operational.

“We offer many services such as a Pet Therapy program, where we go to all the nursing and retirement homes in the county — and a couple in Winston County when we can — with a pet,” Reno said. “We also have a cruelty/neglect officer that deals with the 400 to 500 cruelty complaints that come in every year. We even have a 24-hour emergency pager service for cases where a stray animal gets injured.”

The WCHS is also always willing to visit schools and summer programs to teach lessons such as how one should protect him or herself if a dangerous animal should approach.

The public can make donations to the WCHS with cash and check. Also, the Society has a “needs list” that includes dog food, puppy food, kitten chow, canned cat and dog food, paper towels, laundry detergent, hand cleaner, copy paper, cleaning supplies, garbage bags, first aid supplies, rubber gloves and cat litter.

To contact the Walker County Humane Society, call 221-6621 or visit www.walkerhumane.org.