Arkadelphia News

Humane Society directors confront possible closure of Arkadelphia shelter

Shelter improvements are on hold indefinitely while directors deal with significant ongoing deficits at the Humane Society of Clark County

Most of the October meeting of the Humane Society of Clark County’s Board of Directors was spent dealing with significant cost overruns and the unpleasant realization that the shelter may face closing within six months.

Overcrowding and the resulting increase in all costs related to shelter operations is not a new problem and until now the deficits have been covered with reserve funds held for much-needed shelter improvements. Over $45,000 of reserve funds have been used to meet expenses in the last four months, an average monthly deficit of over $11,000.

The directors all agreed that the shelter could not continue to operate with the unsure hope that donations would increase and overcrowding would decrease.

“We have to deal with this now,” said Pam Shuffield, board member and treasurer, said. “We cannot just shut down one day and have over 100 cats and dogs to relocate. With almost all the shelters and rescues in the state already at or over capacity it would be a disaster for our animals.” She noted that the shelter has always had many wonderful volunteers and good financial support from the public, but right now it is just not enough.

A major effort has been underway for the last four months to increase adoptions by offering a 50% discount on adoption fees and, more recently, week-long free adoption events. Board vice president Cathy Garrett pointed out for some of the newer board members, Deanna Dennis and Les Kent, that discounted adoption fees are a double-edged sword for the shelter. “It does decrease overcrowding, short term, but we lose money at our full adoption rate and the discounts increase that loss even more.”

One option available for the board to control overcrowding is to set a strict capacity limit and refuse to take any more dogs or cats when at that capacity. Garrett explained that “We do try to set limits and [shelter manager] Whitney Womble does her best to offer other options when we are full but there are just not many options. Many times saying no is just not an option. That is not why we do this.”

The board discussed in detail other major expenses including payroll, building maintenance, utilities and feed cost.

Until 2018 the shelter functioned with unpaid volunteer labor. After considering increasing regulations the shelter had to meet an increasing workload and the uncertainties and inconsistency of an all-volunteer workforce, it was decided to convert to a small paid staff supplemented by volunteers.

“The leadership at that time obviously thought this was the best thing to do to ensure the best possible conditions for our cats and dogs and it has worked well in most regards except the budget,” Garrett pointed out, adding that “constant overcrowding seen in recent years has increased our labor cost in spite of paying mostly minimum wage. Our pay scale also limits our job pool. It is hard work that most won’t do for minimum wage.  

“We are very fortunate to have a very dedicated, capable staff right now, and I sure hope they will stick with us. It is also great to have Jacob on board to work with them,” board member Ali Painter commented. She was referring to Jacob Fagan, who is a new board member and a professional dog trainer who helps the staff in the dog yard with training, handling and safety. Fagan was not able to attend the meeting.

In reviewing the year’s high maintenance and repair cost, Shuffield reported that “it has been a real tough year. Plumbing problems are a constant problem, and this year we have had to replace a central AC unit and several smaller units. Fortunately the public responded well to our plea for help funding these unexpected expenses. Now we are back to plumbing.”

It was explained that apparently there is no city sewer line to the shelter so they have to own and maintain a large septic tank and a submersible pump to pump liquid waste an unknown distance to city lines. “The pump went out and the bathroom stopped working so we ended up spending $1,200 for the pump and $400 to get the tank pumped and the bathroom still does not work,” Shuffield said. “Apparently the sewer line is clogged or broken, and I am not sure what that will cost.”

Kent presented a summary of year-to-date utility costs and monthly averages. Kent’s report showed the average monthly cost for electricity was $556, water $261, natural gas $136, phone and Internet $136 for an overall average monthly utility cost of $1,089.

The board has received and is considering a proposal from a new dog food vendor that Kent presented at an earlier meeting. Kent said the potential new vendor was located in South Arkansas and could offer lower prices on a higher quality food and would consult and assist the staff with the food changeover and related issues.

In addition to shelter and care for homeless and abandoned cats and dogs, the shelter has for years sponsored regular lowered-cost spay and neuter clinics for the public. According to the shelter manager, these clinics are an extremely popular and critical part of the shelter’s mission. “Almost every three-day clinic is fully booked and we usually spay or neuter 140 to 150 cats and dogs,” Womble said. On average about 75% are for the public who pay just what the mobile vets charge the shelter. The first day of the clinic is usually taken up with shelter animals for which the shelter is charged the same fee as the public. Although the three-day clinics are a lot of extra work for the shelter staff and produce no income, the financial benefit to the community cannot be measured. 

According to several national pet care organizations, in seven years one unaltered female cat and her offspring can produce 370,000 kittens. One unaltered female dog and her offspring may produce 67,000 puppies in six years. At the last spay and neuter clinic the Humane Society of Clark County altered 80 cats. If half were female this one clinic could have reduced the number of kittens born in the area in the following seven years by over 14 million kittens. By the same formula the reduction in puppy births would be 1.6 million.

“These staggering numbers are the reason we are totally committed to spay and neuter clinics and would hate to see them discontinued,” Garrett said, adding that “the cost to the public and local governments for dealing with the huge number of unwanted animals, which our spay and neuter clinics prevent, would also be staggering.”

In addition to serving as vice president, Garret is the resident grant writer for the shelter. “Since we operate entirely on grants and donations we never stop working on fundraising, and I am pleased to tell you all that we just received a $1,000 grant from Walmart and a $2,000 grant from the Clark County Community Foundation which we were not expecting. This may not solve our problems but it all helps us hang on.”

Since it was founded 34 years ago by Dee and Don Ross and a group of like-minded citizens, as far as any current board members knew, the shelter has always operated on donations and grants with no financial assistance from local city or county government. Lacking any expectations of city or county support the board has recently affiliated with the Bissell Pet Care Foundation and MightyCause, a specialty non-profit fundraising site.

“This is an effort to ease our financial crisis by expanding our fundraising efforts outside the local area to a nation-wide audience. It is too early to expect a big response but we have great hopes for these two new efforts to supplement our local support,” Shuffield told the board members.

Garrett said putting the shelter’s ongoing financial issues before the local community is “such a tough thing to do.”

Shuffield added, “We have worked hard through so many changes this year and it is really sad to be at this point, but the public is all the support we have and they need to be informed.”

Donations to the Humane Society of Clark County can be made with cash or check at the shelter which is located at 627 Walnut St. in Arkadelphia or mailed to P.O. Box 435, Arkadelphia, AR 71923.

Online donations can be made at the shelter website, where viewers will find several methods to donate and also sign up to volunteer at the shelter.