Asheville Humane Society struggles due to COVID-19

Austin Campbell

Contributor

acampbe6@unca.edu

Photo provided by Austin Campbell
Romeo the cat at the Asheville Humane Society.

With dining restrictions affecting most of the country, and some businesses hurting to get back to pre-pandemic numbers, people may overlook how these policies affect the dogs back home and events such as Dine to Be Kind from the Asheville Humane Society.

“We went into our budget planning last year for the fiscal year and thought we would be able to host Dine to Be Kind this year, where last year we had to cancel due to COVID-19,” said Meredith Pitcairn, the Asheville Humane Society’s communications and digital fundraising manager. “We usually host this in March, but we felt it wasn’t right to ask our local restaurants who are already struggling from the pandemic to give us money. People who support this fundraiser go to the restaurants and a portion of their bill from this evening is sent from the restaurant to us at the end of the day.”

The Asheville Humane Society official said they did not feel comfortable doing their Dine to Be Kind event this year because many restaurants are not back to pre-COVID-19 business levels.

“We don’t have anything lined up as far as in-person fundraisers but hope to come up with some creative ways for raising funds. These events are a large chunk of our budget that we now don’t have,” Pitcairn said.

She said they hope to break these events into several smaller fundraisers throughout the year to offset this loss.

“Dine to Be Kind is our biggest fundraiser of the year. That event is basically a community-based event where people go to restaurants, people dine out, and a portion of the proceeds go back to the Asheville Humane Society. Any kind of fundraising event that we hold, we usually see a lot of monetary benefits. We try to keep all of the costs that go into these kinds of events minimal so that most of the proceeds do end up to benefit the critters,” Pitcairn said. “We’ve struggled during the pandemic due to not being able to have in-person events, and we’ve been trying to come up with new ideas or ways to raise those funds.”

During these types of events, the Asheville Humane Society tries to educate people on all of their actions in the local community, Pitcairn said.

“We not only take in animals, strays and surrenders, but we also help pets still in the community, which a lot of people don’t know. We provide veterinarian assistance, pet food and work with many local food pantries to provide food to people and their pets. We are a beyond no-kill organization, which means we are going beyond and outside of our walls to prevent animals from ever coming to our shelter in the first place. We never euthanize for space, time or really anything,” Pitcairn said.

Pitcairn said the only time they will euthanize an animal is if there are medical or behavioral issues they see as beyond rehabilitation.

“We had to close at the beginning of the pandemic for a little while, so obviously, we could not do in-person adoptions. We were able to open by appointment only, and once that happened, adoptions started to pick back up a little bit. When we fully reopened several months ago, our adoption rates went right back up. Many shelters across the country have seen great adoption numbers because people are home and can be with their pets, so more people are adopting,” Pitcairn said.

The Humane Society’s official said adoption numbers are under what they have been in the past at around 2,700 adoptions, where normally the society does around 3,400 annually.

“We still see surrenders, but the numbers have not gone up as much as we had anticipated that they would. We thought about how people are struggling financially, but I think our work in the community has really helped with all of the resources we offer,” Pitcairn said. “Please reach out to us before you conclude that you have to surrender your pet. Often, we see surrender as more of a housing issue, say someone is moving and their new home doesn’t allow animals or are medically unable to care for their pet anymore. Those are circumstances that are much harder to prevent.”

The Humane Society requires appointments for surrenders, so between an individual’s decision to surrender an animal until the surrender appointment, they have more time to confirm their choice, Pitcairn said.

“One thing that makes a huge impact is becoming a monthly donor. Even if it’s $5 to $10 a month, it’s a huge deal because it’s money we can rely on for however long you choose to donate,” Pitcairn said.

Pitcairn said if an animal needs a form of an emergency procedure, the Asheville Humane Society will make it public information for people to contribute financially, but outside of money, there are other ways to help the organization.

“Since too many people can’t be in the buildings at the same time, there are other programs to get out, such as our Hiking Hounds program or our Mountain Mutts group, which takes dogs on hikes,” she said.

Pitcairn said the Asheville Humane Society has many great volunteer opportunities but limited hours due to the pandemic.

“COVID-19 certainly impacted our program, and sadly we had to stop hiking for a few months. We changed our protocol for our volunteers and made minor adjustments to our process. Our hike leaders and many of our seasoned hikers really stepped up and kept the program going, so the shelter dogs did not have to miss out on hikes,” said Linda Brown, volunteer hike leader for Hiking Hounds. “I am so proud to be part of a program that is run 100 percent by volunteers who truly love and care for these homeless pups. I believe that our program has become even stronger in the past year due to these dedicated individuals.”

Brown said Hiking Hound’s goal is to help provide vigorous exercise for all breeds of high-energy shelter dogs who need a break from the shelter environment.

“We often have fearful dogs at the shelter who have never been hiking, much less spent any time in the woods or on the trails.

When we first get them out of their runs, they may be shy, timid, and their tail is usually low and still. When we get them out on the trails, they start to perk up, begin trotting with newfound confidence. Their tails are up and wagging and they become a totally different dog than we had at the beginning of the hike. To me, this transformation is the greatest joy of Hiking Hounds,” Brown said.

The program is geared toward adults in good physical condition who can handle a strenuous hike with an excitable dog on a leash, Brown said.

“We provide an enriching activity to a dog’s stay at the shelter; increase adoptability by having more exposure to the public. Hiking Hounds exposes dogs to new things in the environment. It reinforces obedience and life skills and burns off some of the dog’s energy in a positive way which will increase adoptions; boosts the staff and volunteer morale. It makes it easier for staff to clean in the mornings, and we document valuable information about the dogs for potential adopters and provide more exposure for the humane society through ambassadorship,” the volunteer hike leader said.

“It has been very difficult because we can’t rely on the funds we planned to raise during these events. That means we must find other ways to make up for the funds we won’t receive from events like Dine to Be Kind,” said Jody Evans, the Asheville Humane Society’s executive director.

These fundraising events are crucial to the Asheville Humane Society and support the thousands of animals that pass through the organization every year, Evans said.

“While we hope to return to event-based fundraising in the future, I believe COVID-19 has really made all non-profits think outside the box regarding outreach and interaction with their respective communities. In person, events will always be a critical component to building a community, but we will no longer be able to rely on it in the way we have in the past. COVID-19 is really making us rethink everything we do, from operations to fundraising,” the executive director said.

The Humane Society official said the Asheville community has been very supportive during the pandemic, and the Asheville Humane Society has been able to continue being Buncombe County’s safety net for animals in need.

“All of these programs are affected by donations, but many people don’t realize that our Adoption Center relies 100 percent on private donations to operate and receives no government funding. We apply for and receive grants that help us with our programming, but overall, our donors are the backbone of our organization. They enabled us to save or support over 9,255 local animals in 2020,” Evans said.

Asheville and the surrounding areas volunteers have saved more than $1 million annually for the organization, Evans said.

“We’ve been very lucky over the past year – we have very committed donors. They have continued to support us, but as Buncombe County’s population grows, so does the population of animals that need our services and help. As with any non-profit, we are constantly looking to bring new people into our group of supporters, whether it be donors or volunteers. We truly would not exist without the support of this community,” said the Humane Society director.

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