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Local animal shelters survive on little more than hope

July 22, 2001|By KELLY GRANT, Staff Writer

The tiny kitten, masquerading as a puff of gray fur, stretches its four legs, scrunches its eyes and lets out a monstrous yawn as it rolls over on a blanket at the Humane Society of Imperial Valley in El Centro.

Though this kitten, like the dozens of other healthy cats and dogs at the shelter on Pico Road, is available for adoption, the shelter's tight budget demands many animals be put down to make room for daily new arrivals.

"Funding is the biggest problem," said Charlene Marriner, the shelter's director.

"We're constantly trying to make ends meet," she said.

Like the Humane Society, Lulu Belle Animal Memorial Haven on Dogwood Road in Imperial also operates on a strained budget. Exacerbating the situation is the death Thursday of its primary benefactress, Edna Martin.

"She carried the (financial) burden," said manager Andy Arellano of Martin, adding he does not know what will happen to Lulu Belle's in the wake of Martin's death.

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Arthur Lohr, a certified public accountant and court-appointed conservator for Martin, had no comment about the future of Lulu Belle but did say "there's a lot to be done."

In the past, Martin was the main source of funding for Lulu Belle's, though Arellano didn't know exactly how much she spent each year. He estimated she spent about $1,000 to $1,500 each month for supplies like food and cat litter. Arellano also said about "a couple hundred dollars" worth of donated cash and supplies come in each month from other sources.

Lulu Belle's houses about 100 cats and 100 dogs. The shelter operates under a no-kill policy, meaning healthy animals are not put down.

The Humane Society, which houses about 80 animals at maximum, receives funds through adoption fees, donations, drop-off fees when people bring pets to the shelter, recycling fund-raising activities and a weekly bingo game at the Elks Lodge in El Centro.

Marriner estimates the Humane Society's annual operation costs range from $65,000 to $68,000.

The bulk of those expenses are insurance costs, including fire and liability protection and workers' compensation, said Marriner. Electricity bills, supplies, vaccines and payroll are also factored into the total expenses.

"One of the biggest misconceptions is that we get money from the city government or other humane societies," Marriner said.

Marriner said cash donations bring in about $500 each month in addition to donated supplies. Each year about $7,000 comes from fund-raising activities and $19,000 from the weekly bingo game.

A big solution to reducing the financial strain on animal shelters is to reduce the number of animals that shelters must serve. Marriner said there are two easy ways for the public to help.

"First, spay and neuter your pets," she said.

Reducing the number of overall animals reduces the number of unwanted animals.

Second, Marriner said, is for prospective pet owners to know what kind of pet, if any, is right for them.

So many people adopt animals only to realize later that they don't want or are unable to deal with the animals' habits, such as clawing up furniture or barking. Some find they are unable to afford the financial cost of owning a pet, Marriner said.

"If your male dog keeps jumping the fence, he's looking for female dogs. Get him neutered," Marriner said, adding behavior classes can also remedy many pet problems.

She also recommends calling local veterinary offices to learn about programs offering reduced-cost spaying and neutering.

"They say 20 percent of the population isn't responsible for its pets. That 20 percent causes a big drain (on shelter services)," Marriner said.

In the end, Marriner estimates about half the dogs and 95 percent of cats at the Humane Society have to be euthanized because no one has adopted them or because they are sick.

"I try to keep them as long as I can," Marriner said. Most animals have about four months at the shelter before being put down, though some have stayed as long as one year, Marriner said.

"I don't want to do it, but it's part of my job," Marriner said.

"You can't dwell on it," she said. "It'll drive you nuts."

Staff Writer Kelly Grant can be reached at 337-3441.

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