The basic economics of a no-kill shelter

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, August 10, 2016

To the editor:

The cost of compassion that I learned while writing the Life in Our Foothills article “Cowboy to the Rescue” was a shock. The prices to adopt at the Foothills Humane Society are surprisingly low while the expenses for rescue and care of surrendered, discarded, abused, and stray animals are stunningly high. The economics of a no-kill shelter is driven by the heart, far more than by market forces.

The shelter is private and non-profit, not county-run, as I had assumed as a resident of less than four years. Polk County pays a contracted fee to assure space for Cowboy’s rescues. The fee has been the same for five years and currently accounts for about 18% of the annual operating budget. The balance comes from adoption fees that are lower than actual value and from grants that are awarded in a competitive milieu by organizations that have many choices of worthy causes.

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Shelter board members and staff gave me more details and insights than I could possibly use in the article but I thought should be shared.

An adopted cat or dog comes with a neuter or spay, vaccinations, microchip, illnesses identified and treated, and follow-up from trained salaried staff. Total value is estimated at $500 while price is $60 for kittens, $100 for puppies, $40 for cats, and $80 for dogs of every breed and size from mini-mixes to Labs. I totaled these and divided by four for the average price per adoption. Distribution of each group would affect the number, but as a math-impaired writer/photographer, I think $70 is close enough to illustrate relative cost/value of 70/500.

Knowing that income should be greater than expenses, I’ve been told enough to conclude that the shelter is bleeding deep red; steadily draining an endowment intended to provide interest not deplete principle. Despite amazing feats by management, staff, and volunteers to stretch dollars, jury-rig, and make-do, the no-kill policy threatens to kill the shelter. There is no end to the animals arriving to stay until adopted. Resources are clearly burdened. But, from what I’ve seen, shelter people will not give up. They will fight, they will work, but they will need help. Champions would make their continued success more certain.

In 2015, shelter people saved and found homes for 1,367 animals from Polk County, Landrum, Gowensville, and Campobello. Now consider one line item of expense out of a list that includes everything from healthcare to facility maintenance. That one item—food for one animal for one month—averages $25. In my simplistic calculation, $25 x 12 months x 1,367 animals equals $410,100 per year to fill food bowls.

I then multiplied 1,367 by the $70 average adoption price, knowing this may not be strict accounting, and came up with an adoption income for 2015 of $95,690. I compared that to the $410,100 food bill.

I gave up further calculations after trying to factor in the replacement cost of a 20-year roof after 25 years of service. Then there’s the cost of compliance with the Department of Agriculture regulation that prohibits peeling paint surfaces within animal reach. This is not a job for good-hearted volunteers with brushes, but for professionals with sandblasting equipment and industrial epoxy paint. DOA surprise inspections are random and the shelter is going out for bids.

The challenges are never ending.

If anyone reading this wants to discuss my math and numbers, I invite them to call 828-863-4444 and talk to Chris, the shelter’s executive director. She’ll explain in detail how “donations make the difference until they all have a home” and why folks in the Foothills should donate as Champions of the Shelter.

~ Vincent Verrecchio, Landrum, S.C.