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ShelterSpeak: Difficult Economic Times

Shelter Speak: Has your organization made any changes in operations as a result of the ailing economy? Have you had to reduce any of your services? What would your advice be for readers dealing with difficult economic times?

Shelter Speak: Has your organization made any changes in operations as a result of the ailing economy? Have you had to reduce any of your services? What would your advice be for readers dealing with difficult economic times?

Don Jordan, executive director
Seattle Animal Control
Seattle, Washington

The Seattle Animal Shelter is still operating status quo at this point, despite a 10-percent reduction in our budget this year. My experience with budget reductions historically has been a double-edged sword. While oftentimes the staff are committed to attempting to continue to provide the same level of services with fewer resources, you also need to consider how that will impact future funding of the organization. If you continue to demonstrate that you can do more with less, this may only result in future budget reductions. So, it is important for the manager or executive director to balance the health of the staff (you don’t want to overwork and stress out your crew in the long run) with reasonable service levels. Oftentimes, it can be beneficial to an agency if citizens and elected officials see the impact on service levels when a budget is reduced. And oftentimes, reduction of service levels is an expected response to budget cuts and folks will generally be very understanding of the situation.

So, my advice for organizations that may be facing budget cuts is to take reasonable steps to maintain existing service levels and only reduce services and programs when absolutely necessary in order to maintain the health and mental wellness of the staff.

Don Rieck, director
Sioux Falls Animal Control
Sioux Falls, South Dakota

As a government animal control entity, we are not immune to downturns in the economy. We have not had to cut back on services yet but have definitely had budget cuts. We have postponed replacing some equipment such as vehicles. The other major cutback is in training and the travel associated with it. Our training budget was cut by two-thirds for 2003, and it looks like the same for 2004. We did see this coming and stocked up on some minor equipment and supplies—which will help until tax revenue picks up again. We all need to keep our priorities where they need to be; taking care of the animals and their owners comes first.

Eric Blow, director
Metro Animal Services
Louisville, Kentucky

Beginning in January of this year, our City (Louisville) and County (Jefferson) merged governments. The good news for our agency, Metro Animal Services (formerly Jefferson County Animal Control and Protection), was that there was no city agency to merge with. We already did it all! But the costs associated with the citywide merger and the depressed economy will likely impact us in the upcoming fiscal year. As is usual with government agencies, any time there is a change in the elected administration, a “hiring freeze” will quickly follow. This was the case for us in January.

In this region, changes in the economy are generally not felt at the same time as other parts of the country. Downturns are a little later, as are the recoveries. In our current year’s budget, although no expansion of services or programs was permitted, we were able to continue all existing levels. The local economic outlook for this area is apparently not very good. Coupled with the merger costs, our budget preparation instructions require the submission of plans for cutbacks of 3, 5 and 10 percent. All departments are advised to take these plans seriously.

We feel that our primary responsibility must be to the animals that we house on a daily basis. Therefore, there will be no recommended cuts submitted in our kennel services area. There are a number of administrative services required under state law and/or local ordinances, such as licensing and redemption regulations. And we still have bills to pay. So, there will be no recommended cuts in administrative costs. That leaves only field services to absorb any reductions. And since you can’t cut out enough paper clips and uniform shirts to hit the big target numbers of 3, 5 and 10 percent reductions, that leaves primarily ... animal control officers. This will negatively impact service to the public and the community’s animals. The safety and health of both will be jeopardized. In addition, because our officers generate revenue through various enforcement documents, the department’s recovery will be affected as well, making the economic issue worse.

Jane McCall, executive director
Dubuque Humane Society
Dubuque, Iowa

We have not made any budget changes yet, but we are being more conscious of our spending; in other words, we don’t buy it if we don’t need it.

Jim Tedford, president
Humane Society at Lollypop Farm
Fairport, New York

We haven’t yet been severely impacted by the economic downturn. Thus far we haven’t reduced services, but we did make a conscious decision not to hire a new director of education (a position we included in our strategic plan). We have reduced salary increases for staff, but have (so far) been able to maintain benefits packages.

© Jodi Frediani

Some animal care and control agencies must lay off officers or institute hiring freezes to manage budget limitations.

Christie Smith, executive director
Potter League for Animals
Newport, Rhode Island

All businesses must look carefully at their operations during difficult economic times. We have had to postpone some programs and services that we had been planning to initiate (for example, expanded hours of service and hiring additional staff). We have made every effort not to curtail existing services to the public or the animals.

Most of the cost-saving steps we have made are in areas that would not be immediately noticeable in our operations (shopping and negotiating the best prices to purchase oil, insurance, kitty litter, printing, etc.; expanded use of e-mail rather than incurring phone or postage charges; tighter training and travel budgets; co-pays from employees for medical insurance; postponing purchases of some equipment; carefully monitoring overtime).

Volunteers have become more important than ever and have wonderfully stepped forward to help with minor repairs or to fill staffing gaps. Staff have been asked to do more, and we have tried to be as generous and fair with annual raises as possible.

Our fundraising expenses have purposefully not been reduced, and our attention to fundraising has increased. So far the efforts that we have made for many years to develop good donor relations have paid off, and donations, while not growing dramatically, have been steady. If you have been practicing sound business and fundraising practices all along, you should be able to weather the current economic conditions. It does, however, require very careful monitoring and good budgeting.

Belinda Lewis, director
Ft. Wayne Animal Care & Control
Ft. Wayne, Indiana

Our city is currently in a hiring freeze. The direct impact is that anyone leaving creates an open space and immediately begins to affect the level of service you are able to provide. Since we are just starting the busy season, it also tends to create some apprehension among employees. We will do our best to maintain our hours and level of services, and we are fortunate that we are not faced with cutting back on those right now.

Bill Garrett, executive director
Atlanta Humane Society
Atlanta, Georgia

If I were a Democrat I would say we were cutting back. (We simply have not expanded any programs but have kept funding levels the same.) If I were a Republican I would say no cutbacks. (See same explanation as above.) Fortunately we rely a great deal on endowment and “funded” programs and reserves. No cutbacks, but slow growth.

Nicky Ratliff, executive director
Humane Society of Carroll County
Westminster, Maryland

We have not had to change a thing and I am very grateful. That being said, we are not expanding either. We have our fingers crossed in hopes the future will be brighter for everyone. We are very much aware of where we sit on the food chain and take nothing for granted. We have good public as well as elected officials’ support and we should be okay. Our adoption rates are up, and we try to stay in the public’s eye as much as possible.

Susan Asher, executive director
Nevada Humane Society
Sparks, Nevada

While our organization experienced a bit of a donor response slump post-9/11 (our fall appeal dropped the week after the tragedy), our holiday 2001 appeal was strong, and all subsequent campaigns have met or exceeded those of prior years. I have actually strengthened existing programs/services and even added a major one: the PUPs Program (Puppies Up for Parole—a prison dog-training program recently featured on Animal Planet in “Cell Dogs”).

However, we have bravely walked the “high-visibility/high service level” line through uncertain times for a very specific reason: We wanted to build and ensure public confidence in our mission. In 2002 we were involved in a major political campaign to secure passage of a bond issue that would fund a consolidation of animal control jurisdictions under our county, build a regional animal care & control center (in which NHS would be the private partner in a public/private partnership), and fund animal control and shelter operations through a dedicated property tax. Our donors supported our proactive decision to look at the big animal picture in our area—and I am proud to report that our community supported the animals and passed Washoe County Question #3 with a strong majority. (It was the only local bond issue with fiscal impact to pass).

Of course, this means that we will have to continue to earn the public’s support in this new joint effort—which will be challenging unless the economy improves. But our new regional shelter will help us reach our joint goals of increasing redemptions/adoptions, decreasing disease transmission/occurrence (a serious problem in the existing antiquated animal control center), and continuing to decrease euthanasia.


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