To begin, there are many pieces to our puzzle. A slapdash group of animal advocates who could no longer choose to close their eyes while nearby animals were suffering, gathered together and made a very loud noise and were heard in 1988. Since then, things have changed at the shelter and yet so many things remain the same.
We no longer are contracted from the Town or County to be an open admission shelter who then has to euthanize for space, our food contract is subsidized but no longer donated fully by Hill's, our in-house spay/neuter clinic has become its own non-profit locally, we have added 13 more large dog kennels and so much more. What remains the same? We are still struggling to keep our doors open with donations and grants, we are still relentlessly advocating for the animals, still spaying/neutering, vaccinating all intake animals that enter the shelter and still dedicated to our mission.
Letter from the President of H.E.L.P. 1993:
In the future when HELP the Animals, Inc. is long established and endowed, and all the things we will become, we will be awarded monies based on our history of accomplishments. Now, slightly over four years into our existence, we are just developing that history, so allow me to lead you through our dream and our beginning.
Investigative reporting in the local newspaper exposed how bad the local animal shelter (just a shelter, not a humane organization) had become. As a hometown person and a veterinarian in Richmond, I had been aware of most of their shortcomings. This particular fall a few people came to my attention who might be able to undertake the unimaginable task of starting a humane organization in this community. So we started; incorporated as a Humane Existence for Lost Pets (that name was altered to HELP the Animals because a board member who was active in public relations for many years felt "animals" had to be in our name for PR purposes). Now we are generally known as HELP.
Many meetings later we bought a large building. It is a substantial building with a lot of potential. We were determined to start our shelter, and with a loan of $15,000 for a down payment (as yet unpaid) we took the first step to show Richmond what a proper humane organization should be. We were able with part of a $40,000 anonymous donation, to install twenty four Mason Kennel runs. These are state of the art -- comfortable, with resting shelves for the dogs, individual drains and easily cleaned. We also have twenty marvelous cat cages. Thank goodness for the loyalty of our donors!
A great deal of our accomplishments have been achieved through sweat equity. We cleaned, set up kennels, dug drain channels, built the "veterinary room" and furnished our office with hard work from volunteers and donations of materials. There remains a huge amount to do. Nevertheless, we obtained the 1991 city contract for sheltering and have kept that contract ever since (approximately $20,000 annually for animals brought in by the Animal Control Officer). We opened our doors January 1st, 1991. That year we earned enough money to underpay a director and began our operation using entirely volunteers and Community Service workers -- for all the work -- feeding, cleaning, processing, everything! We housed 2, 634 animals, began our nursing home visitation program, helped the City write and rewrite its animal ordinances and hassled the police department to hire a trained civilian ACO (Animal Control Officer) which they did in 1992. I cannot believe what we accomplished with high energy and dedication and so little money.
Last year (1992) we sheltered 2,580 animals. We now have the Director and three part-time employees, plus our volunteers and CSW's. Every one of the paid people are underpaid and all the people who work at the shelter are overworked. You have been to a shelter, you know the demands. I marvel at the work we get from all those who work at the shelter. I expect you will never visit a shelter where animals receive the love and care they get from HELP. Each animal is named and treated as a sentient being. All dogs are walked once or twice a day, weather permitting and hands available. As many cats as possible run free, most of them have toys in their cages.
I must help euthanize animals periodically (the most odious aspect of animal shelters in our society) and I watch and join the holder in loving and comforting the unfortunate dogs or cats until the process of dying is complete. They really do receive major doses of love.
The animals' physical needs are well met too. We have the very good fortune to have a Hill's Pet Products plant in Richmond and Hills' donates all our food. We vaccinate upon entry. All ill animals are evaluated and treated or euthanized quickly, so a visitor will not find a shelter full of sick animals, and adopters have an excellent chance of taking home a healthy pet. All cats are checked for leukemia at the time of adoption, all dogs and cats are required to be spayed or neutered. A low cost program is honored by all the veterinarians in the county. (This is a program we persuaded the other vets to take part in and it has worked very well). Adopters pay that fee at the time of adoption and we enforce compliance.
As you will note on our financial records, we do have not enough money to do what we are doing. But, through donations and "finagling" we have progressed slowly, but positively. As with all we have done, we commit to action, then the money to do it comes along.
As President and one of the founders, I hope HELP will survive and grow. I know the community response to us is morally supportive and they believe in our cause. However, being a somewhat conservative and depressed area, they can only do so much. The tricky part is continuing to do the kind of work we are doing now while carrying this financial burden. We are tired.
Despite our financial situation we have been able to create a sense of responsibility, not only in our pet owners, but in raising the consciousness of the general public as well, with regard to abused and neglected animals.
I wish I could lead you through our place, showing you the reality and the dream; they intertwine. Maybe I will get to someday. The invitation is there.
President of H.E.L.P.