Lawrence Nonprofits

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Non-profits and the trickle-down effect

Where are your donations really going?

We’ve all seen the Sarah McLachlan commercial for ASPCA with B-roll of helpless and homeless animals as her tear-jerking song, “In the arms of an angel,” plays in the background. I’ve personally seen grown men cry from this commercial, and it is notoriously known by anyone who watches television. The point here is–the advertisement works. It appeals to the audiences’ emotions and tears so hard at their heart strings, they want to give their money to the Humane Society of the United States.

Of course no one wants to see animals in pain and suffering, which makes the strong reaction to the commercial very sensible. But at what emotional cost will it take for the HSUS to reach their goal? The HSUS annual report of 2007 reported, “$120 million in revenue, including $5.4 million just from online donors.” This emotional solicitation is undoubtedly succeeding for the organization; however, the money donated to this national organization does not necessarily go where the donor may have intended.

HSUS does initiate puppy mill rescues; however, they profit in multiple ways from the process, and the puppies are taken to local shelters. HSUS benefits from ceasing puppy mills through publicity, which leads to donations. Not only is the organization simply moving helpless animals to local shelters, but they are also gaining donations in doing so. It is a harsh reality, but without this media coverage and consequential funding, HSUS wouldn’t be the organization, financially or publicly, it is today.

There is good and bad in these facts about HSUS. In large events such as hurricane Katrina, HSUS had the funds to help out significantly with the natural disaster that shook the lives of so many in New Orleans. In organizing this help; however, HSUS profited greatly from the mass amount of publicity. In the end, it’s positive that HSUS has the funding to help out in times of struggle, but it is definitely negative that the organization takes advantage of disaster situations to increase profit.

On top of the shady, to say the least, lobbying and campaigning HSUS funds, it is a common misunderstanding that there is a certain percentage of donations to the HSUS that trickle down to local shelters. However, local animal shelters see no profit or resources of any kind from the national organization. Once again, HSUS takes advantage of economic opportunity and allows the confusion to continue by failing to mention this bit of information to the audience. A strong economic tactic, certainly, but obviously not something one would anticipate from a non-profit organization.

The overall point here is not that HSUS is evil; it is simply a non-profit organization with a successful, profit-driven mentality. What’s important to understand is where your money is going when you donate to non-profit organizations. In all likelihood–donating five dollars to a local animal shelter would make a much bigger difference than donating to HSUS or another national organization.

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Health Hazards Challenge the Lawrence Humane Society

Clogged drains, mold and cracked floors compromise more than disease control for the animals and staff at the Lawrence Humane Society. Lack of funding is both the cause and effect of health hazards at the non-profit organization. Dori Villalon, Executive Director of LHS, says the health hazards result in increased risk of illness, extra work for employees, slows adoption processes and costs the facility money.

The building, parts of which are more than 50 years old, runs a 24-hour emergency rescue service and currently houses nearly 300 animals. The facility hopes for help from the county to repair the aged flooring.

“They are cracked, old and are a hazard primarily because viruses and bacteria live in the cracks and it’s very hard to clean,” Villalon said. “When [disease control is compromised], if a dog comes in and gets sick, they have to stay in our TLC unit for medical care, which causes more expenses,” Villalon said.

Lawrence Humane Society receives funding from three sources: a contract with the city and county to provide service, adopt and surrender animal fees, and contributions to the facility.

“Despite what many think, we don’t get any funding from the National Humane Society. We raise all of our money locally,” Villalon said. “The shelter needs to raise $700,000 through donations and adoption fees in order to meet our $1.1 million budget,” Villalon said.

The LHS asked for a $15,000 grant from the county for multiple reasons. “I’m asking the government to pay for that because it’s part of the law to have stray animals taken in for at least three days,” Villalon said.

According to the Code of the City of Lawrence 2011 Edition, “The officer shall make a record of all dogs or cats so impounded with their description, date of impoundment and rabies vaccination number. If, within seventy-two (72) hours from the date any dog or cat is impounded and the owner of such dog or cat shall appear and claim his or her dog or cat, said dog or cat may be released upon payment…”

The second reason LHS reached out to the county is focused on the purpose of the facility itself.

“Our ultimate goal is to save as many lives as we can by moving animals quickly from the shelter to homes,” Villalon said. “If the $15,000 isn’t funded the facility will go to its donor base to raise the money, and I’d rather spend money raised to do things that could directly save animal lives than fixing the floors,” Villalon said.

The volunteer work includes walking, playing with, and taking animals to adoption events. Volunteers are not allowed to clean cages or handle sick animals.

“The fact that we can’t help with certain aspects does impact the staff because if enough volunteers aren’t here, they not only have to take care of cleaning, adoptions and sick animals, but also the work that we do,” volunteer Samara Rehfeld, 18, said.

The LHS staff is affected but not defeated by the extra work from ongoing hazards.

“It’s definitely made my job more difficult with animals getting upper respiratory infections and kennel cough,” Amelia Mallett-Kass Lead Animal Care Associate said. “The more sick animals we have, the more likely the germs are to spread. We have to keep on top of hazardous areas so bacteria doesn’t come into contact with animals,” Mallett-Kass said.

Employees continue work with the facility despite tedious tasks the hazards create.

“Considering that the facility is not ideal, we’re doing really amazing work inside of it,” Villalon said. “We have a 76% live release rate, which is up from 52% this time last year,” Villalon said.

The LHS relies on help from the community to make ends meet. The facility uses donations of basic necessities such as laundry detergent, bleach and soap.

“Without help from the government, the hazards cannot currently be eliminated,” Villalon Said.

“We work really hard to keep our animals happy and healthy, but there’s only so much that we can do. This issue is a big project, and we are going to need help from the public to fix it,” Mallett-Kass said.

Click here to visit the Lawrence Humane Society’s website

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