The foundation of the St. Joseph Bay Humane Society has always been community volunteers.
Sure, some funding comes from local governments and the non-profit pursues every grant opportunity it can find.
And the shelter employs less than a handful of people at a level that would hardly allow vacation homes on Cape San Blas.
But at the paw level, the organization succeeds, and its charges, literally, can live or die, on the passion and energy of volunteers.
Right now, folks, there is a huge need for that energy, plus an extra hand or two or three, with a healthy mix of walking legs.
The past summer, the level of intakes to the shelter has placed a huge strain on the facility and its resources.
Hilary Patterson, a member of the SJBHS board of directors, said the summer has seen an unusually high number of intakes.
Within the past week, shelter staff posted on social media that the shelter is at capacity.
One post showed the dogs that were at potential risk of euthanasia due to the length of time they had been at the shelter, with new dogs and cats arriving every day.
“It’s been horrible,” said Diana Burkett, a member of the SJBHS board of directors. “We are just trying everything we can do not to euthanize any animals.
“People need to understand we are up against it.”
And it is not just the SJBHS; throughout the area shelters are bursting.
Typically, the SJBHS transports animals to other shelters, for instance Lynn Haven, to relieve numbers.
But those shelters are also at capacity.
Therefore, as another barrier between an animal and euthanasia disappears, the shelter urgently needs not only adopters, but also those willing to foster an animal until it can be put up for adoption.
Typically, that will mean two or three weeks.
“We are in desperate need of foster homes,” Burkett said.
And even those reluctant to adopt can save a life by sponsoring an animal for adoption, guaranteeing a forever home for a dog or cat, Patterson said.
Beyond the trials of an animal’s life or death, however, is the cost incurred when capacity issues conspire at the shelter.
And it puts in perspective the challenges for the non-profit which must rely on the charity of others to subsist.
“With the extra animals comes the extra expense,” Patterson said.
Heartworm treatment and prevention, updating vaccines, nursing abandoned or neglected animals back to health, all cost money and are not exactly optional.
“Animals must be in a good health to be adopted or transported to a rescue,” Patterson noted.
The recent vet bill for one particularly unwell dog was $8,000; that is equal to the amount of money given this year by the city of Port St. Joe.
The money provided by the Board of County Commissioners represents, according to SJBHS officials, roughly one-fourth the shelter’s annual budget and that is without accounting for the shelter’s annual mortgage payment.
And that was during better times.
All hands needed
As the shelter experiences overload, the organizational structure is also undergoing change.
Caisey Rodgers, promoted from adoption coordinator to shelter director nearly a year ago, is leaving due to family opportunities.
“She did a good job of filling in and restructuring,” Burkett said, adding that the organization is looking to fill several positions, including adding to the ranks of the kennel techs.
“Our current kennel techs are what we consider the A team,” Patterson noted. “They are here because they have a true passion for these animals.
“I dare anyone to find more dedicated workers.”
There is also an ongoing need for volunteers, not only at the shelter but for transporting animals to rescues outside the area.
The shelter covers the travel expenses of volunteers willing to transport.
And there is always a need for folks willing to come out to the shelter to help clean, walk dogs or hang around with the cats.
“This is a great way to earn volunteer hours for high school students,” Patterson said.
Further, there is always room for the kind of generosity demonstrated each Valentine’s Day by Darlene Ake’s pre-K class at Wewahitchka Elementary.
Each February, the students arrive bearing armloads of food, kitty litter, toys and other supplies for the shelter.
The shelter is constantly in need of a range of supplies, from food to soaps to laundry detergents.
Visit the SJBHS Facebook page for a complete list.
“If you don’t have time to visit the shelter, just drop off the donations,” Patterson added.
Also, visit http://www.sjbhumanesociety.org/ to learn how to donate.
You can also call 227-1115.
Beyond any direct assistance to the SJBHS, shelter officials urge the care required to help prevent dogs or cats ending up at a shelter.
Spaying or neutering tops the list.
Spay Bay of Panama City, which is across from Honda of Bay County, offers affordable spay neuters, Patterson detailed.
Second, just take care of them, they are not throwaway toys.
“People need to understand, be responsible,” Burkett said. “There are a lot of people who need to start taking better care of their animals better.”