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Growing Pains

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Loess Hills Humane Society Faces Financial Challenges

By Joel Stevens, Associate Editor

The Loess Hills Humane Society opened its doors last July.

    For a year now. the shelter has served Mills County – offering up cats and dogs for adoption, licensing dogs and serving as animal control for the 400 square mile county.

    Through all their work however, no way has the shelter garnered more attention than they did on April 29 when the Loess Hills Humane Society and deputies from the Mills County Sheriff’s Office seized more than two dozen starving, neglected and sick pit bulls from a Pacific Junction property.

    “I think that really helped let people know we’re here,” said Kelly Nutter, Loess Hills Humane Society manager.

    Nestled just off a bend of 221st Street two-miles southeast of Pacific Junction, LHHS’s 6,000 square foot facility opened last July with a capacity for 28 dogs and 60 cats and an on-site veterinarian. Started from an offshoot of the Animal Relief Fund for a Shelter (ARFS), a concerned group of animals lovers who scraped and clawed together donations for over a decade, LHHS is the only shelter of its kind in a 40-mile radius.

    “People need to know we’re here to help them,” said Nutter who is also one of three full-time animal control officers at the shelter. “We have an assistance program. If you’re low income, we can help with spay or neutering. We have a dog food pantry. We can help with vaccinations. Our main goal is getting healthy, happy pets out in Mills County.

    “Our biggest hurdle has been creating awareness. We’re open for animal control, to take in strays, we do lost and found. We’re really here to help.”

    Supplying that help hasn’t always been easy for the fledgling shelter and its four person staff.

    The strain of dealing with the 27 pit bulls, their medical conditions and finding suitable housing is just one of the many growing pains LHHS has experienced in its first year.

    Board president Jane Susgin ended her relationship with the shelter in March after more than four years of involvement getting the shelter off the ground. Another board member stepped down in February.

    Financial concerns have halted planned additions to the shelter’s square footage, animal holding capacity and a paved parking lot.

    Susgin declined to give a specific reason for her departure from the board but did say she “felt like it was time to take a step back” from the four-person executive board when she resigned.

    Susgin said much of the shelter’s financial instability is due to a current economic climate that has heavily affected non-profits, especially those without established reputations.

    “Non-profits live hand to mouth the first couple of years,” she said. “Things are always tight financially until you secure your reputation in the community of what they’re trying to do. The community is the base of that.”

    Board member Alan Deines was named interim board president in Susgin’s place. Denies is also the chief executive officer of Randolph State Bank.   

    “It wasn’t an easy change but I felt it was time,” said Deines of the board shuffling. “We all felt it was in the best interest of the shelter to make some (board) changes.”

Deines admits some months have been “tighter than others” financially at the shelter but they’re “staying afloat” and trying to establish that oh so important community base.

    The shelter is in the midst of writing and applying for several grants and preparing to renew contracts with the county and the city.

    “It’s hard to get a sense of how we’re doing (financially) because we haven’t gone through a full year as a shelter yet and it’s probably going to take a couple of years to figure out what those numbers look like,” said Deines. “The first year, a lot of our expenses are start-up costs and won’t be reoccurring. We’re poor, but we’re solvent.”

    The addition of the 27 pit bulls has essentially clogged up the shelter for nearly a month – the shelter has only been able to take in a few other dogs and no cats since collecting the pit bulls for fear of disease.

    “It taxed us every way you can think of,” said Deines of taking in the 27 pit bulls, two of which had to be put down immediately and several others have since been euthanized. “Essentially, it filled up our kennel completely. So once that happened, with the diseases they brought in, we had to be especially careful so it didn’t contaminate our other dogs. The treatment, some of the diseases and parasites we’re still battling, has made us lock down things. We were able to get most of our smaller and adoptable dogs out that are more susceptible to these diseases.”

    Nutter agrees the pit bulls have strained the little shelter.

    “We are not set up to have this many animals, we’ve had to split several kennels,” she said. Keeping the kennels clean and disease free has been a major challenge. Most of them were so sick when they first came, just keeping them alive was a struggle. But we managed it and we’ve cleaned most of them up.”

    Both Nutter and Deines agree, now that the pit bulls are being fostered out to several area shelters for care and evaluation, the LHHS is well on its way to getting back to business.

    “Once we finish up with that, things should be back to normal,” Deines said.

    Nutter said the county dog licensing ordinance, which began two years ago,  has slowly grown, as have the shelter’s adoptions and education programs. The cost to license a spayed or neutered dog is $10, unaltered dogs are $25. Animal control is Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and the shelter is open to the public Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday from noon to 5 p.m., and Friday from noon to 6 p.m. Animal control officers will respond to calls to assist law enforcement officers 24 hours a day.

    “We have an expansion plan there,” said Nutter. “We’ve shown we’re too small for what’s out there. It’s a five-year plan. I’m not too sure how close we can stick to the plan because the more we’re out here, the more stuff we’re learning we need. But our goal is to grow and educate the community.”