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VOL. 129 | NO. 132 | Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Finding Forever Homes

Humane Society looks to boost pet adoptions, competes for grant

By Don Wade

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It isn’t that there are not compelling animal stories. There are.

Rescue Labrador retriever Bambino and Humane Society of Memphis & Shelby County Development Specialist Susan Huff return to the administrative offices after playing outside. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

In fact, visit the Humane Society of Memphis & Shelby County on Farm Road and those stories are just about everywhere, including in the administrative offices on the second floor, where two Labrador retrievers – Bambino and DeMarco – have run of the place.

Believed to each be about 2 years old, Bambino and DeMarco came to the humane society in January as part of a hoarding case out of Batesville, Miss., where they were among about 60 dogs living in substandard conditions and receiving almost no human attention.

“DeMarco and Bambino are great examples of the core differences between us (and city-operated animal shelters),” said Alexis Amorose, executive director of the humane society. “Because of their extreme fear, had they gone to a municipal facility there’s a good chance they would be euthanized pretty quickly.

“We think they’re on the path to being adoptable,” she said as Bambino, who has a white coat, hid under her desk, then picked the right time to dash out of the room – all while eyeing a stranger. “But if we use a real estate analogy, they’re not a turn-key property; they’re fixer-uppers.”

Amorose hasn’t rushed to place these two dogs even with the humane society in the midst of the ASPCA Rachael Ray $100K Challenge, which runs from June 1 through Aug. 31. The local humane society is competing against 50 other animal organizations nationwide for grant funding. Participating organizations are asked to increase adoptions by 300 more than the same three-month period the previous year.

To help with the effort, the humane society will host the HSMSC Halftime Huddle on July 19, offering cat and dog adoptions for just $20. The facility will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Normally the average cost of an adoption is $100, but can be higher or lower depending on the breed, size and age of the animal.

From June 1 to July 1 last year, the humane society had 129 animal adoptions. This year, they had 170 – a 31.8 percent increase – and are on a pace that would put them at 510 adoptions for the three-month period.

But given that they are competing against much larger shelters in much bigger cities, Amorose says that still might not be enough to win any grant funding. The humane society is nonprofit and 100 percent donation-funded.

“Grant funding is extremely difficult to come by,” Amorose said. “There are so many foundations that have a specific focus and goals. In our community, that focus is on education, youth services and helping low-income families. Trying to make a case for an animal cause – even though we’re a people organization, too – can be challenging.

Rescue pups DeMarco, left, and Bambino in the administrative offices at the Humane Society of Memphis & Shelby County.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“Sometimes, we just don’t fit the criteria,” she said. “I would guess it’s a similar scenario for animal groups around the country. So there is stiff competition, and you’re competing nationally (against other animal groups) for the same dollars.”

In 2013, the humane society took in 1,540 dogs and cats and about 1,100 of them – 71 percent – were adopted. Some of those animals are still at the facility. The annual euthanasia rate, Amorose said, runs from 12 to 14 percent, and animals are only put down for medical reasons or if they are deemed dangerous.

“If dog is a hit by a car and comes in with a shattered spine,” she said, “there’s not a lot we can do. But we’re never going to euthanize an animal in our care to make room for a new animal.”

Many of the dogs in their care are pit bulls – be they purebred or a mix. The breed has a bad reputation, but Amorose says the reality is they are far more often victims than predators and pit bulls are the breed most often involved in animal cruelty cases resulting in criminal charges.

“I always say if you’re a stray dog in Memphis, you probably have some pit bull in you,” said Katie Pemberton, marketing manager at the humane society.

Amorose says while they would love to earn some grant funding through the ASPCA Rachael Ray Challenge, the main goal is to encourage adoption. To that end, she says they are happy when people adopt from the humane society, but also happy when they adopt from municipal shelters.

“Either choice is good,” Amorose said. “Just adopt.”

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