The Humane Society of Richmond County’s board has agreed to continue to run the animal shelter, officials said Wednesday.
“We came together as a group and agreed we want to save the shelter and work with the county,” said Humane Society Board Chair Evonne Swanson. “The finite date has been removed. If they can’t fund us, they can help us in other ways.”
The Humane Society sent a letter to county officials on Wednesday, including County Manager Rick Sago. The letter said, “Our recent letter was born from our frustration over our financial situation, and we did not offer the County alternative options other than a request for money. We apologize for the fact that the Richmond County Daily Journal reported on the issue before you or the County Commissioners had a chance to receive and respond to our letter.
“In light of the County’s assessment of our building’s needs as a demonstration of its willingness to work with us and the outpouring of community support, we have agreed that time needs to be allowed for all parties to meet and reassess our needs and responsibilities. We look forward to establishing a mutually beneficial relationship with the county and appreciate all the support from the community,” said the new letter.
The letter was signed “HSRC Board of Directors.”
It refers to another letter from the Humane Society to the county stating its intention to give up operating the county animal shelter as of Oct. 31 because of a growing financial burden.
Sago said he received the new letter Wednesday afternoon and was pleased.
“I think this is a step in the right direction,” said Sago. “I feel like they are doing everything they can down there to work within their budget. The steps they have taken have helped them and I’m glad to see the support they are getting.”
Swanson said health inspectors came to assess the animal shelter building, and said she learned the building needed to be brought up to code with improvements the Humane Society can’t afford. According to Swanson, if the county pays for the up-fitting through contractors they already have in place, the Humane Society can keep any funds they receive for animals.
“Rather than write a check for us, they can fix up the building,” said Swanson.
Swanson said the Humane Society board discussed its need at recent meetings.
“We need reliable, responsible managers,” said Swanson. “We have struggled at times but we think we can put together a plan to make a successful endeavor. The word here is ‘compromise.’”
Swanson said although the shelter won’t be turned over to the county, October will still be difficult with no funding. The Humane Society remains $35,000 in debt to lenders, with a $57,000 mortgage. When the board first unanimously voted on Sept. 20 to withdraw from the shelter, it had 250 animals. Community outpouring of volunteers, donations and adoptions has dropped that number to 100 animals as of Wednesday afternoon.
“There has just been an outpouring, a re-invigoration of community support,” said Swanson. “We want people to come in and volunteer. We’re all trying to make it a success. It’s to the county’s benefit and to the public’s benefit, but in order to continue we need that public support. We are dependent on donors. We still have to get the population out.”
Swanson said she hopes that, as the Humane Society moves forward with building upgrades and strong management, a new relationship can be established with area veterinarians. Many animals being adopted at the shelter need to be spayed or neutered, according to Swanson, and she hopes local veterinarians can benefit.
The Humane Society is currently without an Executive Director. Former Executive Director Valerie Davis worked her last day on Friday, and Monday Swanson said Davis resigned. Davis refused repeated requests to explain why she no longer held the position and directed all calls to Swanson, who clarified Tuesday that “due to a lack of funding, highest paid positions were vacated.”
“She was not fired, she was not let go, and she didn’t quit,” said Swanson about Davis.
According to both Swanson and Sago, talks between the Humane Society board and the county will continue in the coming weeks.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at email@example.com.