HOULTON, Maine — The Houlton Animal Shelter will be making a number of changes in order to cope with an expected $40,000 budget shortfall next year.
Cathy Davis, president of the Houlton Humane Society, which operates the shelter, appeared before the Town Council on Monday evening to give an overview of the situation.
The humane society is a nonprofit corporation that offers care and adoption services for stray and abandoned animals in southern Aroostook County.
The animal shelter provides a home, food and medical care for abandoned and neglected pets while preparing them for adoption. The shelter contracts with 19 towns that pay for the services they receive, but the bulk of its operational costs comes from fundraisers.
On Monday evening, Davis said the shelter expects to encounter an estimated $40,000 shortfall in its 2010 operating budget. That will lower the shelter’s annual operating budget to around $145,000.
“Ninety percent of this is due to the recession,” Davis acknowledged. “It is just hard out there. We get donations from around the state and from outside of Maine, but donations are down this year.”
Right now, the shelter is staffed by seven people and has more than 30 volunteers who help out at the shelter itself and with fundraisers.
Davis told councilors that several things are being done to address the shortfall.
“We are looking at fundraisers for the coming year,” she said. “We have cut back our hours, which means that staff are losing money. We also are trying not to replace some staff who have left. Our existing staff will continue to work without raises. Most of them make minimum wage or a little above.”
She added that the shelter continues to do a lot of cooperative advertising and purchasing. To further save money, shelter staff will conduct some medical tests themselves, such as for feline AIDS, saving the cost of paying a veterinarian.
In July, the shelter was in crisis when an increase in population at the facility — including some 200 cats — led to increased expenses for food, veterinary care and cleaning supplies, together with difficulties associated with the economic recession.
Ongoing expenses, meanwhile, included the mortgage on the shelter, electricity bills and payroll.
At the time, employees were e-mailing Davis and asking if they should start looking for jobs. Now, there are 140 cats in the shelter, which Davis said has lowered costs a bit.
Shelter officials also are working on a plan to host a forum to ask business leaders to give them ideas on how they can earn more money.
Another plan is to conduct virtual adoptions, in which an individual can adopt an animal online and pay for its care. Without ever seeing the animal, the virtual pet owner can help pay for its medication and follow it until it is adopted into a new home. Davis said virtual pet owners will be invited to visit with the animal and walk it, if they desire.
“We also continue to look for grants, but grant funding is down,” she said. “Donations are down a great deal. For instance, we used to have a donor give us $20 a month. Now, she can only give us $2.50 a month.”
Donations can be sent to the shelter by mailing them to 263 Callaghan Road, P.O. Box 548, Houlton 04730, or by going online at http://houltonanimalshelter.bravehost.com/.