BROOKSVILLE — This may be a terrible time to mount a capital fundraising campaign, but officials at the Humane Society of the Nature Coast say the depressed economy is one reason they need to expand their animal shelter.
Pets that need a roof over their heads, good nutrition and love are being turned away for lack of space.
"The need is greater than ever due to loss of jobs, and the number of (home) foreclosures is staggering," said executive director Joanne Schoch.
"We have staff in tears, saying no to people lined up at our door who have nurtured their pet. 'Help me; help my pet,' " they lament, Schoch said.
The local alternative to the Humane Society and the overstocked Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shelter, both no-kill facilities, is Hernando County Animal Services, which employs euthanasia.
The pet owners descending on the Humane Society are either cash-strapped or are moving in with relatives, moving to smaller homes or renting apartments that do not allow pets.
"Our kennels are always full," Schoch said of the facility at Wiscon and Mobley roads.
"We're seeing more dogs," the director noted. The shelter has 17 individual dog kennels. "It's easier to take a cat with you than a dog. A cat is a lower-maintenance animal."
The cageless environment in the Humane Society's cat cottage, which opened five years ago, can comfortably accommodate some 30 felines.
The society has $100,000 earmarked already for its capital campaign. But the goal is $650,000 to $750,000 for the first phase of expansion, a 40,000-square-foot accommodation for dogs that will mimic the cageless facility for cats and include a clinic, education center and a conference room that will double as an indoor play area for pets.
The numbers seem daunting, but Schoch has some ideas on raising it.
"If we could get a majority of the population to donate just $10, we could raise it," she said. "If we could get a major corporation (to give a considerable contribution), they could jump-start this campaign." Grants are also being pursued.
Coastal Engineering Associates of Brooksville has provided gratis a site design and rendering for the new service area.
Another option costs not a penny and offers an opportunity to immortalize one's pet.
The online group zootoo.com is featuring a contest whose winner will receive a $1-million makeover of its shelter. Contestants register on the Web site, post stories or photos of their pets, and the shelter receives points for every submission. There is no limit on submissions. From the highest point gatherers — a panel will determine the most needy and worthy — the public will vote online.
Says Schoch: "What a great way for kids and families to participate."
"I think we have a good chance," she added. "We were No. 40 on their list at last count."
This month, the Humane Society dedicated several projects at its site, primarily a new dog play area that has a stone base and is topped with a dig-proof artificial turf that can be sanitized.
"Dogs roll on it. They absolutely love it," Schoch said, noting that a lot of shelters provide mainly dirt pits for canine play. The state-of-the-art installation was financed by a small foundation that prefers to remain anonymous.
Also dedicated were Cemex Lane, honoring the company for its longtime support; Cori Court for Cori Messenger, a veterinary technician and the longest employee with the society; and Edythe Way, honoring the longest active volunteer, Edythe Cook.
"While raising the funding for the new care center, the Humane Society needs to rely on the generosity of the community to fund the daily operations of the current facility," Schoch said.
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]