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Regional animal rescues paint ‘dire’ picture

Animal rescues in the region are sounding the alarm over a “perfect storm” of factors impairing their ability to help those that can’t help themselves.
The under-construction new veterinary clinic that Saving Grace Animal Society is having built adjacent to their current rescue facilities. (Photo submitted)

Animal rescues in the region are sounding the alarm over a “perfect storm” of factors impairing their ability to help those that can’t help themselves.

Three animal rescues call home to the region around East Central Alberta. Based in Stettler is Animal Haven Rescue League; split between Donalda and Bashaw is the Feral Cat Network; and the third, and largest, of the three is Saving Grace Animal Society in Alix.

All three rescues reported common themes when discussing their operations.

First, donations are approaching record lows.

Second, volunteerism and fostering is down.

Third, adoptions are down.

Fourth, thanks to an influx of puppies and kittens on top of record levels of surrender and intake requests all the groups are operating at maximum capacity.

“It’s hard to even place a single puppy right now,” said Amanda McClughan, the development director of Saving Grace Animal Society.

The Animal Haven cat-coordinator, Michelle Fisher, agrees with McLughan, commenting that the state of rescues in the province right now is “unprecedented.”

Due to being short foster homes for animals, Animal Haven was forced to turn away over 100 surrender requests during the fall. Currently the rescue has 27 animals in care with 17 foster homes.

“Twenty-seven fosters is a lot for us,” said Fisher.

Normally, when one rescue is unable to take in an animal they are at least able to refer the person calling to another which may have room; currently, that option is not available as all the operations are in the same boat.

“We can only do so much with what’ve got,” said Fisher.

And, with inflation being high and living costs-soaring, fundraising is getting even harder.

According to Candice Williams, the Feral Cat Network secretary, while fundraising was getting hard in 2022, it’s even worse in 2023.

Williams noted that a fundraising raffle being run for the Feral Cat Network for a pair of prime seats to an upcoming Edmonton Oilers game has failed to sell out, something it easily would have done in the past.

“Donations are drying up,” said Williams.

Complicating fundraising efforts is the fact that these rescues are 100 per cent volunteer and donation-based, without facilities of their own and therefore leaving them ineligible for any government grants which may be out there.

Foster homes are another problem.

Each of the rescues operates at different capacities with different numbers of foster homes in their programs.

For the Feral Cat Network, where they typically have four permanent and seven or eight other foster homes with which to place animals, those temporary homes have all disappeared.

“The situation is dire,” said Williams.

“We’ve been running at capacity for several months.”

The lack of volunteers is affecting Saving Grace as well.

Saving Grace is the only one of the three groups to have its own facility, which is fully operated by volunteers. In addition to needing foster homes for animals, Saving grace is in need of volunteers at the facility as well.

According to McClughan, the organization’s facility in Alix is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week, and there is always plenty to do for too-few volunteers.

“There’s no shortage of cleaning to do,” said McClughan.

McClughan says that the priority for the facility is filling shifts in the first four hours of the day and the final four hours of the day when the animals need to be fed and exercised.

Outside of that, volunteers are always needed to help with laundry, socializing animals or even walking dogs.

“We’ll take what we can get,” said McClughan.

Added to donations and volunteers drying up is that so have adoptions.

According to Fisher and McClughan, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic there was a steady stream of animal adoptions for all groups.

However, supply rose to meet the demand which combined with society opening back up post-COVID, and now rescues have found requests for intakes sharply increasing as people find themselves with changed circumstances, or just don’t have the money or time for a pet.

“The demand for animals isn’t there,” said McClughan.

Williams noted that the Feral Cat Network has not adopted out a single cat in the last two months.

After the “Betty White Challenge” in January 2022, where many people around North America donated to animal charities in the late-star’s honour, many rescues reported a sharp uptick in donations. There was some hope that the challenge would continue into 2023; however, according to McLughan that isn’t the case.

Where the 2022 campaign raised around $100,000 for the Saving Grace, the 2023 campaign raised a fraction of that; just over $20,000.

Right now, the two biggest needs for the rescues are cash and volunteers.

“If we don’t have money, we can’t intake,” said Williams.

Donations help pay for food and vet expenses of animals that are accepted into care by all three of the rescues. According to McClughan, Saving Grace’s vet bills alone run around $50,000 a month.

Fisher says that this is the “lowest the bank account has been in years” for Animal Haven.

“Everyone needs help,” said Fisher.

“The Bills don’t stop coming.”

To find out more information about any of the three rescue groups, check out their pages on Facebook.

Midge is one of 27 cats currently in care by Animal Haven Rescue League. (Animal Haven Rescue League photo)
Less frequently, Animal Haven Rescue League also fosters dogs, like Aspen. (Animal Haven Rescue League photo)
Sima is one of many cats currently in care of Animal Haven Rescue League waiting for their fur-ever home. (Animal Haven Rescue League photo)

Kevin Sabo

About the Author: Kevin Sabo

I’m Kevin Sabo. I’ve been a resident of the Castor area for the last 12 years and counting, first coming out here in my previous career as an EMT.
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