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LUMBERTON — The future is “uncertain” for the Robeson County Humane Society, according to the nonprofit’s executive director.

Because of COVID-19, the shelter has seen a rise in animals being taken in and veterinarian bills, and a decline in donations and resources, all of which threatens the health of operations in the future, Samantha Bennett said.

“Unfortunately, being a nonprofit and depending just on donations, money has been tight,” she said.

When Bennett came into the newly established role of executive director this past fall, she had a long list of plans to help raise more money for the facility. The pandemic has placed the nonprofit in an even more vulnerable position than the shelter was in when she had first came aboard, she said.

“‘It’s just been a struggle,” Bennett said. “During the holidays, we had good donations, but then COVID kicked in.”

One of the main effects of the novel coronavirus is the rise in vet bills the shelter has accumulated because of people relinquishing ownership of pets with medical conditions. When the shelter takes on the animals, they are also taking on medical responsibility for the animal, Bennett said.

This a problem that shelters across the nation face amid COVID-19, according to the U.S. Humane Society.

A statement from the national organization reads in part, “People are losing the ability to pay for essential supplies and veterinary care for pets and horse rescues, wildlife sanctuaries and other organizations are struggling with staffing and resource shortages.

“As we have seen during other times of economic hardship, pet owners are often forced to surrender their beloved companions when their financial distress exceeds their ability to afford the cost of caring for them. Shelters and rescue groups then struggle to absorb that cost.”

Bennett said about 25 owners have relinquished ownership of their dogs to the shelter in the past few months — in addition to the normal intake — which is high compared to normal. The shelter has the capacity for 30 dogs. The shelter is eight dogs away from reaching capacity.

“They won’t come out and say it’s due to COVID-19, but doing the math it’s easy to believe it’s because they may have lost their jobs or their hours were cut,” Bennett said. “They’re giving various reasons, but we’re assuming it’s COVID-related. It’s been more frequent in the last few months.”

The number of cat drop-offs — which are always higher than dogs — has also increased, however, it’s tougher to determine if the individuals who leave them are owners.

“They call them ‘strays’ but they’re most likely cats that are fed and multiply and get dropped off when they get to be too much,” Bennett said.

Spring is also considered breeding season for cats, which contributes to the number of drop-offs, Bennett said. The shelter is currently at its maximum capacity of cats.

“I hate turning people away but we have no where to put them that is safe and hygienic,” Bennett said. “If you put too many in a room, they’re vulnerable to disease. We have no where to put them.”

The other hurdle the shelter faces is the decrease in donations.

“It’s been rough because so many of our donors are in hard times so donations are down,” Bennett said.

Adoptions have increased at the shelter because people are working from home, but money generated through those fees plus money from donors are not enough to reduce the growing number of vet bills.

“Our vet bills are astronomical,” she said.

In recent weeks, the shelter accumulated bills for an amputation, eye surgery and an animal with a ‘mystery disease,’ among others.

“The adoption fee doesn’t cover the cost for caring for the animal,” Bennett said. “People don’t realize that.”

The shelter is in the process of preparing for its 18th annual John Williamson Memorial Golf Tournament.

This will be the only major fundraising event this year, Bennett said. The annual Bark at the Moon fundraiser, usually held in October, most likely will be postponed until next spring.

“The golf tournament on Aug. 1 is going to be the best chance to receive funds for the foreseeable future,” Bennett said. “We’re really depending on this golf tournament to get us through the next few months of uncertainty.”

The tournament will be at Pinecrest Country Club. The format is a four-person captains’ choice, with each team of four having no more than two players with a 6 handicap or below.

The cost is $300 for a team or $75 for an individual. For $350, a team also can receive a hole sponsorship. Entry fee includes lunch, cart and green fees, mulligans, red tees and range balls.

Prizes for the winners are $360 for first place, $240 for second place and $120 for third place. There will be closest to the pin and longest drive contests. A hole-in-one prize of $40,000 or a mobile home from Prevatte’s Home Sales also is being offered.

Other sponsorship opportunities are available.

The tournament has raised more than $10,000 at its peak and as low as $5,000. Bennett is hoping this year’s tournament will exceed its peak.

“My internal goal is $12,000,” Bennett said.

The money raised through the golf tournament is expected to get the shelter through the coming months of uncertainty.

“That’s the uncertainty. What’s going to happen after this thing (COVID-19),” Bennett said. “Without knowing the end of the tunnel, how do you plan?”

What she does know is that shelter “needs more than what’s coming in to survive,” Bennett said.

For more information about the tournament, contact Dwight Gane at 910-738-6541 or Marion Thompson at tmkthompson@hotmail.com. Registration is open up until the day of the event.

For more information about the Robeson County Humane Society and how to adopt, donate or volunteer, contact the Robeson County Humane Society at 910-738-8282. The shelter also is asking for donations of Pedigree and/or Purina dog and cat food, and puppy and kitten chicken or chicken and rice formula.

The shelter is offering a limited amount of free pet food for people who meet a certain need criteria.



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