DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
BUCHANAN DAM — Since 2000, the Christ-Yoder Animal Shelter/Adoption Center has accepted and taken in more than 38,000 dogs and cats from Llano and Burnet counties. But if the facility doesn’t get an infusion of donations and volunteers, officials say this could be the last year for it.
“We’re at a crisis,” said Lin Christ, a Hill Country Humane Society/SPCA board member and charter member. The center bears hers and charter member Dee Yoder’s names. “If we don’t get donations and volunteers, we’ll have to close in a year. I don’t know what’s happened. We’re just not getting the donations and volunteers we used to.”
The HCHS/SPCA owns and operates the Christ-Yoder center, 9150 RR 1431 in Buchanan Dam. The facility accepts dogs and cats from residents of Burnet and Llano counties but also serves as the drop-off place for animal control services from several cities and both counties. As an open-admission facility, staff doesn’t turn away drop-offs or surrenders.
While the counties and cities contract for the services, which include housing strays and quarantining animals, Christ explained those funds don’t pay for the adoption center portion of the facility.
“And they shouldn’t,” she said. “We rely on donations and the public’s support to operate the pet adoption side.”
The contracts of the counties and cities only cover the costs of taking in the animals, sheltering them for five days and disposing of them.
The cost of the adoption center program includes vaccinations, testing for heartworms and feline leukemia as well as feline acquired immune deficiency, veterinary care when necessary and sheltering animals beyond the five-day period while they wait to be adopted, reclaimed or transferred.
All this is supported by membership dues, donations and minimal adoption fees.
Unfortunately, as the amount of donations and public support has dwindled over the past several years, the HCHS/SPCA has tapped into savings and other funds. But even those have run out, forcing the board to start using endowment funds to pay operation expenses.
Those funds, Christ said, were never meant to pay operation costs but were set aside for building expansions in the future.
She’s even tapped into her own savings to help keep the facility afloat.
Christ has pledge to keep the facility open through the 2014-2015 fiscal year, which runs until Sept. 30, 2015. She said with contracts in hand from the counties and cities to provide services for those entities, the board would keep the shelter open to meet those obligations and take in animals for the year. But then, without a steady infusion of donations, Christ doesn’t see any other option but closing the facility.
“If we don’t start getting some donations and volunteers in the next several months and it doesn’t look like things are going get any better, I’ll start notifying the counties and cities who contract with us that we won’t be renewing any contracts for the next year.”
While there are other animal shelters and humane organizations in the Highland Lakes, none fill the capacity of the Christ-Yoder center. Along with taking in private citizens’ drop-offs for any reason, the center accepts dogs and cats from the local animal control officers. This equates to quite a number of animals.
Under state law, the center is only required to hold animal control drop-offs for three days, but Christ said they keep them for five days. During that time, the staff and volunteers work to reunite the animal with its owner, get it adopted or transfer it to another rescue group or shelter.
Some animals are even held for longer than five days.
Unfortunately, the shelter can’t keep dogs and cats indefinitely.
“As an open-admission center, which I guess the older way of putting it is we’re a ‘kill’ shelter, we do have to euthanize animals,” Christ said. “None of us wants to do this. And it is the hardest thing for the staff to do, but it’s something we have to do. As long as there are irresponsible pet owners out there, it’s an unfortunate reality.”
Since opening in 2000, the shelter has reunited about 2,500 pets with their owners, adopted out more than 4,100 and transferred more than 2,000. This is just over 22 percent of the animals it takes in. While that sounds dismal (and it is), Christ said it falls in line with the national average of shelters.
The numbers are also a bit skewed considering that just over 9,200 animals accepted since 2000 are feral cats, which are both unadoptable and untransferable.
“It’s a terrible thing, but we can’t adopt them out,” Christ said about the feral cats.
If the Christ-Yoder facilty closes, it would leave a big hole in those services.
Counties and cities could contract with another facility, though finding one might present a tough option. Christ-Yoder could technically remain open and only contract with municipalities and the counties for those specific services, which would exclude the pet adoption center.
“But we’re an animal welfare organization,” Christ said. “Just providing those services isn’t something we’d want to just do.”
While euthanasia is a reality for the center and its staff, Christ said the chance of finding dogs and cats permanent family homes offsets those darker parts of the operation.
“For the staff and board, knowing that they can make a difference by adopting pets out or transferring them to no-kill shelters or rescue groups really helps them,” Christ said. “Working at the shelter is hard work. It’s a tough job. But those adoptions make it better for us.”
Christ said after returning to the board this past January following a several-year absence, she’s noticed a lack of volunteers. In fact, the only volunteers who routinely help the staff at the shelter are the six board members. For many years, one of the biggest fundraisers that supported the shelter and HCHS/SPCA was the Tail Wagger golf tournament, but when the longtime organizer of the event passed away about six or eight years ago, nobody else stepped up to take over the event. And it’s the same with other fundraising activities, including rummage sales.
“As a board, we’re devastated,” Christ said. “We don’t want to close it, but without more volunteers and donations, I don’t think we’ll have a choice. And we don’t need just a one-time infusion of donations but a sustaining one.”
For Christ, the problem hurts personally because she’s been there from the start. She was one of the first proponents of building the shelter when many others thought it couldn’t be done.
And now, like then, she’s concerned for the dogs and cats that will face an uncertain future if the shelter closes.
“What’s going to happen to those lost and stray animals if we have to close this shelter?” Christ asked. “They’ll be left out there running around, possibly getting hit by cars. It just hurts thinking about it.”
People interested in donating to the shelter can send donations to HCHS/SPCA, P.O. Box 1041, Marble Falls, TX 78654. Those interested in volunteering or learning about other support opportunities can call (512) 793-5463 for more information.