Award Will Help Animal Care Groups During Tough Times

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday April 09, 2009 - 01:20:00 PM

The Berkeley Alliance for Homeless Animals Coalition will receive $474,200 on April 23 for winning the Maddie’s Fund Lifesaving Award. 

The award, given by Maddie’s Fund and the Pet Rescue Foundation, a family foundation funded by Workday and PeopleSoft, will help the coalition to care for hundreds of homeless animals. 

The coalition consists of the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society, the City of Berkeley’s Animal Care Services and Home At Last, a Berkeley-based rescue organization. 

The Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society will receive $200,240, Berkeley Animal Care Services will receive $176,320 and Home at Last Animal Rescue will receive $97,440.  

The coalition was formed when the East Bay Humane Society submitted the application for the award last August on behalf of all three groups. 

Katherine S. O'Donnell, director of development and communications at the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society, said the award would help the shelter weather the economic downturn. 

“Our plan is to save as many animals’ lives as possible within our means,” she said. “The award money provides us the necessary support, but we will also need to rely on private donations.” 

The organization, located at 2700 Ninth St., closed its veterinary hospital to the public Feb. 1 due to financial losses and is focusing its effort on caring for its shelter animals. Its funding comes from adoption fees, private donations and grants. 

Jill Posener, a member of the city’s Citizens Humane Commission, praised the East Bay Humane Society for taking the lead in applying for the award. 

“I think they did a great job,” Posener said. 

Kate O’Connor, manager of Berkeley Animal Care Services, said she was very excited about the award, which she said would go toward building the new Berkeley Animal Shelter on the northern end of Aquatic Park. 

“I am very appreciative of it,” O’Connor said. “The first thing that popped in my mind is that we could use it for the new shelter.” She said that even with a capital fundraising campaign the shelter’s construction fund is short by about $1 million. 

O’Connor said the shelter is caring for 20 percent more animals compared with this time last year. It can cost between $500 to $1,000 to take care of old, injured or sick animals. Daily costs for every rescue is about $15, and many of them stay as long as six months. 

Both the East Bay Humane Society and Home At Last take a lot of animals from the city shelter. 

Posener said that the city’s animal shelter could have used the money in various ways if it wasn't facing a construction budget shortfall. 

“I am very happy,” Posener said. “But it’s disappointing that in the longer term we don’t get to use the money for programs. Instead we have to use it for bricks and mortar. If we were not in bad financial straits it could have been used for education programs, additional spay and neuter sessions and broadening our outreach. It could also have been used to address staff shortage—the shelter has been having to close because of the lack of staff.” 

Posener said the funding shortage for the new building was so severe that city officials, in order to reduce expenses, were considering eliminating kennels, medical facilities and the “green element” from its design. 

A bond measure approved by Berkeley voters is providing $7.2 million for the new animal shelter, and the city manager’s office is contributing another $1 million, she said, adding that the amount still wasn’t enough to buy or finish construction on a property of a suitable scale. 

The shelter plans to move from 2013 Second St. to the old “Helmet Building” at 1 Bolivar Drive, Posener said, which was previously used by the Berkeley Fire Department, and also as a treatment center. 

“It will probably be two years before the new shelter is up and running,” she said. “The old building there hasn’t been demolished yet.” 

Home At Last, which does not have an office and instead has volunteers working from home, will be using the award money to pay off bills and save the rest, said Traude Buckland, the group’s treasurer. 

“With the economy the way it is, it’s nice to get a little extra, and nice to get the recognition,” Buckland said. 

Buckland said her group had been instrumental in getting the euthanasia rates at the Berkeley Animal Shelter down to less than 15 percent. Seven years ago the rate was 60 percent. 

The Berkeley Animal Shelter currently has the lowest euthanasia percentage than any municipal shelter in California, Posener said. 

Cats and dogs rescued by Home At Last are cared for at foster homes until they get adopted, which happens through their website or mobile adoptions every Saturday at Fourth Street and the first Sunday of every month at PetCo in El Cerrito. 

Buckland said the coalition would have to report annual animal rescue and adoption numbers for three years to Maddie’s Fund after winning the award.