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Support saves shelter: Community donations filling Beltrami Humane Society's budget shortfall

After counting the donations that came in during the last six weeks, one phrase popped into Teri Collyard's mind:

"Wow, that's awesome," she said.

The Beltrami Humane Society raised $35,000 in little more than one month and is now $5,000 away from reaching its goal, the Chairman of Beltrami Humane Society's Board of Directors said Thursday. The money is needed to fill a budget shortfall for 2011.

Collyard feels confident community donations will continue to come in this month. No matter what, she said, the humane society will stay open.

"It's been amazing to see the community really support us and want to make sure we continue on for another year," she said.

The humane society, 1612 Carr Lake Road SE in Bemidji, has provided a no-kill shelter for abandoned cats and dogs in the region since 1977. It serves Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater and northern Hubbard counties.

Last month the nonprofit organization announced a $40,000 budget shortfall and threatened to close its doors by the end of December if it did not find the money.

In 2011, the shelter encountered a list of setbacks that put it in a deficit. Fewer people animals were adopted than expected and the shelter continued to have a waiting list of animals needing a home. Grants that were once available also became more competitive or reduced.

In addition, weekly donations fell short by $3,000 to $4,000. Supplies and food donations decreased by 50 percent since April.

The humane society has an annual operating budget of $120,000. It relies 75 percent on cash donations from the community and fundraisers and 25 percent from fees paid by people who surrender or adopt animals.

The center is not funded by tax dollars and is not connected to the Beltrami County government.

After announcing the fundraising campaign in November, Collyard said the number of cat and dog adoptions doubled. She attributes this to greater publicity of the shelter and the Paul Bunyan Mall allowing the center to lease space for free to showcase its animals on a regular basis.

"We really cannot bring in animals fast enough to meet need of them going out," she said. "We are at half of what we normally have for dogs. They flew out the door in last three weeks."

Humane society staff have been making arrangements to bring more animals in at a faster pace, Collyard said.

Throughout the past year, Collyard said the humane society was adopting anywhere from 10 to 15 animals a month.

"At this point, we'll be over 30 animals for month of December," she said. "It's wonderful."

Next month the board of directors will meet to discuss plans for next year's budget and begin the search for a new director, which it currently does not have.

"We want to make sure we don't end up in this situation again," she said.

With the humane society in better financial shape for now, Collyard said, the shelter still costs $13,000 per month to operate.

"It is an ongoing struggle," she said, referring to the society's dependency on donations and grants. "The fact the community stepped up and supported us, we're feeling optimistic we'll continue throughout the year."

Collyard said the society's board of directors is appreciative of the community's actions in donating money and resources.

"We cannot thank them enough for what they have done for the animals in the shelter," she said. "We want to get the cats and dogs back into good homes. Each adoption we do is thanks to them."

The humane society is open Friday from noon until 5:30 p.m. and closed Saturday, Sunday and Monday. It will reopen Tuesday at noon.