GRAYSLAKE — Animal shelters such as Lake County’s Save-A-Pet have seen a surge in donations following a social media challenge honoring the late Betty White’s love of animals.
But a lack of job applicants and a shortage of vets – both seen as lingering effects of the pandemic – have become challenges for the Grayslake shelter.
Although the #BettyWhiteChallenge exceeded expectations, overall donations are down due to the shelter’s inability to hold larger fundraising events over the past two years, said Deb Rabine, development manager at Save-a-Pet.
“It was difficult,” she said. “We had to really work to balance our budget and reduce our expenses.”
A popular effort by White fans on Jan. 17 — which would have been White’s 100th birthday — to donate to local animal shelters in White’s name raised about $16,000 for Save-a-Pet from about 500 donors, Rabin said.
Many were new donors, she said.
“I think in my head I said it would be amazing if we won $800,” she said.
The money will help pay for general shelter expenses, such as animal care and medical treatment. The shelter currently houses about 35 dogs and 65 cats, Rabine said, and aims to get every animal adopted quickly.
“[The number] changes every day because they are adopted,” she said. “It’s like a revolving door.”
Overall fundraising is down about 30%, she said, and the shelter has had to limit its animal intake. Welcoming at least 1,000 animals a year before the pandemic, this number has dropped to 800 animals in 2021.
“We have to manage the number of employees we have with the number of animals,” Rabine said. “We have been understaffed for a long time now. Hiring has been one of the hardest things we’ve had to deal with during the pandemic.
Typically employing 34 people, the shelter has about 24 employees.
The shelter also has a pool of about 167 volunteers, but has used them in a limited way during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, an unlimited number of volunteers could help throughout the day. Only about 10 volunteers rotated each day during the pandemic, Rabine said.
A volunteer for 10 years, Debbie Vecchio from Lake Zurich started by walking dogs and gradually got involved. She took on more projects, including fundraising efforts, and decided to foster a dog during the pandemic. She has since adopted this dog.
It all started after he retired and looked for volunteer opportunities.
“I was just amazed at what an amazing place it is, the things they do for the animals, their mission,” she said. “They have a real mission without killing. They don’t euthanize animals and that’s very important to me. Plus, the amount of time and money they will spend helping an animal in need is just amazing, which is why donations are so important.
She saw this firsthand with her dog, Shaggy, a 12-year-old terrier mix. Adopted by the shelter, Shaggy and his former owner had had an accident. The owner was no longer able to care for the dog and Shaggy needed medical attention after the accident, including 20 stitches and hip surgery. Shaggy also needed all his teeth pulled out.
“They didn’t hesitate to try to help him, even though he hadn’t been to the shelter in nine years,” Vecchio said.
In addition to walking the dogs, volunteers help clean the cat room, do the laundry and dishes, and take care of other chores. Limiting the hours and number of volunteers in the building each day throughout the pandemic was difficult, Rabine said.
“We had to constantly monitor what the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) was saying. … We have a small staff and we had to protect them,” she said.
As a nonprofit, the shelter pays minimum wage most of the time, and interested employees can work more at other locations, such as fast food restaurants, Rabine said. They also have more choices due to a nationwide labor shortage and high turnover.
“We understand why people are leaving,” Rabine said. “We try to make it as pleasant a place to work as possible, but you have to want to work in a non-profit organization.”
A shortage of veterinarians has added to the struggle. According to a report by the Veterinary Medical Association, the turnover rate of practicing veterinarians is the highest of all medical fields. The main reason cited was a poor work-life balance. It is also believed that many pet owners have postponed treatments during the pandemic and are now trying to catch up.
That, combined with COVID-19-related limitations on the number of appointments per day, has made it more difficult to find a vet, according to reports.
Save-a-Pet has been trying to hire a vet for two years with no applicants, Rabine said.
The shelter works with veterinary offices throughout the region, she said.
“Because we’re a shelter, they work really hard to get us discounted rates,” she said. “Because of the pandemic, they had their own difficulties. Many have had to reduce discounts or eliminate them. Our costs for veterinary services have increased significantly during the pandemic. »
Still, she hopes that many of the challenges facing the shelter will begin to ease.
The shelter has fundraising plans underway, Rabine said, to rebuild a deteriorated playground for the dogs.
Like many, the shelter relies heavily on social media, including its Facebook page at facebook.com/SaveAPetIL, to tell its story. Save-A-Pet is known not only for posting photos of adoptable pets, but also for providing detailed backgrounds, often from the animal’s point of view.
A recent post from Harper is an example: “Yeah, the snow is melting, the sun is shining, what a beautiful day. What would be even better is if I could finally find my family.