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Brittany Vander Bill of Kandiyohi, left, wraps gift baskets Saturday with Sally Hammond of Willmar. The gift baskets will be auctioned off Friday at the Holiday Inn and Willmar Conference Center during the annual Save Our Tails fundraiser. The Humane Society is attempting to raise $20,000 for its new shelter. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

With the county's new animal shelter now open, what's next?

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With the county's new animal shelter now open, what's next?
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

Moving into the new and long-awaited Hawk Creek Animal Shelter last fall was just the beginning. Now the Humane Society of Kandiyohi County is turning its focus to the long-term future of its mission of caring for homeless animals.

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There's a critical need to broaden the base of support, both financial and volunteer, to keep the public engaged, said Steve Gardner, president of the Humane Society.

"Our long-term goal is sustainability," he said.

"It's absolutely essential that we place ourselves in a position so that when those of us who are here today are gone, this building and its programs still continue to operate."

The Humane Society is giving the public a chance to donate and get involved when the organization hosts its annual "Save Our Tails" fundraising evening on Friday.

The goal is to raise $20,000 for the Hawk Creek Animal Shelter's 2010 operating budget, said Martha Alsleben, who is chairing the event.

"The event has just grown so much," she said. "People talk about it. Businesses are offering their support."

A little more than one-third of the Humane Society's annual budget relies on donations and fundraising, said board member Dawn Olson.

"Save Our Tails is by far our biggest fundraiser during the year," she said. "This year it's going to be even more important."

The opening of the new shelter building three months ago was a major step forward for the Humane Society. The move not only gave the organization a permanent home but also has doubled its capacity, allowing it to take in more animals and increase the adoption rate.

Olson has already seen a difference. "Adoptions have soared since we moved in October," she said.

The organization doesn't want to lose this momentum, Gardner said.

"The building project took a lot of time and energy. I can say everyone is grateful for all the hard work behind the scenes to make that happen," he said. "But we're looking for wider involvement now. We need to put ourselves on a professional and businesslike footing, and to do that, we will need the input and expertise of the entire community. ... If anyone has an idea how we can be viable and sustainable and relevant now and for years to come, we want to hear it."

Among the tasks now under way: building more partnerships with outside organizations to help leverage services and volunteers.

Strengthening the Humane Society's financial footing is another major goal.

Operating costs are up because of the new building, Olson said. The Humane Society is now responsible for everything from utilities to snow removal at its new shelter -- a change that Olson likens to "moving from your first apartment to your first house."

This year's budget of $225,000 is a 10 percent increase over last year, she said. "There is overhead. Those animals have to be fed every day. The lights have to be on every day. The staff has to work every day."

Although the shelter gets financial support from the city of Willmar and Kandiyohi and Meeker counties, this "could change tomorrow" because of the state budget crisis, Olson said. "Our donations may have to increase if our public funding decreases."

Economic hard times also have had an impact on donations this past year, Alsleben said.

"We're not alone," she said. "A lot of nonprofits are seeing the same thing. Donations are down."

Gardner said the organization needs to "take a good, hard look at where we need to be."

"We're going to have to build some capital reserves and some operational reserves. We're going to have to develop more long-term funding and an endowment could be one of the tools to help us do that," he said.

The number of animals admitted to the shelter continues to grow, especially now that neighboring Meeker County is one of the partners. Last year, 1,200 animals came through the doors; this is expected to rise to as many as 2,000 in the next three to five years.

Happy endings for these animals "would be few and far between if the Humane Society wasn't there to step in the breach," Gardner said. "We need to communicate the value of what we do. We really make a difference in people's lives."

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Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

(320) 235-1150
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