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Taya Mergott, left, and Carol Nelson, with the Humane Society of Kandiyohi County, assemble baskets Satur-day for the upcoming Save Our Tails fundraiser. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Humane Society to host event to raise awareness, funds for homeless animals

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local Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- The year is still young, but already the staff at the Humane Society of Kandiyohi County has seen a sharp increase in the number of cats and dogs surrendered by owners who can no longer keep their pets.

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Last year 14 animals were surrendered bet-ween New Year's Day and Jan. 25. This year, 35 had been surrendered as of last weekend. It points to the demand for the Humane Society's services on behalf of homeless pets, said Pam Melander, a volunteer board member with the nonprofit.

As the economy worsens, "I think there's going to be a real need," she said.

The public will have a chance to support the Humane Society at the annual "Save Our Tails" fundraiser Feb. 6 at the Holiday Inn and Willmar Conference Center.

The event, which goes from 6 to 9 p.m., is the Humane Society's major fundraiser of the year. The goal is to raise $15,000 for shelter operational costs ranging from utilities and office supplies to pet food, cat litter and veterinary care. Last year's event netted $12,000.

Martha Alsleben, co-chairman of the benefit, said the evening will include a buffet dinner, supervised games and activities for children, a silent auction of gift baskets and a live auction of home-baked desserts.

Numerous local businesses and individuals have chipped in with donations of auction items, she said.

"We're finding that many of them want to donate," she said. "The whole county is getting involved."

Among the items that will be up for bids: a handmade rocking horse, a set of stone-carved putters, a hand-tied fishing rod, ceramics by local artists, and gift baskets designed with themes such as cooking, children's games or wine.

"It's just a whole gamut. It hits about every interest you could want," Alsleben said.

A handmade quilt will be raffled off as well.

Event-goers also will have the opportunity to see the design drawings for the Humane Society's proposed new shelter. Board members will be on hand to answer questions about the project and about the capital campaign that was launched last month.

Alsleben and co-chair Taya Mergott have been working on the Save Our Tails event for almost three months.

"I've got a great fundraising group," Alsleben said. "Everybody takes their area of expertise. They work hard."

Melander said the number of animals admitted to the shelter continues to rise. Last year it reached more than 1,100.

With an annual budget of around $200,000, the Humane Society relies on annual allocations from the city of Willmar and Kandiyohi County, revenue from impound and adoption fees, donations and fundraisers.

The organization usually breaks even each year, but could find itself struggling if donations become more scarce or if the economy results in fewer adoptions and more homeless animals, Melander said.

It's not clear if the number of surrendered pets will continue to rise this year. The number has been mostly stable the past two years, hovering between 225 and 240, and many of these surrenders are simply due to an owner whose life circumstances have changed -- someone who needs to move into assisted living, for instance, Melander said.

The concern is that as more people lose their jobs and lose their homes, more pets might wind up homeless, she said.

"If they can't find somebody else to take them, there really isn't any other choice besides putting them to sleep. What would you do if you had three cats and two dogs and lost your job and had to move into an apartment, and couldn't find someone to take your animals?" Melander said.

The shelter's dog kennels are currently so full that some dogs will likely be transported to shelters in the Twin Cities, to make room for more incoming animals, she said.

Tickets for Save Our Tails are available in advance at the Humane Society of Kandiyohi County, 201 17th St. S.E., Willmar, or at the door the night of the event. Prices are $25 for adults and $7 for children 12 and under. Tickets for the quilt raffle are $2 apiece or three for $5, and are available at the Humane Society.

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