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Local Humane Society seeks support at Save Our Tails fundraiser Friday in Willmar, Minn.

Savannah, left, a female Lhasa apso-poodle mix, and Reed, a male Pomeranian, were apparently abandoned on the edge of Willmar. Hawk Creek Animal Shelter staff rescued the pair who now have a chance to be adopted. The shelter, owned and operated by the Humane Society of Kandiyohi and Meeker Counties, spends an average of $209 to care for each animal, and adoption fees do not cover those costs. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR -- Bobbie Bauman thinks the two small dogs were abandoned somewhere on First Street Northeast, near KWLM Radio on Foot Lake at the edge of town.

Employees at the radio station spotted them Feb. 10 and called the Hawk Creek Animal Shelter.

"We went over there," said Bauman, director of operations for the shelter. "Both were out there running around in the cold. They were able to keep going back and forth from Robbins Island to the radio station because of the frozen ice."

The dogs, a male Pomeranian and a female Lhasa apso-poodle mix, were rescued and brought to the shelter.

A veterinary technician gave them both a checkup. They were examined for fleas and tested for worms. Because their vaccination history was unknown, they were given shots for distemper, parvovirus, bordetella and rabies. They needed grooming. Neither had been altered so the shelter had them spayed and neutered.

Both dogs were microchipped and given names -- Reed and Savannah. The staff took their pictures and posted them on and added the dogs' description to the shelter's daily lost-and-found ad.

A week after their arrival, the two dogs continue to be cared for at the shelter. They're fed, watered and taken out three or four times a day to the shelter's fenced-in exercise yard.

Multiply this by 1,500 or so, and you'll have a picture of what it takes to start a needy animal at the Hawk Creek Animal Shelter on the road to a better life.

But it all comes at a cost. Last year the Humane Society spent an average of $209 in direct care for each of the 1,627 animals who came through the door, said Steve Gardner, chairman of the board. Adoption fees covered only a quarter of this expense; the Humane Society is responsible for trying to find the rest.

"This is why we need to ask the communities we serve to support us," Gardner said.

The Humane Society of Kandiyohi and Meeker Counties is taking its case to the public at the annual Save Our Tails fundraiser Friday at the Willmar Conference Center. The goal is to raise $20,000 for the shelter's operating budget.

Volunteers have been working for weeks to organize the event, which is the shelter's main fundraiser each year. About 225 guests attended last year, and Martha Alsleben, head of the Save Our Tails committee, and organizers hope to do at least as well this year.

"People have fun," she said. "A roomful of animal lovers is the best. Everybody has a story they want to tell."

Gardner and the board hope to tell the shelter's story as well. "We think there are a lot of folks out there who, if they knew the need, would want to stand alongside us," Gardner said.

Reed and Savannah are typical of the pets who arrive at the shelter as strays in need of food, care and a chance at a new home, Bauman said. "We basically had to start from ground zero with them."

She and Gardner said it costs about $1,000 a day to operate the shelter, keep the lights on, provide animal care and pay the staff. "The animals are here 24/7, 365. They're here every day and we have people here every day," Gardner said.

The needs keep growing, he said. The new shelter, which opened in the fall of 2009, is larger, meaning more animals and more staff. The addition of Meeker County also has resulted in more animals. Last year the shelter set a record for intake.

"We've really outgrown the old model of what this organization used to be," Gardner said. Now, the goal is long-term sustainability and the volunteer and financial support to accomplish this, he said.

The organization is already taking steps for the future. Last year, by partnering with South 71 Veterinary Clinic to do spay-neuter surgeries onsite, the shelter succeeded in reducing veterinary costs -- one of its largest and fastest growing spending categories -- from $70,000 to $59,000.

The board has pledged this year to eliminate a $70,000 funding gap between revenue and expenses. Look for the Humane Society to become more purposeful in asking for the public's help, Gardner said.

"We really need to expand the numbers of people who value and support us," he said. "It is a new initiative and it comes out of some work we did with a consultant last year. We've learned we didn't know what we didn't know in what it takes to sustain an organization like this. Now we're learning what we need to do."

Anne Polta

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

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