CARSTAIRS — Struggling to survive pandemic-related hurdles over the past couple of years left Pawsitive Haven Animal Rescue on the brink of financial collapse.
“I told the girls, ‘This might be it, this could be the end. I don’t know what we’re going to do’,” said Ashley Reid, who alongside Sheena Forsythe and Kayleigh Coates co-owns the Carstairs-based not-for-profit organization.
Prior to COVID-19, Reid said the organization would host a variety of fundraising activities to help cover the costs of not only sheltering rescue and surrender cats and dogs but also providing costly medical care.
“We run solely on donations from the community,” she told the Albertan.
Those efforts, she said, included providing bartending services at functions as well as hosting community events such as a steak and lobster dinner and a show and shine.
“So, without being able to do those events, it’s been incredibly hard to keep funds going,” she said, adding some brainstorming sessions yielded alternate options including a bacon as well as a chocolate fundraiser.
“We have tried to come up with every idea possible,” she said. “Pretty much anything that we could do with social distancing, we tried.”
But sometimes, as the saying goes, when it rains it pours, and she said the animal shelter — financially strained as it already was — found itself handling a couple of severe medical cases that required a veterinarian’s care.
“So, our vet bills got incredibly high and funds just kept dwindling and dwindling,” she said.
One of those cases was a cat called Rupert, who was brought in some weeks ago.
“He was completely feral when we first got him from bylaw,” said Reid. “We couldn’t even get near him.”
But given some time, she said the staff were eventually able to finally approach him, and that’s when they realized Rupert was deliberately avoiding the use of one of his front paws.
“We had to sedate him and do an X-ray, and it turned out that his leg was completely shattered,” she said. “So, it needed to be amputated.”
Paying off that bill didn’t leave an awful lot in reserves, she said.
“We had $18 left in our bank account,” she said, adding they had little choice but to place an intake freeze. “We’re not taking in any more animals until we can have enough funds to make sure that we’re able to take care of more.”
As of the time she spoke with the Albertan, Reid said the shelter was housing eight animals — two of which, including Rupert, remained on medication — and added the pause was still in place.
“We’re just trying to make sure that we have all of that taken care of before we take on more animals,” she said.
Lamenting the thought of throwing in the towel motivated them to ramp up their brainstorming efforts, and a close friend of Reid’s suggested a few options including a jail and bail.
Upon placing some calls around the community to see who might be inclined to get 'arrested,' the organization was able to rally a number of volunteers willing to go behind bars for a good cause. All they had to do to regain their freedom, was raise enough bail.
“We ‘arrested’ Carolin from the Carstairs Hair Company for doing the best hair cuts and we told everybody that if they wanted her back, they had to bail her out of jail,” Reid said. “And it was actually super successful and it was so much fun.”
Ten people were put in the slammer, with all of their bail set at $500 each for a fundraising goal of $5,000, she said, later adding during a follow-up that by early April they had all been bailed.
“I honestly was overwhelmed by the amount of responses. I didn’t think it was going to be that successful,” she said. “It almost made me cry, that people are still so passionate the same way that we are about the rescue in Carstairs…it just reminded me why we do what we do and how amazing our community is.”
Anyone who missed their opportunity to pitch in a few bucks to help bail out the jailbirds can still donate through the group’s website at www.pawsitivehavenanimalrescue.ca.
“Or they can come down to the shelter and make a donation,” said Reid. “There’s plenty of ways that they can still donate, and we appreciate everybody’s help.”
Pandemic pets surrendered
Asked whether the rescue had experienced any increases after people who earlier during the pandemic either bought or adopted pets to pass the time only to later find themselves regretting the decision as restrictions began to ease, she said, “Big time, yeah.”
“We had a lot of surrenders. As soon as people started going back to work, we were full,” she said. “And even with our intake freeze, we had a dog just dropped off at the front door with all of its things and a note the other day. We always have our door open to those types of situations.”
While she emphasized the rescue remains on an intake freeze and reminds residents there’s no open-door policy, Reid added turning their backs on a surrender isn’t an option.
“As much as we probably don’t have the money to do it, we still have the heart and the passion. So, it’s incredibly hard to turn those away and say no,” she said.
But there are other options for people who are returning to work and might have — forgive the pun — bitten off more than they can chew in taking on the responsibility of a companion dog or cat to help them get through the pandemic.
“If you’re going to be at work all day long, we also have a boarding facility,” said Reid, adding their dog daycare provides pets space outside the confines of a kennel while keeping the animals away from the house unsupervised, potentially damaging furniture in the owner’s absence.
“There are other options out there for people that have dogs that have had all of that attention, and now (the owners) are going back to work,” she said.
Depending on where someone lives, they might consider looking for other locations as well, she said.
“Try to reach out to your local boarding facilities and doggy daycares and get them booked in,” she said. “Because you can still keep your pet and keep them occupied during the day.”
Pawsitive Haven Animal Rescue both fosters and kennels pets, she said.
“We have 11 kennels,” she said, adding the centre also has two much larger whelping kennels for pregnant dogs.
The rescue also shelters feline friends that are usually brought in by bylaw services, although many have in the past also been taken in as surrenders, she said.
“We get a lot of kittens that come in from local farms,” she said. “We will bottle feed — so that’s always a lot of fun. You have to be up every hour to feed them, but we absolutely love doing it.”
As of the time of the interview, she said Rupert was the only feline at the rescue, and following his full recovery from surgery is now available for adoption.