UAW vote results: Change coming to top leadership ranks

Metro Detroit animal care groups see gifting plunge as pandemic hits donors

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

As the weather warms each spring, the Friends for Animals of Metro Detroit normally can count on multiple ways to help support the Dearborn nonprofit’s operations, from an annual “Mutt Strut” fundraiser to visitors leaving treats, toys, money.

But the coronavirus pandemic has yanked most in-person activities at the nonprofit that has nurtured more than 59,000 animals since the 1990s. 

Adoptions now are mainly by appointment, fundraising is largely virtual and staffers have been seeking emergency grants as donations have taken a “significant” decline, said Sarah Rood, the events and marketing manager.

“We’re definitely struggling,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can with cost-cutting measures while still making sure the animals are taken care of."

With the COVID-19 crisis striking southeast Michigan, regional animal shelters and welfare groups are rushing to offset the loss of financial or other contributions even while some face higher demand for emergency care and services.

Its leaders are stepping up appeals to donors, including on #Giving TuesdayNow planned next week, while exploring new ways to stay afloat.

Dr. Kate Reynolds, DVM, prepares to surgically remove a tumor from the middle toe of Sejal's left-front paw, Thursday afternoon, April 30, 2020.

“We plan to use every tool and asset,” said Kristina Rinaldi, executive director at Detroit Dog Rescue. “This is a difficult time that we’re navigating.”

The struggle is evident at Detroit Pit Crew Dog Rescue, which has a facility in Center Line. 

In the last two months, “we’ve taken in more injured and sick dogs than normal,” founder/director Theresa Sumpter said, which means more emergency veterinary care. “A normal month for us, vet care might be $10,000. We’ve surpassed $24,000. We’ve spent a lot. This has definitely been a challenge for us.”

Meanwhile, workers “are in dire need of” paper towels to clean and bleach to disinfect blankets, she said. And although some supporters have donated money from their stimulus checks, Sumpter added, “we know that many of our normal donors have stopped.”

Her group, which has passed out more pet food recently, is also counting on contributions on Tuesday. “I am fearful that more dogs are being released on the streets because people can’t afford” to keep them, Sumpter said.

Annette Engler leads Renegade out of his cage. The 5-year-old male Husky was brought in as a stray by DDR after being found by Detroit Animal Control with severe injuries, including a missing left ear, a partially missing right ear and bite wounds from what are believed to be from dog fighting.

Similarly, at Detroit Dog Rescue, “not only are we in need of donations to continue services, our workload seems to be almost doubling,” Rinaldi said, adding her group has distributed nearly 3,000 pounds of food to area residents facing job loss. “We’re getting a lot of calls, unfortunately, from families who want to surrender their pets or need food. We’re really working hard day and night to find the solutions. But solutions can cost money.”

A bright spot has been more people seeking to foster pups before adoption, she said. However, the group, which has canceled a major fundraiser amid the pandemic, needs to raise money to recoup what it loses from missing out on festivals where members can sell merchandise.

Costs are also rising as DDR is “seeing some horrific medical cases right now that really need attention,” Rinaldi said. “We are not sure what the next few weeks or months are going to look like. We are kind of wondering: how many more trauma cases can we take in?”

Another organization seeking a boost through donations is the Michigan Humane Society. Its Judith Caplan Phillips Pet Pantry, with partners such as Forgotten Harvest, Greater Good and Purina, has distributed more than 300,000 pounds of pet food during the first 60 days of the pandemic to about 9,000 families, representatives said. In all of 2019, 411,000 pounds were handed out.  

In coming months, “we anticipate our support services are going to be even more critical, said Matt Pepper, its president and CEO.

Donors are still contributing to MHS, which is offering many services online, including the adoption process as well as emergency and urgent care, per state orders, he said. But the society is bracing for the future.

“We are performing well, yet there’s an increased need, and with that there are increased expenses,” Pepper said. “We don’t know what next month is going to look like. We’re going to go into this trying to find the safest, most efficient way to continue our most impactful programs. The biggest thing we need right now is financial support to keep these programs going.”

Deborah Schutt, board chair for the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance, estimates as many as half of the animal shelters in the state rely mostly on contributions. How well each survives depends on the severity of the economic fallout, she said.

“They’re going to have less funding and that then really impacts the operations,” she said. “My fear is what happens in a couple months from now. Some will do OK. Some I worry about a whole lot.”

Her message for animal lovers? “Help your local shelter. They’re going to need it.”

Some initiatives are already underway to fill in gaps.

Wishbone Pet Food recently announced it was donating more than 14,000 meals for dogs and cats to SPCA International, which arranged delivering the goods to shelters in need in the United States and Canada.

Among the recipients is Detroit Animal Welfare Group in Romeo, which director Kelley LaBonty said has seen a “huge decrease” in donations.

The Wishbone pet food was delivered in April.

The aim is “to make their money go further” each month, including for emergency care, said Meredith Ayan, executive director of SPCA International. “It’s going to take a big burden off of their plate. Hopefully this will allow them to continue their work with one less worry.”

The largest expenses at DAWG, which houses about 180 animals on its 25-acre property, are food and medical services, LaBonty said.

While adoption and fostering requests are up about 25% to 30%, she said, donations have plunged and the group is receiving less from a food bank it works with, forcing staffers to turn to bottle returns to generate cash. 

The extra food that arrived late last month “is much needed,” LaBonty said. “It’ll be a big help.”

Friends for Animals of Metro Detroit recently announced it had been awarded a $13,500 grant from the Petco Foundation to provide foster kits and supplies helping foster volunteers who are tending to more than 600 kittens.

FAMD has seen more interest in fosters but a drop in adoptions, Rood said. It plans to participate in an Empty the Shelter event with the BISSELL Pet Foundation and is seeking help through an online wish list as well as the Giving Tuesday Now initiative.

“We are definitely not where we normally are in donations,” she said.