COLUMBIA — Squeaky, soft mews come from a red plastic milk crate tucked in the corner of the office at the Central Missouri Humane Society. Two kittens lay snuggled underneath layers of old, white towels in the box.
“I’m probably going to regret this,” Allison Brown said as she peeled back the two layers of towels on Tuesday afternoon that kept the kittens warm. “But I just have to show them off.”
A rescue agency was set to pick them up later in the afternoon, freeing up the space the 2 1/2-week-old kittens would have occupied for about six weeks for other animals.
Space is important to shelters like the one operated by the Humane Society that take in any animal brought to them. With the economic downturn, the local shelter has seen more animals coming in its doors but fewer donations to provide care.
Income at the shelter is down $16,000 from the $573,913 collected by this time last year, Brown said, and donations are down $72,000 from the $197,423 collected by this time last year.
The tightening budget has prompted a decrease in some staff hours, including that of Executive Director Alan Allert, who's working on a part-time basis.
As a nonprofit, the Humane Society relies on good will and donations to cover about 85 percent of its $1 million budget. Brown said it costs about $7,000 a week to operate the shelter. In 2010, total expenses for the shelter were $941,333.
“I think that we are a victim of circumstance," Humane Society board member Jim Loveless said. "The overall economic downturn in the economy, which has curtailed donations, has also made it difficult for families to keep their pets. People in similar circumstances aren't coming here to adopt pets, so it's kind of a double-edged sword."
Brown attributed the decline in donations to the economy as well but also thinks the makeover the shelter received last year from Zoo Too may have caused people think the shelter was better off than it was.
"We did get a renovated facility but that never helped with any food for the animals, vet care, operating costs or anything along those lines,” Brown said.
The biggest increase in animals brought to the shelter is pets brought in by their owners — a figure that's up about 10 percent, Brown said.
About 43 percent of the 2,061 dogs received by the shelter and about 62 percent of the 1,830 cats received by the Humane Society this year have been given up by their owners.
Brown said that while the shelter gets 20 to 40 animals a day, there are only about 10 adoptions a day.
Loveless said that the shelter will not cut down on hours open nor will it put a limit on the number of animals it takes in as a way to save money.
“We will not refuse any animal that comes to use because we think that every animal deserves a chance,” Loveless said.
Instead, Loveless said, the Humane Society board of directors asked the administrative officers to come up with a list of potential cost-saving methods and ways to generate income.
From those suggestions, the board is examining re-negotiating the contracts for the food and supplies the Humane Society uses.
“Right now we we’re concentrating on getting our finances in order,” Loveless said.
Brown said the Humane Society is doing little things to save money, such as being extra careful when they measure out food so as not to overfeed the animals. It costs about $50 a day to feed all the animals.
The board is also urging the staff to conserve energy by turning off lights and not leaving doors open when the air conditioning or furnace is on, Loveless said.
Brown said the shelter is "getting by" on supplies such as food, kitty litter and bleach, but she worries that it will be harder for the shelter to acquire these supplies in the future.
"Our animal care will never be compromised," Brown said. "We always make sure that they get absolute top-notch vet care. Of course they’ll always get food, water, shelter and clean cages. We will never sacrifice or cut corners in those areas."
Loveless said the board is also starting a campaign to increase donations. A part of that is beginning to promote low-cost vet services such as spaying, neutering and vaccinations.
"We are asking people to be conscientious in donating when they come in for services," Loveless said. "There is very little that we actually put a charge on."
Loveless said that in addition to monetary and supply donations, the Humane Society could always use volunteers to help walk, bathe and transport animals from the shelter to rescue and adoption agencies.
"We’d be delighted to have people come by and say, 'Sure, we’ll drive these dogs to where they need to go,'" Loveless said.
Brown said the shelter hopes that the annual Hound Dog Homecoming fundraiser will bring in much-needed funds. Pet owners can register their dogs for homecoming king or queen online. The carnival will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Oct. 1 at the Humane Society, 616 Big Bear Blvd.