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Surgeries strain shelters’ resources

Sat., Sept. 27, 2008

Desire to help meets fiscal hurdles when treatment expensive

When a young border collie mix arrived at Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service this week, he needed much more than a home.

A deep, oozing wound all the way around the dog’s hind leg – probably caused by a rabbit snare – required surgery if the dog was to keep his leg or avoid being euthanized.

“This poor dog is in need of major corrective care before he can be adopted,” said Carl Boyd, animal protection officer. However, “I don’t think people realize that we don’t have a veterinarian on staff. Each animal must be taken to an area veterinarian. The process is quite costly to SCRAPS.”

The nameless black dog was picked up in the Seven Mile area.

“It was quite happy to see us, but not so happy to be loaded in the truck,” said Nancy Hill, director of SCRAPS. “The leg was very painful. He had no ID and we’re guessing he’s 1 or 2 years old. He looks well fed, like someone took care of him, but the wound was very bad.”

On Wednesday, the dog had surgery at Legacy Animal Medical Center in Liberty Lake, and unless an owner comes forward, SCRAPS will pick up the $340 bill.

“The staff at Legacy is just phenomenal when it comes to helping us out, and we do get a discount, but they are running a business so we’ve got to pay our part,” said Hill. “We have some money in our budget for vet services. Unfortunately it’s not enough to repair all the damaged animals that come to us.”

Earlier this year, a 3-month-old Labrador-mix puppy named Maddie was picked up by SCRAPS. She’d been run over by a car and had a broken front leg. Staff at SCRAPS called the Whitman County Humane Society in Pullman, asking for help.

“When she got here, she was just hobbling around on three legs, but still trying to be sweet,” said Mikkel Shannon, volunteer and education coordinator there. “I mean, this puppy had a very badly broken leg and you can’t wait for fundraising with an injury like that.”

A thorough evaluation at Washington State University’s School of Veterinary Medicine revealed a fracture in the growth plate in Maddie’s front leg. The surgery bill: $2,000.

“A lot of shelters don’t have that kind of money so they end up simply amputating the damaged limb,” said Shannon.

In Maddie’s case, the Humane Society dipped deep into its Hope Fund – named after a dog the organization once helped – and paid the bill. “Now we’re pretty much out of money,” Shannon said.

She said the Whitman County Humane Society tries to keep between $3,000 and $4,000 in the Hope Fund for medical emergencies.

SCRAPS likewise has a medical fund that collects donations to pay medical bills for homeless animals.

“We are getting very low on money – I’m sure we’ll have other cases where we don’t have enough money left,” said Hill. “That scenario forces us to make a life-and-death decision based on money, not based on what’s best for the animals.”

SpokAnimal CARE has a veterinarian on staff, but surgery can’t be performed there. “Our vet does spays and neuters and vaccinations,” said Gail Mackie, director of the agency, which serves Spokane. “By law, we do not perform other services to the public.”

SpokAnimal’s “Lucky to Be Alive Fund” was established to pay for medical costs incurred by homeless animals.

Recently, three horses have benefited from the fund, as have two kittens whose ears had been cut off and a springer spaniel with a broken leg.

“Surgery such as that of the springer spaniel had to be done in a full-service clinic,” Mackie said. “The total for that was $1,200. And even with a vet on staff, we still have to pay her and her support staff for all the work they do here at the shelter.”

Animal shelters were challenged all summer with cruelty and animal-hoarding cases, but at a time when many families are struggling to pay their own bills, shelter donations are tapering off.

“All of us are in critical need of funding for our programs,” said Mackie. “All it takes is one outlandish case to exhaust a fund.”

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