Saturday, August 9, 2008

What It Takes to Run a Sanctuary

Today's blog is a departure from our babies' stories. I promise to return to that format tomorrow.

For today, I'd like to just "open our books" and share what it actually takes to run our sanctuary.

When I hear someone in dog rescue say, "You can't save them all", I have to disagree. I can save them all -- if i have enough money! And that is the tragic reality that we all have to grapple with in rescue: it takes money to do what we do.

The better an organization is at fundraising, the more work it can do, the more impact it can have on the dogs who have been thrown away by society.

That is the whole concept behind our Smiling Dog Partners. Our goal is to sign up 1000 people to send a regular, monthly donation that would provide us with the economic base we need to keep saying "yes" to dogs who need us. We currently have just over 100 Partners, so we obviously have a ways to go.

I think that some folks don't understand the level and scope of our costs. When you run your rescue from your home, and you have six dogs to care for, you are the manpower. You put them out in the back yard, you bring them back into the house. To feed the rescue dogs, you throw an extra bag of dog food in your shopping cart at Kroger's and call it a day. Except for vet bills, there are minimal costs for this kind of rescue. And that is what makes small rescues great! They are the most cost efficient models.

But when you graduate to "mega" status and provide housing for nearly 400 dogs, the routine and the costs change.

Housing: While many of our dogs live in our house, some permanently and some transiently for one reason or another, the majority of our dogs live in housing units that are scattered across our 37A farm. In the early days, when Ricky and I had lots of money in the bank, we built a building, with interior housing and attached play yards. Then we built huge yards, measuring as much as 48'x56', with cottages to die for - 8'x12' or larger with gabled roof and shingles, hardisiding and covered porches on both ends!

Today, we build an efficient, cost effective 20'x20' yard with a 4'x4' basic cottage. These housing units provide enough space for dogs to run and chase each other and play. Their cottages are up on 2x6's so that the dogs do not lay directly on the ground. Eight months ago, we were buying the materials for the fencing, fence posts, hardware, and lumber for the cottage for close to $300. Skyrocketing costs for anything metal have driven fence panels and posts into the stratosphere, and our cost for materials (last time we bought them; next time will probably be more!) is now up to $576!

This is a cost we have to spend for each new dog who comes here. He has to have a separate place to live, apart from the other dogs. Our entire organizational structure is based on separation of dogs into singles or small groups, usually 2 dogs. He can't just jump into our living room and "join the crowd".

Personnel and Payroll: Probably the biggest difference between our operations and small rescues is our need for personnel. If Ricky and I started at sun up and worked until sun down, we could still not get to every dog here! Workers are required to make this work.

We pay $8/hour and are constantly advertising for workers. It is a very hard job to fill. To be blunt and honest, most people just don't want to work as hard as you must to do this job well. For every ten people we hire, we are fortunate if one works out.

Some folks think it is a job anyone can do -- feeding dogs and raking up poop. But it actually requires a constellation of skills to be successful. It is not enough to love dogs, although that is the necessary starting point. Successful workers here can handle hard, physical labor and stay on schedule. They know the dogs and report dogs who might be sick, so that we can examine them further. They are trustworthy and can be counted on to follow all the steps, so no dog is short-changed.

Our farm is divided into "zones". Workers are assigned one or two zones in an 8-hour shift. They never have the same zones two days in a row, so that someone else is always going behind them double checking on what yesterday's worker did.

Servicing a housing unit requires dumping out yesterday's water and filling the water bowl with fresh clean water, filling food bowls or feeders, raking up dog poop, doing a wellness check and visiting with the dog(s) for a few minutes each day.

Let's assume this could be done in only 15 minutes for a yard with a single dog. Multiply15 min. x 30 days in a month. That is 7.5 hours a month.

7.5 hours x $8/hr. = $60. That is $60 per month, just to pay the people who provide daily care for that dog. Payroll and personnel costs are our single greatest budget item.

Food: We get donations of food from time to time. Two different girl scout troops in Rosenberg organized dog food drives for us. The Bay Area SPCA has donated dog food, as have the Texas City and League City shelters. Individuals, like Lark Tedesco, Laurine Murtaugh and Tom English, have helped us with dog food donations.

But we use nearly 600 lb of dog food per day. Let me pause and let that sink in.

That is a lot of dog food. More than anyone can donate on a regular basis. Donations help us by providing food that we would otherwise have to buy. But we still buy a lot of dog food.

Assume that the average dog eats 1.5 lb. of dog food per day. 1.5 lb x 30 days = 45 lb of dog food per month per dog. We buy our dog food from Bay City Feed, where Pam gives us every discount that exists and a couple more that don't! She has whittled the cost down to just $12.34 per bag of Purina Red Flannel dog food. Those are 40 lb bags.

So a dog eats 1.125 bags of dog food per month. 1.125 x $12.34 = $13.88. Hence our cost for dog food -- dry kibble only, no special foods included in this number -- is $13.88 per dog per month, on average.

Cost for Payroll and Dog Food Per Month: Add $60 for payroll costs and $13.88 for dog food consumption, and you can see that each dog who lives here costs us about $73 per month, month in and month out. These are real dollars we have to find, somehow. And that number is only payroll and dog food. It does not include funds for vet visits, vaccinations, special foods and medications.

Ricky and I just cannot afford to keep adding $70 + per month to our overhead costs, and that is why we ask for new dogs coming here to have someone be responsible for fund raising. Even so, you would be surprised at how many folks promise to raise money -- but once the dog arrives and is safe, they just melt away and we never hear from them again.

Insurance: Nor does that $73.88 include any money to help pay the monthly insurance bill. We have a great independent agent in Betty Meier, and she manages to come up with companies who are willing to insure us every year. That is an achievement in and of itself.

Naturally the cost for liability insurance, as well as insurance on the buildings on the farm, is very high. This year, Betty has managed to get our monthly insurance payment down to $1600 -- that is down $200 from $1800 this past year.

Unfortunately, our insurance requires a down payment every year, and this year that amount is $3200, which we are trying to raise right now.

Ricky and Jay: Finally, I want to make sure there is no doubt about this point, especially among the friends and supporters who make donations to Smiling Dog Farms: Ricky and I do not make, have not made one single dime from all the funds that have been donated to Smiling Dog Farms. We pay our workers, but Ricky and I work 16 hour days at the farm for free! Ricky and I are not on the payroll. 100% of money donated goes to pay for dog food, payroll, housing, insurance or vet bills.

Monthly "Nut": To pay for our workers, dog food and insurance, we need roughly $11,000 each month. That leaves nothing for vet bills and medications and special foods.

Financial Goal: The goal of the 1000 Partners program is to bring in over $20,000 each month, so that we will not only have our payroll and dog food and insurance covered, but also have budgets for vet care and special food and medications.

Our biggest financial goal is to have enough income to hire a full time Director, to take over some of the duties that Ricky and I perform as volunteers. This is the final and necessary step to make Smiling Dog Farms, Inc a viable 501c3 charitable corporation that can outlive Ricky and me, and continue operations into the future, long after we are dead and gone.

If you are already a Smiling Dog Partner, making monthly donations to help pay for our operations... THANK YOU!

If you are already a Sponsor, contributing one-time gifts to Smiling Dog Farms which help pay for operations and housing... THANK YOU!

Every dollar you donate makes it possible for us to continue to say "yes" to the dogs who have no other options, and would otherwise die if they could not come here!

You have a very personal hand in saving the lives of each baby I write about in this space! You are not just our partners in name, but also in deed!

Jay Hellerich, executive director
smiling dog farms
a 501(c)3 corporation
wharton, texas

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