MARYVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Donations poured into animal welfare groups Jan. 17 in honor of actress and animal advocate Betty White, support that leaders of location organizations said comes at a time of high need.
COVID-19 precautions have taken a toll on regular fundraising and adoption events, and shelters are seeing high demand.
"Our expenses are going up and donations are going down," said Diane Martin, president of the Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the Blount County Animal Center.
Animals coming into the center have been older and sicker, she said, and on Jan. 14, 50 cats were surrendered to the facility.
The majority of those cats are ill, she said, with the parasite giardia or the panleukopenia virus. One died, leaving three kittens. "The bulk have not been spayed or neutered," Martin said.
"We've had several animals come in that have been hit by cars that have required $2,500 surgeries," Martin said. In addition, animals with skin conditions have required special food and veterinary care at $500 to $1,000.
"We take in almost 2,000 animals a year," she said, and the typical cost to spay or neuter and vaccinate them is about $125 each.
The center needs not only dollars and donations of kitty litter, but volunteers to foster animals, Martin said.
When The Daily Times talked with Martin on Jan. 17, SMACF had seen almost $1,200 come in through the Betty White Challenge.
At the Maryville/Alcoa Animal Rescue Center intakes of dogs and cats have probably doubled in the past year, board member Lisa Breazeale said. "It's very draining on our resources," she said.
MAARC offered a T-shirt with an image of White, a quote and "Thank you for being a friend," for donations of $25 or more.
Through a donation to the Jeff Breazeale Foundation, MAARC also was receiving a match for every donation in White's honor, up to $10,000, through Jan. 17. Early in the afternoon on Jan. 17, they already had received $2,500, according to Lisa Breazeale.
"We've definitely benefited from the Betty White Challenge," said Kristin Baksa, president of the Blount County Animal Welfare Society. "It's just good timing because these cold weather calls are killing us."
The organization works with owners for safe pet retention, such as providing insulated dog houses, fencing or kennels, even food and urgent veterinary care when needed. When an animal does need another home it works with rescue organizations.
BCAWS has only about 10 volunteers to respond across the county to calls about animals being chained out in the cold or heat without access to adequate food, water and shelter. Conditions may be within requirements of local laws but still cause concerns.
Since BCAWS began two and a half years ago it has helped 180 families and at least 25 continue to receive assistance, Baksa said.
While volunteers such as Girl Scouts have made insulated dog houses for BCAWS, the cost of materials has about doubled, to $150.
To free dogs from chains BCAWS will provide 10x10-foot kennels, and their cost is up about $100, to $350 each.
"BCAWS is filling a big gap in animal welfare in this community," Baksa said, and about $1,000 that came in through the challenge will help.
EVERY DOLLAR COUNTS
One woman donating $10 to the Human Society of East Tennessee told co-founder Sue Burda, "I promised Betty I would donate."
"A $10 donation for us is a bag of food or two bags of cat litter," Burda explained.
HSET focuses on animals that are older or harder to adopt. The facility in Maryville currently has 32 cats and Burda said they were expecting eight dogs. The organization helps in other ways, too, such as ensuring older pet owners can get to veterinary appointments.
People Promoting Animal Welfare has been working to raise an additional $200,000 for a new spay and neuter clinic near Friendsville. Last year PPAW completed more than 6,700 procedures, up from a previous record of just over 6,000.
Veterinarian Dr. Kelly Simonian said by the afternoon of Jan. 17, the Betty White Challenge had brought in just under $900 to PPAW.
Appalachian Bear Rescue saw about $3,600 come in Jan. 17, thanks to people honoring Betty White.
Executive Director Dana Dodd had been focused on the release of the ABR's last bear of the season on Jan. 14, and a fundraiser specifically for the surgeries it required.
Even with "huge discounts," she said, the bill totaled $4,255.77, and ABR offered an incentive for people who donated for that by the end of Jan. 16. That fundraiser brought in more than $5,400.
"Everybody is very generous with our bears," Dodd said.