Economic hardship strikes no-kill shelter near Bloomfield

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

BLOOMFIELD, Mo. — It is perhaps a sign of the current difficult economic times. In a rural Bloomfield animal sanctuary that was designed for a capacity of about 80 cats, nearly 120 currently dwell.

"It's not unusual to arrive in the morning and find one or two cats that have been left overnight for us to take in," says Debbie Johnson, the proprietor at Sundog, Southeast Missouri's first "no-kill," non-profit organization, located just northeast of Bloomfield.

"Sometimes the cats are dropped off because their owners just can't afford to feed them any longer," Johnson says.

Others are strays that have been brought to the shelter because local residents know they'll be cared for at Sundog. Yet others turn up under their own power, perhaps sensing that there is help for them beyond the rustic porch of the facility that sits just off of Route AB.

The facility, run entirely on donations and by volunteers, is in dire straights, according to Johnson.

"This is the worst we've seen," she says of the current situation at Sundog.

"We're getting by on very little and the cats just keep coming, with very few going out."

Those "going out" are cats who are adopted out to good homes. Normally, for a fee of $60, a kitten or adult cat can be placed in a caring home, complete with shots and having been spayed or neutered. Those services, performed by a Sikeston veterinarian, don't come cheap.

"Shots for animals are expensive," says Johnson. "And to have a cat spayed or neutered costs from $60 to $80."

Those funds, Johnson explains, come from cash donations, but those donations are dwindling.

Litter for the numerous trays at the facility is donated by the rural Bloomfield Nestle Purina plant that manufactures kitty litter, but food is purchased and medicine for cats that are ill or aged and there are bills to pay to keep the facility running.

The cats at Sundog are obviously healthy animals, all with shiny coats and bright-eyed. Their good health is due in part to a recommended diet of high protein and meat.

"I try to feed them quality cat food," Johnson explains. "We've found that cheap food, with little meat content, only causes health problems which in the long run, results in further medical costs in getting them well."

So, while food plays a major role in running the facility, there are other costs to consider.

"We have electric, water and trash bills just like any business, but we have no regular income to support the facility."

With so few cats being adopted out in recent months, and more appearing on Sundog's doorstep all the time, Johnson has slashed the cost of an adoption to half of the usual fee. Until the first of the year, cats are offered to a good home for a $30 donation, rather than the normal $60.

"That doesn't even cover the expense that we have in each cat," Johnson pleas, "but we have to do something. We're in a desperate situation here."

Sundog was so named by its founder, Teresa Cooper after she witnessed the appearance of a rainbow around the sun, called a Sundog, as she was persuing building the sanctuary. Sundog operates with the help of 11 volunteers who team up to scoop litter boxes, feed and water, and sometimes just dish out a little TLC to the felines that wind around their feet as they go about their business of caring for the array of cats.

The facility was the dream of Cooper, who lived at one time in a home nearby the sanctuary. Cooper, who never met an animal she didn't love, lost a battle with cancer in 2003. It was her wish for her efforts at Sundog to carry on after her death and Debbie Johnson, her dear friend, has seen to that as best she can.

"We're trying to keep afloat," Johnson says, "but it's become so difficult and with winter ahead, we'll be experiencing higher bills for heat. We've never turned a cat away, and we don't intend to, but it's hard not knowing how we'll pay for their food and medicine next month."

Johnson may be reached at 573-568-3353. Anyone interested in the adoption process, volunteer information or in providing donations to support the efforts of Sundog, are encouraged to call and leave a message.

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