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Coronavirus causing financial crisis for Lakeland Animal Shelter
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Coronavirus causing financial crisis for Lakeland Animal Shelter

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TOWN OF DELAVAN — The Lakeland Animal Shelter is struggling through its worst financial crisis in recent memory, as the coronavirus pandemic cancels fundraisers and displaces volunteers.

“We’re in trouble,” said Kristen Perry, executive director of the shelter, who said she has not seen such a severe funding crunch in the 24 years that she has worked there.

The nonprofit organization is making a plea to supporters, after losing more than $200,000 in revenue to fund-raising events that were canceled because of the coronavirus.

Volunteers also have been displaced because of concerns about the health crisis, including inmates from a women’s prison who had been providing valuable assistance in maintaining the shelter.

Without enough help, Perry and her limited staff are working long hours seven days a week to care for the facility’s animals, including about 100 dogs and 500 cats.

Officials have managed to keep up with the bills so far, but they say the organization is surviving month to month.

Sarah Krueger, volunteer and outreach coordinator, said she has never seen the animal shelter in such a dire financial predicament.

Krueger said she is trying to remain optimistic that the nonprofit facility will persevere.

“Of course you worry,” she said. “We’ve struggled. And we will do it together.”

Located at 3615 state Highway 67, the shelter moved from a smaller building in 2016 to a larger facility that cost about $3 million to construct. The organization is still making mortgage payments, as well as other operating costs that amount to about $920,000 a year.

The facility handles and cares for more than 3,000 stray animals annually, many of which need medical care and other costly treatments.

Fundraising efforts include a dinner benefit that attracts about 400 people people, with tickets costing $75 a person. With a silent auction and other activities, the event generates about $100,000 a year.

Originally scheduled for May, the dinner was postponed and then finally canceled rather than risk spreading germs within a crowd of people during the coronavirus outbreak.

Referring to the dinner’s importance in funding the animal shelter, Perry said, “We were banking on it.”

Shelter officials also canceled a walk event and a golf outing, and they lost other fund-raising opportunities with the cancellation of Lake Geneva’s Venetian Festival and the Walworth County Fair.

Laina Papenfus, a longtime supporter who serves on the shelter’s board of directors, has started using Facebook to broadcast story times for children, accompanied by dogs and cats available for adoption. The strategy has led to many animal adoptions and donations, too.

Papenfus said she is confident that the organization will emerge from the financial crisis and continue fulfilling its mission of caring for stray animals.

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“We are a vital, vital need,” she said. “We will overcome this, because we are making a difference.”

Perry said the organization has suffered about $200,000 in losses altogether this year.

Meanwhile, the number of stray animals coming into the shelter has jumped during the coronavirus, partly because many people impacted by the economic slowdown no longer can afford house pets.

Lakeland Animal Shelter normally gets an extra helping hand from visiting inmates at Ellsworth Correctional Center, a women’s prison in Union Grove. The prison sends women inmates to help clean and maintain the animal shelter.

But since the coronavirus pandemic began, the state has temporarily stopped sending women inmates out into the community. That leaves Perry and her staff to make up for the loss of six or seven women who worked about 12 hours a day inside the shelter.

With the loss of two other regular paid staff employees, the shelter is down to just a handful of people to clean and operate a 14,000-square-foot facility that is filled with animals who need daily feeding and cleaning.

Krueger said she and the others are working their usual jobs, plus pitching in to keep the facility functional. Some are working as much as 90 to 100 hours a week.

“Everyone’s getting here really early in the morning,” she said. “Then we’re here until well after we close.”

Officials have tried new fund-raising appeals on their website, and direct mailings have gone out to supporters.

Gift baskets that normally would have been auctioned off at the dinner benefit are instead displayed in the lobby, available to anyone willing to make a donation.

“Anything right now is better than, unfortunately, what we’ve had to endure,” Krueger said.

With a mortgage, utilities, insurance and other expenses, Perry said, officials were able to pay the bills in September. She said the operation is sustaining itself “one month at a time.”

Founded in 1968, the nonprofit organization originally called the Lakeland Animal Welfare Society has grown into a countywide operation. It is a no-kill shelter where stray animals find refuge indefinitely until they are adopted by families in the region.

The 2008 economic recession hit hard when donations fell, but the current financial crisis is much worse.

In the months since the coronavirus pandemic began and then was followed by a national economic slowdown, Perry said, the shelter has been hammered by a loss of revenue, loss of volunteers and increased demand for service.

“It’s just all piled up on us,” she said. “This is definitely the worst that we’ve seen.”

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