BROOKSVILLE — As residents adjust to a new normal created by the COVID-19 health scare, Susana Arneson, director of development at the Hernando County Humane Society, is worried. More than 200 animals are dependent on her, and she said they will suffer if the pandemic continues for any length of time.
The Humane Society, like others throughout the country, provides a home for pets surrendered by owners and strays — and often saves animals from euthanasia by pulling high-risk cases from kill shelters in both Hernando and Pasco counties.
Residents may or may not know the facility is a no-kill shelter, but many don’t know that it is 100% dependent on donations — it receives no government funding or grants. All funds used to care for the animals, which average to about $10,000 a month, come from community efforts.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has halted donation and adoption events, causing the organization to lose hundreds per weekend, Arneson said, and has diminished donations by at least 50%. Typically, the organization adopts out 100 pets a month to forever homes, but currently, adoptions are also down by 50%.
“I understand people are worried about their jobs and their livelihood,” Arneson said.
But if donations stop, she added, the Humane Society will no longer be able to take in cases.
And as donations dwindle, cases increase.
According to Arneson, surrenders are arriving almost daily. People are abandoning animals at an alarming rate, she said, some directly at the facility — many of which are medically fragile, emaciated, and require immediate medical intervention.
In a panic to protect against the virus, Arneson said some residents believe that COVID-19 can be transmitted between animals and humans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, states the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low.
That fear is hurting the Humane Society because they cannot keep up with the demand amid a crisis that is also attacking their funding, she said.
There was hope in the generosity that came from the plea for pet food at the start of the pandemic when the community came through, donating enough to keep the animals fed for about six months.
Unfortunately, the facility was burglarized on April 2 and thieves wiped out of those generous supplies. Everything was taken after a man and a woman made entry by cutting through the back fence, according to officials.
Arneson posted a plea for help on Facebook the following morning, when the crisis had been discovered.
“Moments later, the phones began to ring. People wanted to help,” Patricia Rummel, the office administrator, wrote on the website. “So many people. At times, I had phones at each ear. The callers were crying. I was crying. It was such an outpouring of Love and Amazing Grace.”
One by one, vehicles lined up in front of the facility to drop off donations.
“Dozens upon dozens of surgical-masked strangers were patiently waiting in the car line, entering past the gate and popping their trunks,” Rummel said. “They brought donations from as far away as Orlando. They handed us cash. They handed us checks. They gave us love and strength.”
Within 24 hours, arrests were made of the suspects, who later confessed.
Arneson witnessed how quickly the community pulled together to save the animals.
Now, she’s pleading for cash donations to help pay for medical procedures and supplies. Financial donations are safe and accepted through their website and Facebook account.
Arneson, who took over the position of direction in 2018, said she will not quit in her efforts, despite the new challenges the organization is facing, because she said the animals need her.
“And I love it,” she said. “I’m so proud to be part of such an amazing community.”
The Humane Society of the Nature Coast is located at 7200 Mobley Road, Brooksville. Follow it on Facebook or visit its website at www.HumaneRescue.org