On the eve of Woofstock, Humane Society celebrates two milestone anniversaries
Part two: What is HSLC and what do they actually do?

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[September 20, 2016]   LINCOLN - Ask just about anyone and they will tell you that a humane society, in general, is a sheltering program that offers a no-kill, temporary location for orphaned animals awaiting adoption. While the adoption of animals is obvious, what isn’t obvious is that the HSLC offers programs that one wouldn’t normally think about. In this segment, Ellen Burbage, Wanda Stevens, and Marilyn Wheat will talk about the various programs at the Humane Society of Logan County.

The Spay/Neuter program

The HSLC began working with the Spay/Neuter Program almost from the beginning. The program is offered to the public through HSLC and the Animal Protective League of Springfield. It allows families to take advantage of a needed service at a reduced price. At the same time, the program serves the community in that it reduces the number of animals that families find themselves unable to care for. And, animals that come to the shelter are spayed or neutered as part of the adoption process, so families can know that they are adopting one animal, with no potential for litters down the road.

The program started with only a few animals in the first years, but it grew to a high point of 400 to 500 animals per year. Now, the number is falling. That is a good sign from the HSLC viewpoint because as Burbage and Stevens noted, it signifies that there are fewer animals in need of the service.

Stevens and Burbage spoke about the way the program started with meeting up with the Animal Protective League in the Steak-n-Shake parking lot. Pets would be unloaded for HSLC volunteer vehicles into the APL vehicles and sent off to Springfield. The weather could be good, bad, wet, cold, snowy, icy, whatever, and they were there to make the exchange.

Nowadays, the two parties meet at Big R in Lincoln. Burbage said it was another one of those generous contributions that people don’t often know has happened. The Big R is now located in what used to be Wal-Mart before the Super Store opened. On the west end of that building is a garage-like area with overhead doors. Burbage and Stevens said that now, the HSLC takes the dogs and cats to that part of the store where they can be taken inside out of the elements to await loading into the APL vehicle. The women said this is a big thing that Big R does for them, their volunteers, and the animals, and it is greatly appreciated by all of them.

Dogs and cats can be taken to Springfield, and there is a fee involved, but it is less than the fee that might be charged by a veterinarian. Fees are based on the species, sex, and sometimes breed of the animal. To participate, pet owners can contact the HSLC and reserve a spot on the next transport. These events take place once a month.

Humane Investigators

The “humane investigator” program is vitally important to the well-being of animals, but for those who volunteer, it is a big investment. First, there is an education and certification process that each volunteer must go through. But then, once they are on duty, the investigative process, though not physically demanding, can be very draining emotionally.

Stevens said in addition, humane investigators are mandated reporters in the state of Illinois. She explained, there may be instances when a case of animal abuse or neglect is reported, and once the investigator gets there, they realize that this abuse or neglect is also apparent among children in the family. When child abuse is suspected, the humane investigator is obligated to report this to the Department of Child and Family Services. Likewise, the DCFS reports to the Humane Society suspicions of animal neglect or abuse when they make family visits.

It was explained, that the HSLC cannot just walk into a home a take a pet away. There is a process that must be followed that includes warning the pet owner and advising them to adjust the way they are treating their animal. They must document the neglect or abuse, including photographing the animal, and interviewing the owners. They make multiple follow-up visits, each time determining if conditions are improving, and giving written warnings of what needs to be done to improve the situation.

Stevens noted that these could be tense situations sometimes, to the point that perhaps the police are needed to accompany the investigator to the home. She noted that the cooperation the HSLC gets from the Lincoln Police Department is remarkable. She said whenever the investigators call for assistance; the department is always eager to help.

At the moment the HSLC has four investigators, but it needs to add at least one more for next year. Stevens explained that because the job can be emotionally draining, investigators need to be able to take a break from the job. Adding another person to the list would be very helpful.

A food pantry for pets

It isn’t something we think about often, but situations that affect the well-being of humans, also impact their pets. For example, the loss of an income can impact the family in a very negative way, making it hard for them to pay their bills, keep a roof over their heads, or even put food on the table. Families in these types of situations have to make tough choices, do they pay the rent or buy food for their children. When pets are involved, this becomes an extra burden to the already stressed household.

At the HSLC, the ultimate goal is to keep pets happy and healthy, and keep them with their families whenever possible. To that end, a shelter is a place where pet owners can come and get pet food and supplies in a time of need.

Wheat and Burbage also commented, that again, this program is dependent upon community support. The pet products that are utilized in the pantry are from donated supplies, as is much of the food that is given to resident animals.

Among the many who help support this program are the children at New Holland-Middletown School. As a part of their community giving program at the school, at least once a year the children host a drive to benefit HSLC. They collect items needed for the shelter - food, litter products, paper towels, laundry soap and more. The items are given to the shelter, first to use for the resident pets, but secondly to make it possible for the shelter to help out a family when the need arises.

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In the weekly newsletters, the HSLC also asks for donations of pet supplies. Folks do help out, sometimes picking up a bag of dog food or some cat litter and dropping it off at the shelter when they go shopping.

Having the food pantry is part of the ultimate goal of the HSLC to have pets live in happy, healthy homes with loving families. When an adult is unemployed and unable to provide for the family, the family pet can sometimes be the first thing that has to go, because it does cost money to keep a pet. If the HSLC can help in this manner, that takes at least one burden from the family.

What the HSLC cannot do

Some may not realize it, but the HSLC is not a place that can take in stray animals. It happens from time to time. Folks move and can’t take their animal with them, or they have a pet they no longer want, and instead of bringing it to the shelter, they turn it loose to roam the streets and fend for itself. These animals often end up causing a disturbance in the neighborhood, or take up residence in abandoned buildings. Burbage explained that the HSLC cannot be called to come and catch an animal and shelter it. That is the job of the Animal Control program. It was also explained that Animal Control could, however, give a pet over to the HSLC under specific circumstances.

Stevens said, once an animal is taken in at the Animal Control, there is a period where an owner can come and claim the animal, but if the animal is not claimed, the Animal Control may contact HSLC to take in the abandoned pet.

Burbage said that the Animal Control organization in Logan County has been very good to work with and does what it can to save animals from euthanasia.

Woofstock, why are we moving?

As mentioned earlier, Woofstock is coming up, and this year it will be in a new location. The annual dog event started out small and was first held at Kickapoo Park. The goal, Burbage said was to hold an event that puts the HSLC in the spotlight in the community, draws attention to the animals that are up for adoption, and raises money to keep the shelter running. It was a chance for the HSLC to say "Thank you" to a community that supports it so well, by offering a free and fun day-long family event.

When the event moved to Latham Park, it continued to grow with vendors coming in that sold their wares, food offerings, live music and much more. The event has continued to grow and be a big part of the larger fundraising picture.

Burbage said this year it is moving again, and the reason comes down to “Don’t tempt Mother Nature.” This is the fifth Woofstock. The first four have all been held outdoors, with no alternate location or time if the weather were bad. Thus far, every year, the weather has been good, but Burbage said the tide might change someday, and like many other outdoor events, a rainy day means no profits.

Burbage said that when the topic came to where to hold the event, the Logan County Fairgrounds was a natural fit for its evolution. She said the Logan County Fair Board members were great to work with in getting the space, and this year, vendors will be located inside the event building at the south end of the fairgrounds. She said there are plans to have family and pet activities outside and activities inside as well, so it should be another great day in the Lincoln Community.

This year, there has been a King and Queen Contest going on through social media that will crown a top dog in both the female and male categories. She said that Slightom had handled that, as well as a great deal of the other organization of the event. The contest included the nomination of pets on social media, and then consequent voting. The male and female dogs with the most votes will be crowned at Woofstock.

How do they do it all?

With an organization that is made up of 99 percent volunteers and only one paid employee, that serves an entire county, and even beyond, how does the HSLC keep going? And, how do they manage to afford to do all the things they do? How do they manage to accomplish it all? For Burbage, the answer is short and sweet; dedicated volunteers and a very supportive community.

In the final segment of this series, the three women, all volunteers, will talk about the importance of the volunteer program, as well as the value of the support of the entire community.

[Nila Smith]

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