SPCA turns off lights, makes cuts to survive

by Eric Ginsburg

The office sits down a winding road in a relatively rural part of northeast Greensboro on a residential street. Manager Caitlin Daly admits it’s an awkward place for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of the Triad, or SPCA, to be located for the last 12 years, but the organization is in no position to move to a better location. Economic downturn has not only meant putting hopes for improvements on hold, it’s forced the SPCA to cut back as much as possible.

Things are going so badly that the group started asking volunteers and employees to keep the lights turned off unless they were absolutely necessary. While kennel technician Elizabeth Schroder said it doesn’t interfere with their work and that the lights could be kept off anyway, she said it exemplifies the lengths the organization is going to try and save money wherever possible.

SPCA employees seem to go the extra mile not just when it comes to saving money, but in every component in their jobs.

“The staff here, and especially my supervisors, work harder at their jobs than any other supervisors that I’ve ever had,” Schroder said. “My supervisor goes on Craigslist and looks for free and at-risk pets.”

Last week she found one, a puppy pit bull at high risk. “I love the work because I know that I have a direct affect on animals’ lives and their wellbeing and I know that our organization works tirelessly to see that we can take care of as many animals as possible,” Schroder said. “To be around so many people who are equally as passionate as I am is really encouraging.”

Sitting in the main office one afternoon last week, which is also cur rently home to two tiny puppies that couldn’t fit anywhere else, Daly had no trouble seeing without the overhead lights on, relying on daylight pouring in through the front windows. Much more frustrating than the lights, she said, is the fact they can no longer operate at full capacity.

“That’s what’s really heartbreaking,” said Daly, who has always been an animal lover, bringing home turtles and rescuing strays as a kid. “We get so many calls every day.”

The office, with multiple rooms for dogs and cats and a handful of outdoor runs for the animals that don’t have anywhere else to go, can hold about 60 animals at a time but Daly said they’ve cut the intake down to reach the 46 animals they have now. It’s all they can manage.

A network of people who foster pets — which opens up space at the shelter for more animals and reduced the risk of spreading diseases — are supplied with free food and litter. The “foster parents” are asked to bring the animal to SPCA adoption fairs or to the shelter so staff can get the animals in front of potential adopters.

Yet the number of cats and dogs the organization can accept isn’t the only thing that’s been cut back: the SPCA has had to scale back its operation from 12 paid employees to eight, five of which are full time, in recent years. Even with a team of volunteers, staff can’t keep up with the volume of animals that need homes, especially without an influx of donations.

Unlike the Guilford County Animal Shelter, the SPCA is entirely driven by private donations and does not receive any public support. Yet the organization plays a fundamentally different role, accepting animals that may not be considered as adoptable — pets that are sick, old or scheduled to be put down at area shelters.

The longest stay for cats and dogs at the office before being adopted this year is four and a half weeks, with the exception of a pregnant dog that had to give birth and some others that were sick and needed to heal first. Considering the cuts the shelter has had to make, Daly said she considers that to be a pretty strong turnaround time, crediting their weekly Saturday adoption events and regular efforts throughout the Triad. Yet there are numerous things that need to be done that the SPCA has been forced to put on hold. The outdoor runs need to be re-graveled at a minimum, but really need to be paved Daly said.

Before the financial crisis hit, staff had hoped of opening an annex to quarantine sick animals — for now they are kept in separate rooms or a pen away from healthy animals because it’s the best the group can offer.

Turning the lights off isn’t the only innovative way SPCA employees have figured out to save money. By transitioning to more holistic medicinal practices with the animals, staff has not only been able to save money, but prevent illness in the first place.

Staff is holding out hope that donors, or even one large donor, could help turn the situation around. Sometimes people forget about them, Daly and Schroder both said, in part because they are tucked far away from most people and because there are other organizations with a greater publicity doing similar work.

It’s not an unreasonable hope. The group’s surgery suite would not have been possible without a sponsor, nor the cages in the quarantine room. Indeed everything the SPCA does is funded by private donations, but those dropped off heavily after the economy tanked four years ago. Still, Daly said a bank sponsored an entire building at a shelter in Rockingham County, and if the organization could find someone or some organization to take an interest in its work, staff said they could greater serve the animals in need.

Schroder said other contributions like more foster homes and donated items like bleach, towels, cleaning supplies, litter and food also help offset the financial strain on the organization and increase its capacity.

Until then, the lights will stay off as much as possible and outreach from the secluded office will primarily remain a once-a-week affair.

The animals will keep coming, especially owner surrenders like one that came in last week because the owner was moving abroad, or four cats that came in recently when someone passed away.

People bring their beloved pets to the SPCA because they know they won’t be put down and recognize the valuable work happening there. Schroder said one woman just dropped off her pet, sobbing while doing it, but told them she was no longer physically capable of caring for it.

To foster, donate, adopt or ask questions, visit