EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 25, 2012

Bad economy forcing animal-rescue group shifts

By Jo-Anne MacKenzie

SALEM — Ask people at the Salem Animal Rescue League whether the economy is improving.

Already feeling the pinch due to an increase in surrendered and abandoned animals, fiscal concerns have prompted some significant organizational changes at SARL.

The executive director's and shelter manager's jobs were eliminated and the five-member board of directors will now assume a much more hands-on role at the shelter.

One familiar face remains. Former shelter manager Patricia Mack is now SARL's development director, focusing on fundraising and events.

"It's a bump in the road, but we're weathering it. I feel we're going to come out of it stronger," Mack said. "I can't emphasize enough the group of people here whose mission is to save animals — from the board to staff to volunteers. We don't want to compromise programs or services. The board came up with this new plan."

The five women on the board will all jump into different aspects of shelter management: operations, development, finance, physical property and Information technology. Each member has expertise in her given area, Mack said.

SARL had only had an executive director for about 18 months. Lisa Giuffrie was hired in 2010 in an effort to move the league forward, Mack said, but the economy halted those plans. She said the elimination of the director's post was not a reflection on Giuffrie's performance.

"Pure and simple, it's the economy," she said. "We had to look at expenses and income — and make changes."

SARL'S mission of "saving four-legged creatures and supporting local communities in that effort" is still the primary focus, according to Mack.

A few part-time workers picked up some extra hours and SARL will continue to rely heavily on volunteers, including board members, she said.

Any plans for moving the organization to donated land elsewhere are on hold for now.

"For this year, the real focus is on staying the course, weathering the storm," Mack said.

Contributing to that stormy weather are both the number of animals coming to the shelter and their medical conditions when they arrive. Many haven't been spayed or neutered, aren't vaccinated and often need dental work, Mack said.

"We're spending more per animal and have more animals," she said. "But it's our mission. We feel once a dog (or cat) is here and quality of life can be returned to them, we'll take care of it."

A "New year, New Home" promotion with reduced adoption fees ends Tuesday. But it's been a big success, according to Mack, resulting in dozens of cats and dogs finding "forever" homes.

"If we wanted to continue the mission we outlined, maybe we could have continued, but services would have to be cut," she said. "Everybody is so dedicated to this place and its mission, everybody's rallying. The most important thing is this mission and the animals we serve."

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