Monroe Co. agency finds niche helping pet owners

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Unlike some pet service organizations in Bloomington, the Monroe County Humane Association does not, for the most part, provide direct services to animals.

Rather, it provides financial assistance to pet owners, offers camps and educational programs to the public and organizes "pet therapy" visits to people who can benefit from the interactions.

In 2012, the association gave vouchers to pet owners, which they used to have more than 540 pets spayed or neutered at discounted prices ranging from free to $20 off; used grant money to provide 495 vaccines to pets for a $5 co-pay from each owner; and provided vouchers to partially pay for 75 pets to receive emergency care from a veterinarian.

"In most cases, our emergency care provides the cost of an office visit so people can get in the door to find out what needs to be done," said Sara Peterson, chairwoman of the MCHA's board.

Peterson said MCHA staff members ask people about their household incomes before giving them vouchers, but don't require written proof of income.

In 2012, the MCHA's veterinary partner directly provided nearly 300 vaccinations and more than 30 microchips to pets through the association's own vaccination clinic.

Those numbers were down from more than 1,000 vaccinations and 80 microchips the previous year, Peterson said, because MCHA's veterinary partner moved out of state. The agency now refers people to PetsAlive for low-cost vaccinations.

The microchips were implanted for $15 each by its veterinarian at the humane association's vaccination clinic, or by Bloomington Animal Care and Control staff at the Bloomington Animal Shelter. The microchip is injected under the skin of the animal between the shoulder blades. Each chip has a unique identifying number that can be seen when the animal is electronically scanned. The number is registered to the owner in a national database.

Peterson said the humane association's niche in the local animal care community stems from its focus on the human/animal bond.

"By offering assistance programs and resources, providing humane education and therapy animal teams, convening around important issues and supporting both animals and community members in crisis, we are able to protect, advocate and educate for animal welfare in the community," she said. "At the same time, our colleagues at PetsAlive, WildCare and the shelter can focus on their pieces of the animal welfare puzzle."

The MCHA in 2012 provided 224 humane education programs and 17 informational displays that reached 8,644 people at 50 locations. The programs focused on such things as dog bite prevention, responsible pet care, animal sheltering, spay/neuter and puppy mills. More than 800 people participated in Animal Reading Friends, in which students hone their reading skills at the Monroe County Public Library by reading to dogs.

The MCHA also participated in most of the Franklin Initiative Reality Stores, teaching middle school students about the responsibilities and expenses of pet ownership; and operated five Paws and Claws summer camps for youth that took place at the Bloomington Animal Shelter and Canine Companions.

Through VIPaws, an MCHA program launched in 2002, 15 teams made therapy animal visits at facilities in Monroe and surrounding counties. The teams visit and interact with people in retirement centers, nursing homes, schools and libraries.

In 2012, VIPaws teams provided more than 300 hours of therapy animal visits at 28 locations, touching the lives of more than 9,000 people. VIPaws is an affiliate of the National Pet Partners program, which has more than 3,000 therapy animal teams in the U.S.

"The therapy animals provide a calming and therapeutic atmosphere and can encourage people to become engaged in activities in which they might otherwise be reluctant," Peterson said.

The MCHA in 2012 provided subscriptions to 55 Monroe County classrooms for "KIND News," a bi-monthly magazine that emphasizes the kind treatment of animals. It also offered two Pet Partners workshops in 2012, attended by 29 people who came from Indiana and surrounding states. As a result, VIPaws added three new therapy dog teams and two new handlers that year. In addition, six handlers of seven dogs renewed their Pet Partners registration that year.

The organization also has a club for middle school students, the Animal Advocates Middle School Program, which meets monthly to explore animal welfare topics and listen to special guests speak about topics such as search and rescue, dog training, pet first aid and animal rescue. Club members and association staff regularly participate in service projects to benefit the Bloomington Animal Shelter.

In 2012, the humane association staff testified before the state Legislature on laws involving

the humane treatment of animals and worked with law enforcement and other agencies on large-scale animal rescues involving hoarding, puppy mills, dog fighting and cockfighting.

"This work touches countless animals that benefit from better laws to protect them, educated pet owners and children who make better decisions regarding animals, and a more animal savvy and educated general public," Peterson said. "We provide information about humane legislation on our website and Facebook page, and in displays and programs."

Peterson is on leave from her board position for a short time to provide some part-time, interim executive assistance while the organization searches for a new executive director to replace Sarah Hayes, who resigned after nine years at the helm to become resource development director with United Way of Monroe County. In 2012, the executive director's gross salary was $47,112.

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