Vet bills, influx of strays straining Griffin Pond Animal Shelter's budget

Sep. 25—The Griffin Pond Animal Shelter already spent more than $260,000 on veterinary care when Betty arrived last month, her right eye bulging from its socket.

Staff at the South Abington Twp. shelter hoped medications would cure the approximately 8-year-old stray Lhasa apso mix. They soon realized there was no choice but to have a veterinarian remove her eye at an estimated cost of $2,000.

Betty is among a seemingly endless number of dogs and cats, many with significant medical issues, the shelter has taken in this year, Executive Director Ashley Wolo said.

The same week Betty arrived, the shelter took in Duke, a miniature Doberman pinscher with a benign tumor hanging from his belly. A week earlier, Oreo, a Boston terrier mix, came in with his rectum protruding from his anus, requiring surgery. Duke's surgery is expected to cost about $800, while Oreo's bill is expected to be $4,000, Wolo said.

Veterinary bills have always been one of the top expenses, but this year has been exceptionally tough, Wolo said. She expects vet bills to top $350,000 by the end of the year, up from $264,000 last year.

The expense is especially hard to cover as the no-kill shelter continues to see an unprecedented influx of animals, she said. As of Sept. 22, it had about 70 dogs and 200 cats — a 75% increase over the typical dog population in a normal year and a 55% increase in the cat population.

The nonprofit shelter, which operates on a roughly $1.3 million budget, also faces huge increases in everyday expenses such as food, cat litter, cleaning supplies and utilities. Wolo projects total expenses will top $1.5 million, about $300,000 more than last year.

It relies entirely on donations and fundraising events. So far this year, the shelter received about $216,000 in monetary donations. That compares to $253,000 last year, Wolo said.

Staff is working hard to reduce expenses, but it's become increasingly difficult to make ends meet, she said. The shelter is dipping into an investment fund to help cover shortfalls. There's enough to ensure its financially stable for this year and next, but she worries about the future.

"If the current trend continues, within a few years it will be depleted," she said. "If things don't change, we're going to have to make drastic changes ... or the shelter will be closed in years to come."

For this year, she is counting on additional donations and upcoming fundraisers to help ease the financial strain. That will not solve the underlying issue of people mistreating and abandoning dogs and cats, however.

Wolo said she's particularly troubled by an increase in the number of "stray" dogs and cats coming in, many of which she suspects are not truly strays.

"We're finding that more than ever people are just dumping their animals or lying in order to get shelters or rescues to take in animals," Wolo said.

Sherry Colly, the shelter's director of development, cited the case of a pitbull left tied to tree in Scranton's Nay Aug Park on Sept. 8.

Shelter staff searched Facebook after receiving a tip and believe the dog, named Barry, is owned by a person in Tobyhanna.

"It's really sad," Colly said. "His picture is still up on the page."

Betty is among the sadder cases. She was found wandering on Route 435 in Daleville. Wolo said it's unclear what caused her eye condition but she suspects it was an untreated medical issue, and not a traumatic injury.

"Something simple you might be able to correct with eye drops, but if it goes untreated it can progress pretty quickly," she said. "Unfortunately, it's just not salvageable. It's just too far gone."

Cases like Betty's take an emotional toll on staff and volunteers.

Teri Snyder, 63, of Madison Twp., volunteers at the shelter several days a week. She's aghast at the condition of some of the animals.

"I don't know if some people really understand just how bad it is," Snyder said. "One comes in and you think it can't get any worse, then another comes through. ... Sometimes you go out in tears."

Wolo suspects the influx is largely tied to economic struggles exacerbated by high inflation. She urges those owners to contact the shelter, which can put them in touch with resources that can help.

"A lot of people find themselves in really difficult situations," Wolo said. "That doesn't mean that you just give up your responsibility and let a shelter have to deal with it. We're in the same boat."

Contact the writer:; 570-348-9137; @tmbeseckerTT on Twitter.