Compassion starts with a Passion: How Donating time, funds and bolstering awareness fortifies one of Vermont's largest nonprofit community organizations.
Recently I was approached by Heidi Kvasnak of Yoga Roots in Shelburne, Vermont to sell some of my work out of her studio. When making any of my malas or bracelets, the main intention is for every purchase to support dog rescue. We both agreed that any donations generated from selling my malas at Yoga Roots should support a local rescue organization. We agreed upon The Humane Society of Chittenden County (HSCC).
With HSCC decided upon, I felt it was important to share the work this amazing organization does for their community, and how they support 800-1200 homeless companion animals in Chittenden County and beyond every year. I reached out to HSCC and I was able to speak with Kylie Degroot: Director of Development and Communications.
In the interview with Kylie, she talks about how she found employment at HSCC through her work with nonprofits. She discusses the work they have done to support their mission to “foster compassionate treatment of animals and to prevent animal suffering.” She stresses the importance of community, and how HSCC connects with the community by educating youth through their Camp Paw Paw program, or by spending time getting to know their neighbors through the Bark and Brew series. HSCC is a truly wonderful organization with many opportunities to get involved. Please visit their website, chittendenhumane.org to find out more about their services, programs, and ways to give.
Shannon- You graduated from UVM in the spring of 2015 with a degree in Nutrition and Food Sciences. I read that you interned and worked with nonprofits. Is this what led you to HSCC?
Kylie- I grew up in Vermont, and in college I was having a hard time deciding what I wanted to study as an undergrad. I picked up on nutrition which really piqued my interest. I did a few internships and jobs with nonprofits. The first one I did was with the National Gardening Association. Then I moved on to Common Roots based out of South Burlington. Through that internship I met a bunch of influential community members. A member of the board at HSCC worked at the National Gardening Association and recommended I apply for a position that opened up at HSCC. Naturally I ended up at HSCC. I absolutely love my job at HSCC and I strongly believe in the mission. It’s very easy for me to ask for support for something in which I believe so strongly.
S- Interesting to think about gardening, and animal rescue, all these things interconnecting, bringing people into places they never could imagine they would land.
K-You never know where you’re going to wind up or where you are headed. I believe in building a strong community where you live. That’s something that’s important to me, and that has helped get me here.
S- HSCC was founded in 1901, and the organization grew into a bigger space in the late 1990’s. To me this reflects a huge success story, to be in operation for well over 100 years. What would you say one of the greatest achievements for HSCC has been?
K- We’ve been around for 116 years. We are one of the oldest humane societies in the country. We are very proud of that accomplishment. I would say we have a very strong and sophisticated board of directors who helps guide our strategic initiative each year. We have a large board, and people are able to step in and get involved when they are able to, and attend to their normal busy lives when they need. We have a very strong leadership currently with Nancy Cathcart as our president and CEO who has pulled this organization out of financial difficulty. She has strengthened all of our financial protocols and improved our fundraising. We’ve become a viable and healthy organization over the past few years. Because we’ve managed to stay afloat and run this place for so long, there’s definitely been very strong leadership throughout to enable this place to survive. Each year we have to raise a lot of money to keep the lights on, and to medically treat all the animals that we care for.
S- That number must be astounding. The organization takes in 800-1200 rescues per year. I was stunned by that number. I’m going to say foster care seems to be a large part of your organization. Does foster care allow for this number to be possible, or does that number fall on HSCC?
K- There’s a huge community need for us, always. To be here, and to be available to take in all these animals. We do have a foster care program. It’s something that we are looking to grow, but it’s really crucial in our efforts to take in young animals, especially very young kittens and pregnant mother cats. Little baby animals have weaker immune systems, and the shelter can be a stressful environment for them, so we like to get the really young ones in a home and out of the shelter so they can build up a strong immunity. They all come back through our shelter doors so they can be adopted out through HSCC. Most all of the animals come through our doors, stay for however long they need, to be treated medically, then they go up for adoption and they’ll go home. We can have about 100 animals here at one time. That would be a very full shelter at 100.
S- What is the number currently at?
K- It’s hard to say, I would have to check with our animal supervisor. I would estimate we have about 70 animals right now.
S- So, you’re pretty close to capacity?
K- Yes, we are at capacity here. The cool thing about that is we have a very high adoption rate. On Monday, we adopted out 18 kittens. It’s pretty amazing how quickly we are able to move animals through here. That’s our goal, to have a short length of stay so that they get into homes as soon as possible. We know animals are always happier in a home than in the shelter. Even though we try very hard to make it comfortable and nice as it possibly can be for them.
S- Again, this is a testament to the work you have done, to be able to find that quicker placement of homes so you can take in more animals. I have a lot of friends that work in animal rescue and fostering. I am aware of the magnitude of animals coming from the South in need of rescue. I’m curious as to why so many animals from the South end up in the North. I don’t know if this is because spay and neuter programs aren’t as effective down South. Do you have any opinions on this?
K- You hit it right on the head. In the South there aren’t as strong spay and neuter programs in place, and there are more puppy mills than in New England. New England is a gem and outlier when you look at animal sheltering. We are very different than the rest of the country. We have very strong spay and neuter policies, and education around that. There are a lot less puppy mills, especially in Vermont. Vermont is ahead of the game in terms of getting the animal population at a controllable level. One of the awesome things about that is we are seeing a difference in the amount of stray animals in Vermont over the past year. We’ve had more room in our shelter, and that means we’ve been able to form partnerships with other rescue groups in the South. We are able to transport dogs and cats up from high kill shelters who are overflowing with pets. We’ve been able to help other groups outside our county as well, which is wonderful.
S- I noticed Ruffy Rescue Transport Fund enables HSCC to support struggling transport partners. Could you tell me more about this fund?
K- We partner with different transport groups and rescues in the South who are overrun with the number of dogs they can handle. There’s way too many. We are very lucky at HSCC. We do not euthanize for time or space. We would never euthanize a dog who’s been sitting here for X amount of months just because they’ve been here for too long. Down South, they don’t have the luxury. It’s something that they really struggle with. There are way too many dogs constantly waiting to get into the shelter. They have to euthanize based on time and length of stay. We have been able to build a partnership with various different rescue groups who can pull dogs from the shelter. They foster them for two weeks before they come up to Vermont. Two weeks is the amount of time that an infectious disease may show up, so we try and limit all of the possible risks of bringing any sort of disease up to Vermont. We have pretty strict policies on certain vaccinations that they have to get, and medical protocols to insure that we’re bringing healthy animals up here. We transport the animals up to HSCC. The transport is funded by the Ruffy Rescue Transport Fund, which is sponsored by Under The Weather Pets. They’re one of our most generous sponsors over the past couple years, and have enabled us to save hundreds of dog’s lives from the South who may have been euthanized if we didn’t form this partnership.
S- I did read the mission of HSCC is to “foster compassionate treatment of animals and to prevent animal suffering.” I wanted to ask you about Helyn Kerr Humane Education Series. I felt this is important as far as what you are doing in the community to support that mission.
K- We do have a humane education program here. There are multiple different prongs off of that, and one of them is the Helyn Kerr Humane Education Series- which is something that we hold quarterly here at the shelter. We will either bring in a professional from the animal welfare field, or have one of our very knowledgeable staff members present on a topic that seems really prominent or potent at the time. In May we had our Humane Investigator, Joanne Nichols present along with a couple of her colleagues on animal cruelty, current cases and legislation in Vermont. This is a free seminar, so anyone from the community is invited to come. We had about 50 people come to our last seminar. Folks normally stay for the whole presentation, and then after they ask lots of questions because they’re pretty engaging seminars that we host here. We’re very happy to engage with our community on this sort of level, in terms of educating and then receiving feedback or misnomers that they have about the topics that we’ve decided to cover. We’ve covered the misnomers about pit bulls. We had a surgeon come from BEVS, which is Burlington Emergency Veterinary Specialists in South Burlington, present on when it’s medically necessary to take your dog or cat to the vet. All sorts of different topics.
S- Do people voluntarily sign up on their own for these presentations?
K- We put these presentations out there in all the avenues and places that we know how to. We don’t have an RSVP, people show up, and it’s really exciting to see how many people attend.
S- Education in the community is so important, and I love that you are including children in that role of education through Camp Paw Paw. Could you elaborate a little more on the role that children play in animal rescue?
K- We love our Camp Paw Paw. It’s a wonderful part of our humane education program. We really like to stress Camp Paw Paw as one of the most important programs that we offer in terms of educating our youth here in the community, and we find that if you teach kids from a young age how to treat animals well, that translates over how to treat other human beings well. It’s a wonderful skill for kids to learn at a young age, and Camp Paw Paw is a great program with a lot of different speakers who present. We get professionals from the animal welfare field to attend. Vermont Disc Dogs will come in a do a demonstration, or we’ll have a police K9 come by and they’ll do a demonstration for the kids. We have bug hunts and different reptiles come in, a large tortoise, and a hedgehog. It’s not just about companion animals, which is what our mission focuses on. It’s really about the humane treatment of all kinds of animals. The kids get to see a wide variety of animals and learn from a wide variety of people and what they believe is important, for example: “Please don’t squish the bug!”, the role of different animals in the environment, the importance of police K9’s, how to care for dogs, and how to bandage an injured cat’s wound.There’s a whole slew of things that they’ll learn.
S- It’s sounds like this camp is something I would like to join.
K- Sometimes I go out there and listen to the speakers. It’s pretty amazing.
S- It looks as though you’ve completed The Walk For The Animals and 5K Doggie Fun Run. It seems as though this event has been very successful and has enabled HSCC to reach some of its goals. Is this is one of the biggest fundraisers for HSCC?
K- We have three major fundraising events in a year, and The Walk for The Animals and 5K Doggie Fun Run is our largest fundraising event. This year was our most successful year ever which, we are thrilled about. We raised over $100,000. We always have to take that into perspective with the whole budget in mind. That is 1/9th of our operating budget. There’s a whole lot of other fundraising that has to go on in addition to the wonderful events that we host. We heavily rely on individual donations, donations from community members and businesses to sustain our well being each year, and to reach our goals. The walk is our most important event. It’s been going on for 23 years. Each year we come up with a new little twist to keep it exciting. We changed the location this year to Veterans Memorial Park in South Burlington. It’s a beautiful new site for us. There’s a one mile walk and a 5K doggie fun run. It’s Vermont’s largest dog-friendly event. We had nearly 400 people in attendance and so much support from the community. We were just so stunned by the outpouring of generosity around that event.
K- It does. We were blown away by this year and can’t wait to do it all over again next year.
S- As soon as an event like this wraps up, it’s almost like you’re asking yourself, “What’s next?”
K- We have to work really hard every single day to continue the fund raising. It takes a lot of money to keep this place running and to care for so many animals.
S- With all the offerings that take place through HSCC, it’s astounding. I can’t even imagine the numbers... Could you to tell me a little more about the Bark and Brew Series? This to me sounds like something I would thoroughly enjoy. I love beer, I love dogs, the two kind of go hand-in-hand. Does The Bark and Brew Series help generate any sort of financial support for HSCC?
K- Bark and Brew is one of our three fund raisers for the year. Purses for Paws is the first fundraiser in February of each year. That fundraising event brought in over $50,000 this year, which is the beast we’ve done yet. Then we have the Walk For The Animals, and then Bark and Brew is our final event of the year. It starts on August 10th and it runs for seven Thursdays at HSCC from 5:30-7:30PM. Each week a different local brewer will come by and donate their beer for the night. Folks will pay an entry fee of $20. With that they get three beer tickets and one ticket for a taco from Moe’s, a very generous sponsor who attends every week. The way we raise money from this event is the $20 entry fee from all of our participants, and through sponsorships from local businesses. North Country Federal Credit Union is our presenting sponsor for this event this year. We have a whole slew of other generous sponsors including Crate Escape who is there to manage the dog yard. We had almost 200 people one night last year when it was our biggest night, and there’s a lot of dogs there too. We like to keep them as safe as possible- there are people drinking beer, and there is a lot of food around. We try to ensure a safe environment while the dogs are playing. Crate Escape is there to help us out with that.
K- We have a big play yard. You can hang outside the play yard with your dog on leash, or you can take them off leash in the play yard.
S- Fun times! It sounds crazy, but fun!
K- We started a few years ago and it was very small. We had between 30 and 40 people each time if we were lucky. Last year through word of mouth and through our social media it really blew up. We had around 75 people, and then almost 200 people one night. It became the talk of the town here in Chittenden County. It’s a great way for our staff to connect with our community members. For this event it’s not a huge fundraiser for us but every dollar helps here. We also love to use our events to meet and connect community members and dog lovers.
S- That’s what it’s all about. The more outreach you do, the more connection you have, the more help you will receive.
K- That’s definitely something we believe in.
S- Is there anything near and dear to your heart as far as what you’re doing at HSCC that we haven’t discussed?
K- I would like to discuss how we’ve been able to place older and sicker animals into homes. About 20 years ago we didn’t really have the capacity to care for really, really sick animals. Things have really changed around here. Through our outreach on social media, and through our website which is hugely followed in the community, we are able to find animals who are sick or very old and need hospice care homes, which is something almost unheard of in the sheltering world these days. We are really thrilled about that. We can find Foxy, a dog who’s way overweight, and a senior dog, a home for her golden years. These families come out of the woodwork, have huge hearts, and take on these dogs, or cats, or small animals and provide them great care for the last year or month of their life. That is very heartwarming for our staff who work so closely with the animals and care for them so deeply and so intimately. To be able to find a cat who has diabetes of is FIV positive is a huge feat for us. We are very grateful that our community is so accepting and caring toward all of these animals.
S- You are pulling at my heartstrings.
K- It’s really wonderful!
I am overjoyed to be able to donate to HSCC through my work with the help of Yoga Roots. I invite you to take a look at yogarootsvt.com for some of their class offerings.
They have Karma Yoga at All Souls Interfaith Gathering located at 291 Botswick Farm Road in Shleburne, Vermont. These donation based classes are good for you and the community. All proceeds from classes held at All Souls will support Audubon Vermont.
Yoga Roots also offers Vinyasa at The Farm. Join Kim Servin at Adam's Berry Farm to practice yoga in a beautiful setting to benefit Charlotte Land Trust. Adam's Berry Farm is located at 985 Bingham Brook Road in Charlotte, Vermont.
Enjoy your summer everyone, and thanks for sharing support in your community!
Editing and Title by: Tara Perkins