Since it was founded in 2006, The Animal Shelter of Texas County (TASTC) has successfully met numerous challenges head on.
But the facility on Highway 17, a couple of miles east of Houston, is facing a new type of challenge that’s big and daunting – and instead of having to do with animals, it’s of the financial variety.
After a recent reorganization, TASTC has a six-member board who are dealing with debt and tax-related issues from past years that include surprisingly huge numbers. Much of the debt burden stems from the construction of the Bark Plaza Pet Hotel, an elaborate 7,400 square-foot boarding and grooming facility next to the shelter that opened in 2014 with the goal of producing revenue to fund the shelter’s operation. Meanwhile, the tax issues are a result of employee federal and state withholding not being paid for more than a year.
According to board treasurer Debbie Lemon, TASTC’s financial obligations include a $320,000 real estate loan with Security Bank of the Ozarks, a personal loan of $100,000 that board members shared, a $52,000 bill with the IRS, $40,000 in credit card balances, a veterinarian bill of $20,000, leftover construction costs in the range of $20,000, vaccine bills of about $15,000 and $4,000 owed to the Missouri Department of Revenue.
“And there’s more, but we’re still sorting through it all,” Lemon said. “Right now, everything is cash business for us. Of course, we have no choice in that.”
TASTC’s board recently made the decision to close the Bark Plaza, and its last day is Dec. 31.
“We’re going to focus more on animal welfare again, and we got away from that,” Lemon said.
The Bark Plaza’s interior is equipped with high-end flooring, dozens of huge panes of glass and even granite countertops on its front desk. Lemon and other board members lament the large sums of money that came and went because of the ill-fated facility.
“It’s heart-breaking how much money was tied up in it that could have gone toward animal welfare,” Lemon said. “We borrowed $350,000 and then another $100,000, we raised $70,000 in a gun raffle, I know many $10-and-$20,000 donations came in, and one lady left us about $450,000. At least a million dollars has gone into that – think about how many dogs and cats that would have benefited.
“And the sad thing is, we really don’t know where a lot of that money went.”
Dorothy Ogden, who has been a TASTC board member from the beginning, said multiple decisions with regard to the Bark Plaza were made without board approval.
“And there were times we wanted to get bids but none were taken,” Ogden said.
Closing the Bark Plaza will cut about $3,000 in monthly expenditure, Lemon said, based on wages and utility bills.
“The whole purpose of building it was to support the shelter,” Lemon said, “and it never did. It didn’t make a profit – and couldn’t make a profit.”
A letter submitted to the Houston Herald last week by TASTC board members mentioned a goal of raising $5,000 by month’s end. Thanks to several sizable donations, more than $10,000 has already been raised.
Lemon said the bank is working with the shelter, allowing a $1,200-a-month interest-only payment for the first six months of 2017.
“They’ve been very understanding and helpful,” she said. “We’ll review the situation with them at the end of the six months.”
TASTC’s maximum payroll included 10 paid employees (including the Bark Plaza), and there are now five. Three board members have been in place since the facility’s inception (including Ogden, Jan Squire and Erikke Nielsen), while others have been around for a several years and still others represent “new blood,” including Shayla Black (the designated “social media guru”).
Two more board members are soon to be added, and the group functions as a singular unit without an official president or chairperson.
“It’s working well that way,” Lemon said. “This board is on it – everyone takes a piece of the pie.”
“And everything is very transparent,” Black said. “There are no secrets and everybody knows what’s going on.”
As TASTC moves forward, spay and neuter programs and heightened public awareness are in the plans, along with a campaign to educate people about proper pet care and maintenance. Board members have this year visited two schools as part of the campaign.
“Our goal isn’t just to house animals, it’s about creative welfare and creating a new mindset,” Lemon said. “Imagine if we spent 20 years going into schools teaching kids how to be responsible for pets. You know what kind of people we’d have? Responsible pet people.”
One of the primary things TASTC wants to promote in the education process is training people to be less eager to give animals to the facility.
“We get way more calls from people wanting to bring us animals than we could possibly ever house here,” Black said.
“And I talk to people all the time who are so happy to bring their dogs and cats to us,” Lemon said. “But that’s not how it works; just because you have or see an animal, those aren’t always the ones that need us. We really want people to help us by finding homes for animals themselves more often.
“And we wish more people would spay or neuter their dogs or cats so we don’t have to take in litter after litter from them.”
State officials often recognize TASTC for being one of the cleanest animal facilities in the Ozarks.
The board intends to retain the facility’s long-standing “no kill” policy.
“That’s always a challenge because of the cost of caring for some animals,” Lemon said, “but we really want to be a safe haven for them.”
TASTC also plans to maintain a relationship with the Missouri Department of Corrections and its “Puppies for Parole” dog-training program.
“That has changed many prisoners’ lives,” Ogden said, “and a lot of them end up working with dogs in some way when they get out.”
As is virtually always the case, TASTC currently has many animals (more than 50) in its care awaiting adoption. Lemon said it takes close to $20,000 per month to properly operate the facility, including utilities, payroll, food, all the “vetting” and everything else. That, of course, doesn’t include payment of the vast debts and other obligations.
“More would make things even better, but that gets us by,” Lemon said.
While nothing is set in stone and the situation is in many ways troublesome, TASTC board members are optimistic that the financial storm can be weathered and the facility can one day get completely out of debt and resume some semblance of normality.
“If this was any other type of business, nobody would have stuck it out the way people here have,” Black said. “But it’s about the animals – that’s the whole reason we’re here, and if we feel like there’s some way we can save this for the animals, we’re going to. It’s definitely going to take getting more people involved so we can spread out the work and get more done, and it’s going to take some good fundraising.”
“We need help with money,” Lemon said, “but we have a lot of good people here. We’re very grateful for all the support we’ve received from people through the years, and that has helped us want to get in here and work our rears off. We’re excited about the future.”
“Over the years, this place has really been a benefit to the community,” Ogden said. “The past is the past, and this is a new beginning.”
TO HELP TASTC
Donations toward vet bills and can be made at the Texas County Veterinary Clinic on North U.S. 63. Sponsorship of vaccines is also available (at $10 each).
TASTC accepts tax-deductible monetary donations online at its website (TASTC.com) or its Facebook page, by mail at P.O. Box 228, Houston, Mo., 65483, or at the shelter.
Board member Debbie Lemon suggests that liking and sharing on Facebook is a great way to help.
“Like all the adoption pictures and be sure to share,” Lemon said.
“People hitting that share button is how we make most of our adoptions – because somebody has seen an animal somewhere.”
Volunteers are always welcome at TASTC (including children), for walking dogs and performing many other tasks. Donations of items like cleaning supplies and blankets are also welcome.
Everyone is welcome at TASTC board meetings at 6:30 p.m. on the irst and third Mondays of each month, at the shelter.
The Bark Plaza Pet Hotel is available for rent or lease. TASTC’s phone number is 417-967-0700.
TASTC board members: Vicki Lucky-Powell, Debbie Lemon, Dorothy Ogden, Jan Squire, Shayla Black and Erikke Nielsen.
ABOUT THE ADOPTION FEE
The Animal Shelter of Texas County typically charges $125 for an adoption of a dog or puppy. That covers spaying or neutering, vaccinations, flea and tick treatment, grooming and more.
“Paying for all that yourself would cost far more,” said TASTC board member Debbie Lemon.
“People are actually saving money,” said board member Shayla Black.
$320,000 real estate loan.
$100,000 personal loan.
$52,000 IRS bill.
$40,000 credit card bill.
$20,000 veterinarian bill.
$20,000 construction costs.
$15,000 vaccine bills.
$4,000 to Department of Revenue.